We all know Kansas City is a great place to live with major-league attractions. Betcha didn’t know about some of our town’s hidden gems. Here’s a primer.
The last decade has seen a surge in development both downtown and in the surrounding region. Kansas City is on the move and making an impression nationally as a sophisticated and forward-looking city, welcoming to young people (I didn’t say “hip.”), while remaining respectful of its past.
Big things have happened and are continuing to happen. The cityscape has been transformed by new architecture. The culinary scene continues to bubble, and there are so many artists living and working here now, they are telling their friends in Brooklyn and Los Angeles to come take a look. Kansas City is beginning to “happen” again.
Yet underneath all the newness there are some places and destinations that are just part of the woodwork around here, underappreciated perhaps, but unique in themselves and all working to make life in Kansas City rich in character. Here’s a brief tour.
Back to Nature in the Center of Town
The Kansas City area sprawls in all directions, and it seems like you have to drive at least an hour to get back to nature. But when you look at a map you’ll see a huge green spot located nearly in the center of the metro area. That’s Swope Park and the adjacent Blue River Parkway offering hikers, fishermen, dog walkers and lovers of nature a green respite right smack-dab in the middle of it all.
About a mile south of the Blue River Golf Course along Blue River Road there’s a trailhead for the Eddy-Ballentine Nature Trail, which courses for about three miles through some of the most distinctive Bethany Falls limestone formations in the state of Missouri and through two clifftop “glades,” which are savannah-like environments of grassland and forest. Beginning rock climbers will enjoy the large boulders, perfect for scrambling.
The trail is named for William B. Eddy and Richard O. Ballentine, authors of the book Hiking Kansas City, which can still be obtained on Amazon.com. The trail is maintained by volunteers working for the Jackson County Parks Department.
From the huge shuttlecocks on the lawn to oversized contemporary paintings, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art never fails to make a big impression. But up on the second floor of the original building there’s a display case containing some tiny objects you have to bend down and focus on.
When you do you’ll learn that for more than a thousand years the Chinese kept crickets as pets and for fighting (each other).
The Chinese also kept pet cicadas and grasshoppers, but crickets were the favorites in the Forbidden City and with the commoners alike. The art of selecting and breeding the finest fighting crickets was perfected during the Qing dynasty and remained a monopoly of the imperial court until the beginning of the 19th century.
Noted for its Asian collection, the Nelson has a full set of cricket care regalia on display, from cages, water bowls, various brushes for grooming and tickling. Thankfully the “blood sport” of cricket combat has fallen out of favor in Asia, but the finely wrought accoutrements of the practice remain for us all to ponder. And they’re all in that single display case. Keep an eye out for it.
First Fridays, and Saturdays and Thursdays
First Fridays in the Crossroads, which began about 12 years ago, has spawned a slew of imitators. Yet concurrent with the Crossroads’ “first” event each month, there is a parallel activity going on in the West Bottoms.
On first Fridays and Saturdays, antique dealers from around the region congregate in the old West Bottoms neighborhood west of downtown on the first Friday and Saturday of each month and conduct exciting and well-attended antique and collectible sales in a variety of venues. Of note is Bottoms Up Antique Market located in the old Stowe Hardware Building, 1300 W. 13th St., which originally was the Studebaker Brothers Manufacturing Co., where they built horse-drawn wagons in the 1800s.
Small Shops, Big Ideas
Our city is noted for stores and shopping centers that bring the latest big label fashions to an eager customer base. But if you ever tire of navigating the suburban sprawl to get to the mall, check out the fashion strip of 18th Street in the Crossroads. Three adjacent storefronts offer an entire shopping experience: Birdies, 116 W. 18th St., Hadley, 122 W. 18th St. and Peggy Noland Fashion, 124 W. 18th St.
Peggy Noland, instructor of fiber arts at the Kansas City Art Institute, has operated her wonderfully weird fashion design business from the Crossroads for several years. She’s currently outfitting the indie rock world and is noted for her bold use of color and patterned full-body leotards. Her creations have appeared in such magazines as Vogue, Elle and Rolling Stone. peggynoland.com
Hadley is a boutique that offers unusual jewelry and accessories in addition to a line of collection pieces and ready-to-wear garments designed by owner Hadley Johnson. Check out Hadley’s Facebook page.
Birdies describes itself as a lingerie apothecary and swimwear boutique. Everything is personally selected by the store’s staff, all eager to help customers of all body types fit into something sexy. birdiespanties.com
Shoot Some Pool – Anytime
It’s Thanksgiving Day and Uncle Mike has started droning on again about how great the ’60s were. Where can you and your cousin escape?
Fear not, because the red neon sign flashing “POOL” above the door leading to Raytown Recreation is always on. This old-fashioned pool hall in the basement level of a shop at 10012 E. 63rd St. in the heart of “downtown” Raytown never closes. In fact, it gets busy after midnight.
You’ll have to pay your respects to the queen though. And she is none other than Big Bertha, a 10-foot pocket billiards table dating from the 19th century that was rescued years ago from a downtown Kansas City hotel and brought to live out her days in this inner suburb to the east.
Raytown Recreation holds many a tournament for straight pool and nine ball, and is noted for its late night mini tournaments that begin at 2 a.m. One wonders why they bothered to install locks on the doors. Check it out on Facebook.
As an added bonus if you come during regular business hours, you can walk next door to Fox’s Drug Store and order a milk shake at the lunch counter. The waitress will serve your shake as well as the aluminum mixer cup with the excess to pour yourself.
