Updated: Jan 17, 2021
Interviewing for possible residence.
Lodgings: Stayed at a very corporate Airbnb in the Financial District. It had a doorless bathroom, which I had only previously seen in the U.S. Marine Corps.
- I negotiated a $10/night reduction with the owner and ended up paying $73/night (inclusive of $13 taxes and fees). The negotiation was quite straightforward. I reached out to the host via the Airbnb app and asked “Hello, love your place. If you could lower your rate to [$73/night], I’m in. Anything you can do would be appreciated. Thank you”. He agreed and the deal was done. While he met my terms, he did so too completely (and too quickly), leaving me disappointed in myself, obviously, I should have asked for more. I took a negotiating class years ago. The one thing I remembered from it was to be very careful in accepting a counter-offer, lest the counter-offeror end up unhappy for not asking for more. - Like many Airbnb accommodations it suffers from grade inflation, where 3-star places get 4 stars, 4-star places get 5 stars, and . . . I gave the place an honest review and it now appears this location is no longer in service.
- A benefit of staying at various properties, is that some of them are quite historic. This place is an apartment in the former Pickwick Hotel, the premier hotel in Kansas City when it opened in 1931 and a haunt of Harry S. Truman (he wrote the Pickwick Papers here on hotel stationery - it details Truman's role in the Kansas City political machine run by Tom Pendergast). It sat abandoned for many years (and was low-income housing before that) and has just recently undergone a $65 million renovation, much of it spent on bringing the two-story lobby back to its former grandeur (restored terrazzo floors, marble columns, a baby grand, etc.). I could easily imagine a bygone era of style and civility with hotel guests wearing black tie strolling through the lobby. Though today, the incongruity is quite glaring. As I write this there is an unshaven security guard wearing an ill-fitting uniform checking out two young ladies with multiple piercings and hair color as they sneak out the door to grab a smoke passing a woman wearing slippers and pajamas walking her sweater-wearing chihuahua.
- The place came with a pool where I had the pleasure of relaxing in the hot tub with the son of blues legend Albert (Born Under A Bad Sign) King while being regaled with a story of how he had a run-in with a group of Dungeon and Dragon gamers in the community room. Ahhhhh, the wonders of travel.
- Parking in downtown K.C. is a pain, try and locate parking prior to arrival.
• The Savoy Grill: Wanted to get a drink and some live music at The Phoenix, but the place was standing room only, so because we are old farts the doorman recommended this place, which actually worked out quite well. A speakeasy type place with oak paneling, a connection to Harry Truman, and solid cocktails. You enter through sets of red velvet drapes, which adds to the speakeasy vibe.
- Check out the adjoining hotel for its art and barber chair.
• Ragazza Food & Wine: A dear friend, Mr. Hospitality*, recommended this Italian bistro. An outstanding happy hour menu that includes Eggplant Fries (long spears of fluffy goodness), Shishito Peppers, and Steak Spiedini, large portions of each for only $5. We chatted with the owner Laura and noticed she was drinking a cucumber/pepper martini on the rocks. So we had one too. Muddled cucumber, Hendricks Gin, cracked pepper, strain, shake it, add a few thinly sliced cucumbers, rocks and serve. Trust me, the pepper does not overwhelm but adds just enough zip.
*Mr. Hospitality is the nom de guerre of a 30 year veteran of the hospitality industry, a gourmet, who graciously put the wife and me up for five weeks in his home in Washington, DC (twice!).
• SoT: Tom Hanks likes this speakeasy bar, so you would think that would be good enough for me. It wasn’t. Started off well, the place looks like a classy bar should, wood paneling, a little library in the corner, and a brass bar rail. The bartender was wearing a kitschy Miller Lite sweater that exuded a certain hipness and interesting backstory. It was early, about 5 pm . . . before the mob started boiling. It's a pleasant hour. In a bar almost the only pleasant hour.¹ But the place didn’t deliver the goods. I ordered The Bartender’s Workshop (Have us make a custom drink for you based on your tastes, favorites and your sense of adventure), asking for a variation on a Flackhattan. I received a drink that just tasted off. When the bartender explained that he used Ezra Brooks bourbon and Herbes de Provence, I understood why. You pay 13 smackers (in KC no less) for a cocktail and get bottom shelf bourbon and chicken seasoning?! The best part of the whole experience was the sweater.
- Actually, besides the Miller Lite sweater (see above), there was another upside, the bartender mentioned a cool neighborhood called Columbus Park that I should check out. When I went to punch it in Google Maps, Columbus Park Raman Shop came up, so it was decided, raman for dinner. Serendipity, baby!
