Whether you’re interested in history or jazz, baseball or barbecue, Kansas City has probably been on your radar for a while. Less well-known outside of town, though, is that KC is an important trendsetter among midsize American cities. Riding a wave of development that began in the 1990s, it has re-invented itself as a cultural hub crammed with excellent restaurants, notable hotels, easy-to-use public transportation, and world-class art. In short, Kansas City is ripe for discovery — and its still has some of the best barbecue on earth. Here’s what’s new, notable, and affordable in town.
With a brand new, single-terminal airport opening in 2022 — it will replace the current Kansas City International — the area is gearing up for a new generation of growth. Ahead of that, the city has seen an explosion of new hotels, and the renovation of some of its older properties. Among the new wave, you’ll find the 21C, located on the fringe of the city’s continually gentrifying Power and Light District. The contemporary-art-focused hotel brand opened its Kansas City outpost in July of 2018 and it’s home to a museum gallery (all 21C hotels are) with rotating exhibits and The Savoy, a restaurant serving contemporary riffs on American classics like chopped salads, club sandwiches, and pork roast. Stay for $142 per night in winter and up to $200 per night in warmer seasons. Nearby, look for the Hotel Phillips. The original structure dates back to 1931, and you’ll see those glammed-up details in the lobby, but it was given a chic revamp in 2017 that brought a calming, neutral color palate, and tufted furniture into the rooms. Rooms start at an affordable $119 per night.
There’s also the Fontaine, which gets its name from Kansas City’s moniker as "The City of Fountains." It was renovated, renamed, and reopened in 2017 and has an eye-popping, two-story rooftop space with a restaurant, fireplaces, bar, an outdoor swimming pool, and lots of floor-to-ceiling glass to take in the views across the city. It’s located near Country Club Plaza, a shopping and entertainment hub that’s just a few minutes away on foot. Rooms start at $138 per night in winter months. Add $50 to $100 extra per night in the summer months.
One of the newest entries into the Kansas City hotel scene is The Crossroads. Named for the eponymous surrounding neighborhood, this high-design property has vast public spaces on its ground floor that seamlessly flow into one another. The central lobby bar and cafe has wood-fired pizzas, local beer, and creative cocktails, while the adjoining dinner-only Italian restaurant specializes in steaks, pastas, and shared dishes that are served on candle-lit tables in a rustic-cool space. A rooftop bar, naturally, completes the offerings. Book rooms from $170 per night in winter; add up to $100 per night in busier seasons.
Eat & Drink
Kansas City’s storied barbecue scene has been chronicled in detail elsewhere, from classic restaurants that have been open for decades to creative newcomers, but if you need a quick, high-quality fix that seldom comes with a wait, try Jack Stack, which has a number of locations, including one in the Country Club Plaza shopping district. Wash down burnt ends, fire-kissed wings, and baby back ribs with beers from Boulevard Brewing Company. They’re locally brewed, and Jack Stack always has Boulevard's full line of beers on tap. Appetizers start at $8, while entrées go up to about $30.
At a distinctly different part of the dining spectrum, another kind of Kansas City eatery has garnered major buzz. Corvino Supper Club’s high-style, full-flavor, globally influenced take on fine dining is the place to eat in town, especially because its chef, Michael Corvino, was nominated for Best Chef, Midwest at this year’s James Beard Awards. With its cavernous dining room done in sleek black and slate with dramatic murals of birds in flight, the mood is as much a part of the experience as the meal. A menu of different-sized (but non-categorized) plates rotate, but we loved the duck soup with dumplings, foie gras, scallion, and hot sauce; the XO fried rice with grilled squid and crispy crispy egg; the cavatelli with cheese and pepper; and a show-stopping dessert — a chocolate chip cookie with sea salt accompanied by a vanilla malt ice cream. Dishes range from $7 to $30.
Other highlights in Kansas City’s varied drinking and dining scene include The Russell, a spot where the ambiance is casual and the ingredients are fresh. These simple salads, sandwiches, and toasts feel surprisingly elegant and hit the spot when you’re taking a break from sightseeing. Salads and toasts start at $12; small plates cost $3 to $5; sandwiches and entrées go up to $15. Messenger Cafe is a local favorite for latte-sipping, socializing, and laptop-working. The eponymous coffee is brewed on-site in this bright, airy space — be sure to visit the roasting area during your visit — and the sweet treats and breads are made fresh on-site.
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge is another dramatic space (think white marble and glass sculptures) that serves impeccable cocktails from its thick-as-a-novel menu. Take a peek to learn about how your cocktail corresponds to the migratory patterns of butterflies, and check the glossary in the back to brush up on obscure ingredients and techniques. Try the Rosebud, which has rhubarb-infused gin, vodka, and strawberry kombucha, or the Golden Scorpion, with rum, yuzu sake, wasabi, and aloe. Behind Monarch, through a not-so-secret entrance, you’ll find The Parlour, an intimate, low-lit bar that’s great for small groups and special events but open to the general public when the space isn’t reserved. Classic cocktails go for about $15, while specialty concoctions can cost up to $20.
For those who love whiskeys and other distilled spirits, J. Rieger is a well-known entity in town. In July 2019, the company will unveil its new distillery, which will include bars, private event rooms, and a speakeasy-style lounge. Set in the Electric Park neighborhood, the 60,000-square-foot space is situated in a former beer bottling plant that has been renovated to preserve its old-style Kansas City charm. Tours and tastings will be available.
See & Do
Even if you don’t know what’s inside the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art — and you should definitely take some time to explore — you’ll probably recognize what’s on the front lawn. Four giant shuttlecocks, each 18 feet long, look as though they’ve been casually dropped on the museum’s lawn. Installed in 1994, they’ve become icons of both the museum and the city, and can be visited (and Instagrammed) any day of the week, even when the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Inside, you’ll find a collection that spans world history and includes everything from century-old kimonos, to Georgia O’Keefe paintings, to artifacts from ancient Egyptian tombs. General admission is free, though some special events and exhibitions require paid tickets. If you’re planning a visit in the spring, keep an eye peeled for the Shuttlecork benefit, a weekend of wine and culinary events that raise money for the museum’s educational programs. There are intimate seated wine-pairing dinners in beautiful local homes, and a grand tasting and auction held in the museum’s Rozelle Court and pillared Kirkwood Hall. In 2019, tickets for the grand tasting and auction cost $250, while private seated dinners cost $1,500 per person.