For a second you might think it’s 1959 all over again.
A Downtown Respite
The next time you go to the City Market take some time to rediscover Kansas City’s riverfront. Kansas City is located here because of the Missouri River, yet the city turned its back to the river early in the 20th century and is only now rediscovering its recreational value.
You can get a good look at the river and remnants of the industry that used to line its banks from the Town of Kansas Bridge extending north from the foot of Main Street. It’s a long walk out to the end of the “bridge” but well worth it. The sounds of the city fade as you get close to the river and a broad vista of fast flowing water, numerous bridges and relics of commerce. This is where riverboat travelers disembarked during the 19th century bringing residents to the city and westward travelers heading to Oregon and California.
There’s a flight of stairs to the ground level where a paved hiking and biking trail parallels the river. In fact, there’s even an elevator if you’re in a wheelchair or toting your bike.
Designed by the architectural firm BNIM, the Town of Kansas Bridge, in effect, makes Main Street the only Kansas City street to symbolically and actually terminate at the river’s edge. bnim.com/work/town-kansas-bridge
The Kansas City area is noted for a wealth of museums highlighting art, history and science. Often overlooked is the National Airline History Museum located in a hangar on the west side of the Charles Wheeler Downtown Airport at 201 NW Lou Holland Dr.
This homegrown and quirky museum is filled with artifacts from airlines past. It hearkens back to the day when stewardesses wore designer uniforms and served meals on china with real silverware. Air travel used to be glamorous, and you’ll want to return to a time when fanny packs and sweat clothes had yet to be invented.
The group that founded the museum is responsible for “saving the Connie,” that is one of the last Lockheed Constellations still able to take to the skies. (Or it will again after more restoration is done.) They are in the process of restoring a DC-3, one of the workhorses of the sky, and a Kickstarter fund-raising campaign is in full flight.
This museum is a constant work in progress and obviously a labor of love for its volunteers, many of whom are retirees from TWA and remember the days when Kansas City was America’s central airline hub. airlinehistory.org
And as an added bonus, the view of downtown Kansas City’s skyline from the museum’s hangar is the best in town! Added bonus No. 2: Bring your bike and circle the airport on Holland Drive to your heart’s content. It’s flat!
Daniel Morgan Boone was a Man…
Certainly motorists on busy 63rd Street are completely unaware that merely 100 feet from the intersection with Brooklyn Avenue lay the remains of two of our city’s pioneer settlers, Daniel Morgan Boone and his wife Sarah.
The seventh child of ol’ Daniel Boone himself, the sturdy 18-year-old came to mid-Missouri as early as 1787. Here he hunted and trapped beaver along the Big Blue River.
After serving in the War of 1812, the adventuresome Boone, his brother Nathan, his sister Susannah and their growing families all headed west. In 1817 they were among the earliest settlers to come by wagon to Jackson County.
The Boones and their numerous offspring settled in Westport Township. Daniel Morgan’s 1831 tract of 240 acres lay adjacent to 63rd Street east of the Paseo.
He died on June 13, 1839 at age 69 having trekked the frontier and sired a dozen children. Following custom, Boone was buried on the home place in the Boone-Hays Cemetery near today’s 63rd and Brooklyn Avenue.
The site is maintained by the Native Sons of Kansas City, and the city recently built a couple of parking spaces so you can actually visit.
Where to Stay
Aloft – The upbeat vibe at this new hotel is a fresh, forward-thinking alternative perfect for tech savvy and social travelers. It’s a fun scene overlooking Park Place, the new urban community. From $139/night double. 11620 Ash St.
Ambassador – This 1920s neoclassical building holds a chic boutique hotel and restaurant within. Walking distance from the Power & Light District and the Sprint Center. From $169/night double. 1111 Grand Blvd.
Hotel Phillips – You can feel grand without feeling stuffy at this hip, boutique hotel located in the heart of downtown. Midwest graciousness at its best. From $179/night double. 106 W. 12th St.
Hotel Sorella – This is the city’s newest boutique hotel, located on the west edge of the Country Club Plaza. Rest in understated luxury and walk to restaurants and stores. From $163/night (two night stay). 901 W. 48th Place
Jefferson House – Experience old K.C. in this 1890s mansion located near downtown. 13 opulent rooms priced from $145/night double. 1728 Jefferson St.
Where to Dine
Tatsu’s – One of the area’s finest chefs in the French tradition has been going strong at his Prairie Village restaurant since 1980. Owner/chef Tatsu Arai serves delicious food in simple elegance. 4603 W. 90th St., Prairie Village, 913-383-9801
Rye – This gourmet comfort food establishment is owned by James Beard Award winner Colby Garrelts and his wife, Megan, who also own Bluestem in Westport. You can’t go wrong with the fried chicken or the shrimp and grits. 10551 Mission Rd., Leawood, 913-642-5800
LC’s – This is a real urban “joint” located four miles east of The Plaza. LC serves the real deal—burnt ends, ribs, beef, sausage, the works. And the fries don’t hit the oil until you order. 5800 Blue Parkway, 816-923-4484
Chelly’s – It’s hard to go wrong in this family owned restaurant in Waldo. Everything is made fresh every day, from the sauces to the tortillas. Prices even a starving artist could appreciate. 214 W. 85th St., 816-237-1052
The Local Pig – It’s an old-fashioned butcher shop that purveys only locally sourced and humanely raised meat. It’s now the center of charcuterie in our community. Catering provided. 2618 Guinotte St. (in the East Bottoms), 816-200-1639