1. Where to Stay
Watch Bedtime for Bonzo in the Hilton Presidential Hotel’s Reagan Suite (from $149), which has two large flat-screen TVs and a piece of the Berlin Wall. The hotel hosted the 1926 Republican Convention, and is now the centerpiece of the redeveloped Power & Light District, with eight blocks of dining and nightlife options.
Be superlative on a budget at the Raphael Hotel (from $99). The décor (Spanish Renaissance) and service (valets) are what made it one of Travel + Leisure’s “World’s Best Hotels” in 2009.
Sip a cocktail and admire the Art Deco lobby from your perch in the Martini Loft of the Aladdin Holiday Inn Hotel (from $129), a 1926 classic on the National Register of Historic Places. Retire to your room for modern comforts like whirlpool tubs and ergonomic chairs.
Stay in the heart of Kansas City’s shopping district at the Westin Crown Center (from $99), the Starwood hotel near 60 shops. The rooftop restaurant has spectacular views of downtown.
2. Where to Eat
Order the pan-fried chicken at Stroud’s and find out why they won the inaugural American Classic award from the James Beard Foundation. Eat it family-style on checkered tablecloths inside a renovated log cabin from 1829.
Channel Williamsburg at the R Bar and Restaurant in the developing west Bottoms warehouse district. The dimly lit restaurant opened last fall and serves Prescriptions Juleps—rye whiskey, mint, cognac, and hand-crushed ice—in copper mugs.
Don’t worry about being landlocked at the Bristol Seafood Grill, where fish is flown in daily. Oysters are 50 cents before 7 p.m., and the Sunday brunch buffet features made-to-order omelettes and lobster macaroni and cheese.
3. What to Do
Stay out late in the Power & Light District and explore 45 bars and restaurants, a bowling alley, and outdoor heated patios. The Flying Saucer serves over 200 craft beers, enough to encourage you to ride the mechanical bull at PBR Big Sky. Check the schedule at Crosstown Station, where performers range from beatbox to bluegrass.
Taste the nuance of barbecue by comparing sauces from some of the best joints in town. Begin with the gold standard: Arthur Bryant’s vinegar-and-paprika-flavored sauce. Pour the molasses-sweetened sauce at Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue on their Sampler combo (beef and pork ribs, bone-in chicken, and Polish sausage for $16) in a converted freight house, then take a post-meal stroll at nearby Union Station, the site of the famous machine-gun shootout between Pretty Boy Floyd and the Feds. Finish with a brisket sandwich at Gate’s BBQ, where the cumin-chili powder levels in their Extra-Hot will make your mouth water in a good way. Take one of their combo packs (two bottles plus a seasoning packet) home with you.
Though fewer than 500,000 people live in Kansas City, museums there rival a much larger metropolis. The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art shares its notable works (Caravaggio, Titian, Gauguin, Eakins, Hopper, O’Keeffe) for free and is open till 9 p.m. on Fridays. Crawl through simulated trenches and see an entire arsenal of weapons, planes, and tanks at the National World War I Museum ($10). Examine artifacts from the “Titanic of Missouri,” a recovered paddleboat that lay undisturbed at the bottom of the Missouri River for 132 years, at the Arabia Steamboat Museum. Finally, hear one of two nightly live performances in the Blue Room on the weekends ($10), the on-site lounge at the American Jazz Museum.
4. Insider’s Tip
While the new Power & Light District rightfully gets all the hype, it also draws the largest and loudest crowds. Veteran pub Kelly’s Westport Inn has been pouring handcrafted beers on the cheap for 60 years, and it’s a good no-line, no-cover alternative. Pints from Kansas City’s own Boulevard Brewery are $2 on Sundays.
5. Oddball Day
Venture across state lines about 40 miles west to Lawrence, home of the University of Kansas, and the No. 1 ranked college basketball team in the country. Have lunch and an Ad Astra Ale at the Free State Brewery on Massachusetts Street, the town’s main artery. Get lucky in the 91-cent-vinyl section of Kief’s Downtown Music, where new and used music is sold for a fraction of Bleecker Street prices. Happen upon an unexpected treasure, like a sword or a vintage Playboy, at the two-story Lawrence Antique Mall. See the work of local glassblowers at the Phoenix Gallery and then sample cheese and charcuterie while browsing the Au Marché Market for hard-to-find European groceries and beauty items. In the evening, take your chances outside of Allen Field House, where you might be able to buy a rare ticket to a Jayhawks game. At the very least, watch it with die-hards at Wayne and Larry’s Sports Bar.
A good source for Kansas City nightlife is Event KC.
The Kansas City Convention and Visitors Association runs an informative site with links to hotels and restaurants, and keeps a current calendar of events.
To learn more about the history of Kansas City jazz and to find scheduled performances, check out KC Jazz Ambassadors.