• Columbus Park Raman Shop: My Yelp review for the Slurpin’ Turtle in Ann Arbor mentioned it being "The best ramen soup this side of Shinjuku". Well, I was wrong (again), this place is. Incredibly rich 30-hour broth, possibly the best I’ve ever had. Served in a supercool, zen garage. No Japanese lagers to be had (which seemed quite odd), though a Miller Lite filled in quite ably.
• BBQ: Kansas City barbecue is characterized by its use of a wide variety of meats: pork, beef, chicken, turkey, lamb, sausage, and sometimes even fish. It is rubbed with spices, slow-smoked over a variety of woods, and served with a thick tomato-based barbecue sauce. Do remember that the first rule of barbecue is to focus on the meat and minimize the sides.
- Joe’s Kansas City Bar-B-Que is on Tony Bourdain’s "Thirteen Restaurants to Visit Before You Die" which is good enough for me. Tony says it‘s the best barbecue in Kansas City, which therefore makes it the best in the world. This place is known for its ribs and burnt ends, so . . . get the Ribs & Burnt Ends Dinner ($17.49). We washed it down with a PBR and Boulevard Nutcracker Ale*. It is located inside a Shamrock gas station which adds to the off the beaten track authenticity. *My wife said to me "I like the Nutcracker", to which I replied, "Don’t I know it".
• Union Station: There is a Union Station in Kansas City, that like all Union Stations became rundown in the late '80s/early '90s, renovated in '00s, and is now a tourist trap (a model railroad, an Irish museum, a planetarium, and of course a food court). It interested me because it was the site of the Kansas City Massacre. On 17 June 1933, three police officers and one FBI agent were killed in a shootout by gang-members trying to free (or assassinate) Frank "Jelly" Nash as he was being transported to the U.S. Penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas. It directly led to the passing of laws that allowed FBI agents to carry weapons and make arrests.
- Proceed to the main entrance on the east end of the building - use this diagram and photo to help find the exact location. There may (or may not) be a bullet hole from the shootout just to the left of the plaque.
- If you are staying downtown, then give the earth a break and take the KC Streetcar. That and it's free.
• The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art: It’s like they put a Louvre in Kansas City, with the added benefit of free admission. Art spanning the globe and the eras, from Ancient Egypt to this recent piece. This place has it all: Medieval stained glass, a Rodin (The Thinker, of course), a sarcophagus, a Cézanne, a Calder (as required). But out of them all, this was my favorite.
- Parking is $10, which would defeat the idea of free admission, so park on Oak Street for free and walk through the sculpture garden to the museum’s south entrance.
- Smartify: Bumped into a smart, sexy fellow art aficionado in the European section who turned me on to the Smartify app. Basically, point your camera at a piece of art and the app will speak to you about it for a few minutes. An additional benefit is that it forces you to spend a minute appreciating the art. An AAR Must Load App.
• The National WWI Museum and Memorial: Well staffed, I have never seen so many rifles, knives, and docents in my life. To be honest though, a bit disappointing, I don't know why exactly, but it just didn't grab me, I thought the Imperial War Museum did a much better job. It is not for a lack of money or artifacts (well stocked with uniforms, badges, helmets, and interactive computer monitors). Make sure you visit Memory Hall which includes some outstanding murals, including portions of the Panthéon de la Guerre, a former enormous cyclorama, which when completed in 1918 was the largest painting in the world and included full-length portraits of over 6,000 Allied figures (it has a very interesting backstory). There is a computer that will help you better understand all the murals, but to make it really come alive ask the docent to give you an overview.
- Admission is $18, which seemed a little steep. To ride to the top of the 217-foot tower is an extra $2, which seems to be priced right (you've come this far, what's another two bucks?). I didn't partake, as it was closed due to weather, the day of my visit. Though if you want truly great views of downtown Kansas City, recommend you visit the nearby Westin or Sheraton Crown Center.
Looks like KC may be on my shortlist, but not the wife's . . . we'll see.
Required Drinking: Kansas City has its own whiskey (I know, who doesn't?): Rieger's Kansas City Whiskey. It's a mix of sourced bourbon, light corn whiskey, and straight rye (all >4 years old), as well as a small amount of 15-year-old Oloroso Sherry. Supposedly prior to Prohibition small amounts of sherry were added to inexpensive or "young" whiskey in an effort to rectify it. In this current case the sherry serves to finish mellowing what the age has already started . . . sort of a Flackhattan in a bottle. Therefore, I recommend you drink it neat or on the rocks. At $40/bottle it's a little rich for my Buffalo Trace taste, but for research purposes . . . .
Required Watching: Anthony Bourdain No Reservations S08E02 Kansas City. It appears that at 17:36 Tony meets up with my nephew and Stephen Merchant to enjoy some barbeque.
¹ Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, Chapter 22
Kansas City, MO (from the Westin)
National World War I Museum and Memorial, Kansas City, MO