BBQ, jazz, and baseball have long held sway over public perception of what our fair Midwestern hamlet has to offer. This guide will introduce you to the long-reigning triumvirate, and over the coming months detail other points worth exploring that have nothing to do with the indulgences of meat, music, or sport, and everything to do with what makes Kansas City our best kept secret, from its history to today’s hot spots. Along the way, you’ll discover how clay is woven into the fabric of Kansas City.
To begin an exploration of Greater KC, consider scouting your surroundings from the grounds of Liberty Memorial. It’s 1.25 miles or a 25-minute walk from the Convention Center. I took the photo above from there last week. Beneath the Memorial is the National WWI Museum. Looking north, you are treated to a panoramic view, encompassing Kansas City, Kansas to the west, and the headquarters of Hallmark to the east. Directly ahead is downtown and the Crossroads, an eclectic enclave of galleries, studios, boutiques, creative business and more that grew organically out of an artist’s vision for redevelopment. Lit in red and blue is Union Station, which celebrated its centennial last year.
The four spires just to the left mark the site of your home base during the NCECA conference, Bartle Hall Convention Center. The spires, or “Sky Stations” are the creation of NY artist R.M. Fischer. They, too, celebrated a milestone anniversary last year. This short interview reflects on their 20-year history. One of our newest architectural wonders, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, designed by Moshe Safdie, is adjacent to Bartle Hall. Off to the right, the Western Auto Building’s enormous glowing sign is another beloved beacon in the city.
BBQ: A Tour for the Tastebuds
Fiorella’s Jack Stack in the Frieght House – This third-generation, family-owned eatery is the fine dining version of BBQ, and it’s a half-mile or 12-minute walk from the Convention Center.
Q39 – This is the new kid on the block, and my personal favorite. Gentle reader, this part-time vegetarian is weak before their brisket. The grilled salmon and veggie burger are my favorite in town.
Arthur Bryants – This is the oldest kid on the block, with a pedigree that stretches to 1908 and the founder of KC BBQ Henry Perry. Head here if you want tradition and unpretentiousness or have a thing for old photos of famous visitors to the joint hanging on the wall. Arthur Bryant’s invented burnt ends. And you can’t leave KC without trying them.
Gates – Consider it the BBQ version of comfort food. The moment you walk in you’re greeted with a cheerful “Hi, may I help you?”. Every. Single. Time.
Joe’s Kansas City – Charmed by the restaurant-in-a-gas-station vibe? Get a thrill from being part of mob of hungry BBQ-enthusiasts who I think travel the country in search of the BBQ joint with the longest line? Yep, this is your spot. The line does move quickly and your Z-man and fries are worth the wait.
JAZZ: A Feast for your Ears
The Blue Room – In the heart of the historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, the Blue Room celebrates the past and showcases contemporary local, national and international talent. Enjoy big bands, Latin jazz, and if you bring your own instrument on a Monday, you can jump into a jam session. The Blue Room is adjacent to the American Jazz Museum, where this distinctly American art form is preserved and advanced, and tells the story of Kansas City jazz and those who made it famous: Charlie Bird Parker, Count Basie, Ornette Coleman, Jay McShann, Coleman Hawkins to name a few.
Green Lady Lounge – This is a half-mile or 10-minute stroll from the Convention Center. Exclusively jazz 7 nights a week, no cover.
The Ship – This classic cocktail lounge offers a range of musical stylings including jazz. The Ship is “moored” in The Bottoms, a low-lying historic area just west of downtown, where the railroad facilitated the exchange of cattle, seeds, and other materials. Over the years, the stockyards have given way to galleries and artist studios, antique shops, and world-famous haunted houses.
Pitching great Satchel Paige was born this week in 1906. He went on to play for the Kansas City Monarchs Negro League team, and was the first electee of the Negro Leagues to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1971. He made KC his home after retirement. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in the 18th and Vine District tells the story of the Negro Leagues and its players, including Paige.
Forever Royal – That’s the new slogan for the Kansas City Royals after winning the American League pennant and a trip to the World Series last year. Next Tuesday a record number of Royals will start in the All-Star game for their league. They’ll be in spring training during NCECA, but you’ll see fans all over KC sporting their Royals pride.