The only things I knew about Kansas City Missouri prior to visiting were its legendary tales of barbecue and the Kansas City Chiefs. I went with an open mind and few expectations. The city has been generating a lot of positive buzz as of late, so I thought I’d see what all the talk was about. I found the city to be on the cusp of a breakthrough, so to speak. A sleeping dragon ready for its day in the sun. The next “It City” – Nashville being the current title holder — and where I reside.
For starters, Kansas City airport is easily the smallest international airport where I’ve ever touched ground. But that should all change in the next few years as it undergoes a major transformation. Icelandair just began flying direct routes to its capital city of Reykjavik and other routes are being added regularly.
The 21c Museum Hotel served as my home for the weekend. The small chain is known for embracing the LGBT community and is located in cities that aren’t always known for being LGBT-friendly destinations (Des Moines, Lexington, and Fayetteville, among others), so staying here is always a safe and pleasant option. This particular property is located in the historic Savoy Hotel in downtown Kansas City. The 21c opened this summer and is helmed by a thoroughly professional staff. Not all of the bugs have yet been worked out, however: the fitness center has some acoustics issues and free weights are located in a dark corner of the gym, a problem that can easily be fixed but clearly less than ideal.
Having arrived late in the afternoon in the day, I decided to stay on site for dinner. The hotel’s restaurant, The Savoy, doesn’t serve your standard hotel fare. I began my meal with a steak tartare, followed by a reputable presentation of the fish of the day. But surprise: the part of the meal was the dessert of Baked Alaska. I haven’t seen that delicacy as an option aside from cruise ship menus, and even though I tend to skip dessert, it called to me — and I’m glad I answered. It was scrumptious. I even convinced the table adjacent to me to order a round. The only thing missing was the tableside flambé pyrotechnics.
The next morning, I began my tour of the city proper with a brief visit to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. As I was approaching the building, I thought to myself how similar it looked to the Sydney Opera House, and sure enough, it was designed by the same architect. The Kauffman Center is one of the most technically advanced performing arts centers in the nation, with two major concert halls designed to be acoustically perfect. Each shares a common area, which the designer hoped would serve as a space where people attend different shows can mix and mingle.
Nearby is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which houses some 35,000 pieces. Architecturally reminiscent of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Nelson recently debuted its American Indian galleries, considered to be the largest collection devoted to such art in the world. The space has an outdoor complement in the Sculpture Park which contains more than 30 works. (Mind the sprinklers though. My guide and I received a complimentary shower while walking through the park, but it was welcome given the intense heat of the summer.)
Since strolling, traveling and taking in the sights can give anyone an appetite, we decided to check out a fairly new establishment called Char Bar. The majority of the meal didn’t blow me away; I found it on par with similar fare readily available in Nashville. But the one standout— and something that Kansas City is renowned for — is burnt ends. I nearly passed them by, but my dining companion convinced me to order a side potion. I still salivate when I think of them. Burnt ends may be my favorite item I’ve ever had…ever. Yes, they are that good. If you ever visit Kansas City, burnt ends are a must!
You’ll also want to spend time in the Crossroads Arts District, which consists of fine art galleries, clothing boutiques and historic buildings before heading out to Bistro 303, the gay bar where Kansas City’s LGBT community likes to set the evening abuzz. I don’t burn down the night anymore, so I decided to begin and end the evening at 303. It’s a laid-back establishment offering a nice cross-section of the city’s community and serves inexpensive, but well-poured cocktails. Within minutes of sitting at the bar, I was deep in chat with the locals, who told me about Missie B’s, the city’s popular drag bar in the city. Apparently it’s the next stop on many a KC resident’s pub crawl.
If partying isn’t exactly your cup of tea, wake up early and head to River Market for breakfast. In operation since 1857, the spot is the largest farmers’ market in the region and consists of over 140 vendors. It was nice to grab a cup of coffee and a freshly baked muffin to watch the crowd transform from sleepwalkers to movers and shakers.
Kansas City is also home to the National World War I Museum and Memorial. The moving memorial to “the war to end all wars” provides a firsthand look into the epic tragedy. Jump on a guided tour of the museum, as the volunteers are extremely knowledgeable about not only the war, but the museum itself. Soon after the war ended, Kansas City leaders formed the Liberty Memorial Association to create the memorial in honor of the men and women who had served in the war. If you have the chance, journey to the top of the 217-foot tower for unobstructed views of the city but be prepared for a possible wait in line.
Those looking for a unique experience should head to SD Strong Distilling. Located in nearby Parkville, it’s the world’s only known distillery built inside a cave, where there are regular tours and tastings held a mere 65 feet underground.
For dinner, check out Café Trio, an upscale gay-owned restaurant which offers killer martinis, a tasty menu and live entertainment at their grand piano. Begin a meal with the trio caprese consisting of fresh heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, basil oil, cracked pepper and sea salt. It’s also an ideal appetizer to share. Follow that with the diver scallops with a charred corn risotto and lobster jus. I love a good scallop dish and Café Trio does not disappoint.
Ultimately, Kansas City offers an assortment of unexpected surprises — even though I never got the chance to catch a Chiefs game. Looking for relaxed, friendly, inexpensive city to visit? Kansas City definitely belongs on your list.
Last modified: September 19, 2018