KANSAS CITY, Mo. —
I get to Kansas City a couple of times a year. That’s my bad. I wish I could go more often. Every time I do, however, I realize what the metro to the north has to offer, especially now that the Old Highway 71 is the new Interstate 49.
I recently set out for Kansas City on a busman’s holiday, of sorts. I take a weekend here and there and check out the entertainment, dining and cocktail offerings suitable for the Globe’s adult readers.
Don’t misunderstand. I love to hit up the family-friendly entertainment venues, but on occasion I like to live a little large.
Some think Kansas City is America’s largest cow town. They couldn’t be more wrong. I reserve that designation for a city a few hours south (Amarillo, I’m talking to you).
Kansas City is home to more than two million people and spans the Missouri/Kansas border.
I won’t speculate how many folks found fun near the corner of 12th and Vine throughout the years, but my guess is more than a few. I decided to make it a Saturday destination.
Hop heads unite
I started my K.C. adventure late on a Friday afternoon following a couple of meetings. Told you it was going to be a busman’s holiday. I headed over to Boulevard Brewery. I know a couple of folks there and heard that the guy named Harold “Trip” Hogue was sampling his namesake “Long Strange Triple Ale” that afternoon under the arbors outside Boulevard’s tasting room. Talk about a great opportunity. Trip, as he’s affectionately called, was in on the ground floor at Boulevard. He and founder John McDonald converted some European equipment — not necessarily meant for brewing, the tale goes — for their new upstart. Trip laughed when I asked him why he got picked to make the odd equipment work. He laughed: “I was the only one with metric tools.”
Imagine talking to the Tommy Chong of hops and you get the idea, man.
Check out Boulevard’s tours when you are in town. They are often crowded, so arrive early. The tours are fun for beer nerds and regular folks, alike. Boulevard is the largest American-owned brewery in the state. New at Boulevard is its revised approach to my favorite beer. Formerly Boulevard Pilsner, now simply called K.C. Pils, the company donates 10 percent of the product’s proceeds back to K.C. charities. Good for them. Plans to expand the program may surface in other communities.
I made it down to Country Club Plaza and checked into my digs for the weekend. The Raphael Hotel is a great spot to stay. It is across Brush Creek from The Plaza, is easy walking distance from dozens of restaurants and offers a great view of the Spanish revival architecture of The Plaza, America’s first outdoor shopping mall. The day was still a little cool so I opened up my window and music from the quartet playing a few stories below in the hotel’s courtyard filtered up to my room. Not a bad deal. A full day of travel behind me, a fast freshen up, a quick spin around the crowded Plaza and I was starved.
I opted to head over to another of Kansas City’s great neighborhoods, the 39th Street District. When many visitors think of Kansas City, all that comes to mind is barbecue. I’m a barbecue fan, but a little taste of Asia sounded good. Besides, university graduations were in full swing and tables were in short supply. I opted for an old standard and grabbed a barstool at Genghis Khan Mongolian Grill, just off 39th Street. Never been disappointed and the prices are crazy reasonable.
They also offer a good selection of cocktails and Boulevard products on tap. The neighborhood is hip and full of university types and quirky shops. Done with dinner, it was back to the comfort of the Raphael’s lounge, a nightcap and good night’s rest. After all, my plan was to start my day near 12th Street and Vine. "Kansas Cty, here I come," as the classic song goes.
Up early and off to the heart of K.C.’s historically African American neighborhood, I found myself in the 18th and Vine District, a cool area that’s home to the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. Both wowed me.
The museum does a fantastic job of laying out the history of America’s favorite pastime. I suppose I should have known that for a long time even baseball was as segregated as movie theaters, transportation and schools. The history of the Negro Leagues are the history of segregation in America. Kansas City’s Monarchs, an all-black team was one of the best. Not to give it all away — I plan a feature later this summer — but the museum is filled with memorabilia, and history and a stirring baseball diamond paying tribute to the kings of the era: Leroy Robert “Satchel” Paige, “Cool Papa” Bell, Buck O’Neil and the other American baseball greats who made the Negro League — even sounds odd to say it now — a favorite pastime for America’s segregated citizens. Baseball color barrier breaker Jackie Robinson was a Monarch. It’s a must see.
Across the hall from the baseball museum is the American Jazz Museum. I was again surprised at how little I knew — know — about the history of American jazz and Kansas City’s influence on the art form. The multimedia walkthrough museum is astounding. I only had a couple of hours to look and listen and learn from the exhibits and the vintage recordings. I did pause for quite a time listening to Ella Fitzgerald sing her way through 50 years of American jazz.
Of Kansas City, British jazz historian John Baker said: “I consider Kansas City the No. 1 jazz city in the world. It was the hub of jazz activity.” High praise from the guy considered one of the great international jazz guys himself.
‘Always next time’
Ready for some down time, I headed back to my Plaza digs. Again, music from the Raphael courtyard filled the room. Dinner at Kona Grill on The Plaza was a great choice. Always easy to get a table, a solid meal and cold adult beverage was the way to end a great day. Well, maybe the end wasn’t that close. I decided to grab a barstool — see a recurring theme here — at Chaz on the Plaza. Chaz, is the Raphael’s signature dining and drinking spot. Live music from a jazz and blues combo drew me in. As is often the case, I requested “Girl From Ipanema” from the vocalist performing. It’s almost like a challenge for me. I don’t care whether it’s a high-end cocktail lounge or a pair of guys with banjoes and wash tubs, I always request the Bosa Nova classic. She hit it spot on.
One suggestion — you don’t have to do it all in one weekend. I tend to be a lot like my grandmother and want to do everything in the first day. Like her, I don’t want to miss anything. Not always a good idea.
Just remember, K.C. is just a couple hours away. There is always next time.
Dave Woods is market development manager at The Joplin Globe.