Missouri


If I lived in Kansas City I’d count all the fountains in the city. I’d have elaborate maps and grid systems and city plans. And I’d come up with different symbols for different types of fountains, I’d have a database of city grids cross indexed with photographs.

Um, I think I miss teaching geography. Plus it really disturbs me that nobody knows exactly how many fountains are in the city. I’ve read that only Rome rivals Kansas City in fountains-per-mile, but I want to know for sure. If anyone would like to sponsor such a project, just let me know.

 Although there are fountains all over the city, the best place to hang out amongst the dancing waters is the Country Club Plaza. There are some great hotels downtown (plus a farmers market with very reasonable prices and my new favorite museum in 18th and Vine district), the park-lined Crown Center is nice, but I HIGHLY recommend you stay on Country Club Plaza. The clusters of shops, illuminated horse-drawn carriages, Spanish inspired architecture and the nearby Westport bar district makes it the best part of the city.

 

There are several hotel options right in the Plaza (Courtyard Kansas City Country Club Plaza, the Kansas City Marriot Country Club Plaza), but save yourself some money and stay at the Best Western Seville Plaza. Yes, it is right across the street from a liquor store, but it is also steps away from the Plaza. The Spanish-style lobby is cool and you can have your free breakfast (including biscuts and gravy!) on the patio grounds outside the hotel. Plus Kala and Jason at the front desk really made our stay with their maps and suggestions on what we should do and where we should eat.      

 

So whether you want a relaxing visit to a seriously underrated city or want to embark on a mapping adventure with me, your stay should center around Country Club Plaza. Happy fountain viewing!

Jazz, fountains and barbecue have long been considered the Kansas City trifecta. So after jazz nights at Jardine’s and The Blue Room and fountain viewing on the Plaza, it was time for barbeque. On the recommendation of our seat-mates at the Royals game, we headed to Fiorella’s Jack Stack Barbecue.

I’ve never really eaten barbecue. Seriously. Until embarrassingly late in life (like, my early-20’s) I stubbornly decided that I didn’t like barbecue sauce (or Mexican food, fish, pesto sauce, turkey, soup, Asian food, sandwiches, biscuits and gravy, casseroles…it was ridiculous). Once I went to China I realized that I could either get over my fear of interesting food or starve to death. Turns out that noodle soup, cilantro and Peking duck are actually good. For the past six years since then I’ve been systematically trying all the food I’d rejected for years.

I was saving barbecue for Kansas City.

And a wise decision is was, because Jack Stack was fabulous. It was spicy, succulent, smoky, savory, saucy, yada, yada, yada. The desert was good too.

Now, I realize that I’ve just negated any possible credentials that would make me a food critic, but my mom thought it was good too. Of course she’s a dietitian that mostly eats salad toppings from her garden.

So here are some real credentials: Jack Stack was voted as the Most Popular Restaurant in Kansas City by the 2011 Zagat Survey. It’s been consistently rated as the highest BBQ in the country, also by Zagat. BBQ Blogger Kevin is a fan, as are the gals of Two Classy Chics product review blog. Check out their glowing review here.

See. It is good.

The same folks that sent my mom and me to Jack Stack also steered us away from Gates Bar-B-Q. Gates is one of those touristy must-go-to restaurants in Kansas City, akin to California’s In-N-Out Burger. So we went anyways. Besides it was ten o’clock at night and we were hungry.

Gates was okay. The food was pretty good, but it was the ambiance was not. The “hi, may I help you?” line that all employees are obviously mandated to say (seven hundred times, apparently) gets very annoying. The prescribed drawl that the fake greeting must be issued in is even more irritating.

So…if you are in need of some serious help, eat your barbecue at Gates. Otherwise, head to Jack Stack.

My parents sent me to jazz band camp in high school and I came back addicted to country music.

There’s a lot wrong with that statement.

To start with, “American Pie” had just come out, making band camp a hundred times nerdier that it already was. Much to the horror of our Coltrane-wanna-be-counselors, my roommates and I spent our campfire-y nights listening to Deana Carter, Tim McGraw and Shania Twain. When my parents picked me up, I insisted on listening to “Did I Shave My Legs for This” and “Who’s Bed Have Your Boots Been Under” on the way home. They deemed jazz camp a failure.

But it wasn’t. I pulled of a dual love affair with both country and jazz. Dimetriou’s Jazz Alley was my go-to date destination in high school, where I spent hours listening to Lionel Hampton, Diane Schuur, Karrin Allyson, and Tito Puente.

So I felt an immediate affinity towards Kansas City, jazz capital of the Midwest. We pulled in to town, I dug through my car for my little black dress, and headed down the street to Jardine’s. The club was appropriately small, dark and crowded, but didn’t have the wafting smoke that so often come with these types of joints. There are live bands seven days a week at Jardine’s, and we was lucky enough to be there on Marilyn Maye’s last night in town. Ella Fitzgerald once dubbed Maye as “the greatest white female singer in the world.” This is praise that Maye seems to be quite comfortable with. On her “Maye Sings Ray” CD (a celebration of the music of Ray Charles) she melodically mentions that “I wanna sound like Ray, but I’m too white.”

