Once a swinging metropolis unfazed by Prohibition and busting with burlesque houses and jazz clubs, Kansas City in later years was law-abiding but perhaps a bit drab. Then, a few years ago, when local artists staked their claim to a largely abandoned square-mile area of old warehouses and dilapidated storefronts south of downtown, KC began to regain its color. Today, in what has become known as the Crossroads Arts District, a growing roster of trendy bars and restaurants share the streets with dozens of flourishing art galleries and arty retailers that target the neighborhood’s legions of loft dwellers. Still fringe enough to feel undiscovered on most days, the Crossroads comes to vivid life on the first Friday of every month, when its shops and galleries host an after-hours street festival of live music, art openings and performances for thousands of Kansas Citians, from the young and hip to young-at-heart candidates for hip replacement.
WHERE TO SHOP
Reviving a bit of KC’s burlesque past, Birdies, at 116 West 18th Street, specializes in edgy but girly “urban lingerie,” with limited-edition designs created by owners Peregrine Honig, an artist, and Corrie Van Ausdal, an actress, and a cadre of local seamstresses. Next door, Second Honeymoon is a treasure trove of vintage garb, while the neighboring Spool offers mostly hipster Ts and coordinating baby gear. At Tomboy, 1817 McGee Street, designer Laura McGrew turns out custom jeans and ballgowns as well as ready-to-wear in her spacious studio. And although The Darling Room salon, at 1800 Baltimore Avenue, was designed to look like “an English mansion left to decay,” stylist-owner Amber Hodgson gives hair and skin special attention, offering unusual product lines such as Leonor Greyle and Hamadi, among others. Of the many home decor shops in the Crossroads, the arty Asian goods at Black Bamboo, 1815 Wyandotte Street, and the 11,000 square feet of mid-century furnishings at Retro Inferno, 1500 Grand Avenue, represent some of the best. For smaller-scale purchases, Aesthetica, at 1819 Wyandotte, stocks gorgeous gifts, handbags and artisan jewelry, artfully wrapped in fine paper and unique ribbons. A block away at Hammerpress, 1919 Wyandotte, owner Brady Vest turns out retro-inspired fine art letterpress invitations, note cards and posters, and converts scraps and overruns into bright and sturdy cardboard clutch bags.
WHERE TO GO OUT
Kansas City’s culinary cred was built on beef and barbecue, but meat lovers and tree huggers happily coexist in the exposed-brick and pressed tin dining room of Blue Bird Bistro, 1700 Summit Street, where generous helpings of fresh organic produce, beef, poultry and seafood are dished up for breakfast, lunch, dinner and the ever-popular Sunday brunch. One of the hottest new additions to the KC restaurant scene, 1924 Main, takes its name from its address, a former hotel lobby, and features three-course lunch and dinner menus of five choices each that change weekly. For a quick pick-me-up and a taste of Crossroads cafe society, YJ’s Snack Bar, 128 West 18th Street, offers coffee, sandwiches and sodas in a tiny space fronted by charmingly mismatched outdoor seating. After dark, locals give in to their two great passions: live music and libations. Phoenix Piano Bar, at 302 West 8th Street, and Blue Room, at 1600 East 18th Street in the city’s 18th & Vine Jazz District, feature live jazz and KC swing most nights, while The Brick, 1727 McGee, is the heart of the local rock scene. With a hipper clientele than its honky-tonk name would indicate, Harry’s Country Club, at 120 Missouri Avenue in the River Market area, serves up $2 cans of Schlitz, Falstaff and Pabst Blue Ribbon while the jukebox pays homage to Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard.
WHERE TO SLEEP
Blending authentic Art Deco ambience with the elegance of a European boutique-style property, Hotel Phillips, 106 West 12th Street, is where young and trendy out-of-towners hang their hats. Guests rave about the cushy beds and cistern faucets in the landmark hotel’s 217 contemporary-but-comfortable rooms and suites.