Maye started off the show with “Celebration” and “Your Smiling Face.” Then she kicked off a set of Broadway tunes with “I’m Getting Married,” after revealing that she’d had “three husbands and one meaningful lover.” She then led us in a toast after adding that all of the aforementioned men were all alcoholics. (“So let’s drink to…them in their stupors!”). Her good natured antics and clever transitions between songs left the audience constantly smiling, laughing, and toe-tapping. Her closing numbers of “Take Five and especially Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here” were, of course, fabulous.

Jardine’s is located just north of the Country Club Plaza at 4536 Main Street, Kansas City. Free parking is available behind the club. The cover charge depends on the show and where you want to sit. Most nights you can get in for $3 – $10. Marilyn Maye was $35. Shows are pretty early for a jazz club, some even starting at 5:30. Check the monthly calendar on their website for specifics. A full bar, extensive wine list and a steak/seafood menu are available. Call 816-561-6480 for reservations.  

              

A few days later we headed to the other side of town to check out The Blue Room, mainly because it was a no-cover-charge Monday – as all Monday’s are at the Blue Room. In the Historic 18th and Vine Jazz District, The Blue Room hosts local talent, national names, and jam sessions. When we were there the Chris Hazelton trio played for about an hour and were followed by a jam session of mostly younger artists. Unlike Jardine’s, where you show up ready to watch the whole show, the crowd at The Blue Room was more casual, with people dropping in and out to listen to bits and pieces.

The Blue Room also features live music daily. On Monday – Thursday the music starts at 7 and continues until 11. Friday and Saturday’s musical hours are 8:30 – 1am. Drinks are available at The Blue Room, but minors are welcome to attend the show as well. Food is only available as an appetizer buffet on Fridays. Monday’s are always free, Fridays and Saturdays usually have a $10 cover charge, but rates throughout the week vary depending on the artist.

This post contains affiliate links to amazon.com. Purchasing CDs via the links will earn me a bit of money, so thanks!

The Kansas City tourist trifecta is generally considered to be barbeque, jazz, and fountains. And don’t get me wrong – I enthusiastically ate, listened and viewed. But for me, Kansas City was also about sports. Whether I was cheering on the Royals, running a 5K, or learning about Negro League Baseball, Kansas City sports reflects that perfect American combination of patriotism, diversity, and enthusiasm.

And often that enthusiasm is for the under-dog. As a Seattle Mariners fan, I can understand this. One of my first KC activities was to watch the Royals lose a baseball game, which they did in spectacular fashion against the Cleveland Indians. When the whole stadium joined in on singing Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” I turned and asked the season ticket holders sitting next to me if the song was only played when the Royals were losing. They just laughed, joking that it had been so long since the Royals won they couldn’t even answer the question. But seriously, the Garth sing-along takes place every night.

At least Ned Yost’s boys lose their games in a nice stadium. Although Kauffman Stadium is out in the middle of nowhere, it’s a nice looking stadium, with fountains cascading across the outfield, a Hall of Fame museum above the left field wall and statues dotting the outfield concessions. Once you’re at Kauffman Stadium, parking is essentially only available there. Have your ten dollar bill ready. In case you aren’t there during baseball season, the Kansas City Chiefs play at Arrowhead Stadium, which is right next to the baseball field.

Kansas City hasn’t always been the home of baseball underdogs though. In the 1920’s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s, the Kansas City Monarchs dominated the league. With ten pennant victories, every boy in American grew up wanting to play for the Monarchs. Every black boy, that is, as Jackie Robinson didn’t break the color barrier in major league baseball until 1947.

 

Sandwiched in between jazz clubs, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum sits on 18th and Vine just east of downtown. The museum is a nostalgic, poignant, and sometimes tear-jerking celebration of the black baseball league that started in Kansas City in the 1920’s. This VERY well laid out museum includes media clips, memorabilia, stories, and scorecards that showcase the Negro leagues. I’m not really a museum person, but two hours flew by there. If you can’t make it to Kansas City, learn about Negro Leagues baseball history by checking out the oh-so-gorgeous picture book “We are the Ship,” illustrated by the oh-so-gorgeous Kadir Nelson.  

The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is at 1616 East 18th Street. From downtown Kansas City, take 18th street east for a few miles. Street parking is free and easy to find. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from nine to six, and Sunday from noon to six. It is closed Mondays. Tickets are $8 for adults, $3 for children under twelve, and free for kids under five.   

Watching and learning about baseball was great, but sooner or later I needed to participate in some sporting activity. My batting average probably sucks and I can’t catch a pop fly to save my life, so I opted to run a race instead of join a softball team.

My race of choice was the Leawood Labor Day 5K. The Kansas City suburb is about twenty miles south of the city center, and by the looks of the houses I drove past, life is good in Leawood. My 500 race opponents and I sang the National Anthem before the race (a pre-race ritual I’ve never experienced before, but rather enjoyed) and dashed off on a flat out-and-back three mile race. Before the race was even finished, initial printouts of results were taped up and Lions club members were firing up the grill for a pancake breakfast. They are efficient here in Leawood, although Lion Bruce was lamenting the fact that the pancakes were sticking to the grill. Apparently last year the flipping process was smoother. They tasted great anyways.

 

Between eating pancakes with runners, groaning with fans as the Royals left the bases loaded, and silently listening to Buck O’Neil talk about Jackie Robinson, I started to feel an affinity towards Kansas City that sinks a little deeper than ribs and barbeque sauce.