Kansas City's Midwest renaissance
The locals’ love of craft cocktails is also evident in the success of other establishments such as the Westport Café and Bar, which specialises in classics like the Old Fashioned, made of whiskey, simple syrup, bitters and an orange twist, and the Pimm’s Cup, a British cocktail made with a gin-based liquor, fresh and candied ginger, lime, soda, and mint; Grunhauer, where ingredients like pumpkin seed-oil infused cachaça, muddled lemon, raw sugar simple syrup and grated nutmeg make uniquely artisanal drinks; and The Drop, where patrons can eat their drinks in the form of jiggly, semi-solid two-bite “drops”.
Even the beer scene is striving for a higher level of sophistication; in 1999 Boulevard Brewing took over a forgotten stretch of road on the city’s west side, and now it is the largest craft brewery in the US Midwest, winning gold medals at the 2011 Great American Beer Festival for its Boulevard Pale Ale and French-style Saison Brett. At beer-centric bar The Riot Room, 53 taps serve Boulevard beers and Missouri-made Schlafly brews alongside other national award-winning craft favourites like Yeti Imperial Stout from Colorado’s Great Divide (which won silver and bronze medals in 2005, 2008 and 2009), Avery’s The Kaiser (a gold medal winner in 2009) and California brewery Bear Republic‘s Ryevalry, which took home a gold medal in 2010.
The speakeasy goes legit
While the "golden age" of jazz ended, the Kansas City sound never really disappeared. There was a time when the sound was fainter, when many of the city’s best musicians left and the creative jam-sessions that shaped the Kansas City sound were less frequent, but places like the Mutual Musicians Foundation ensured that the band, in some way or another, played on.
Located in the city’s 18th and Vine historic district, a centre for African-American culture through the 1960s, the foundation began in 1917 as Local 627, the city’s branch of the “Colored Musicians Union”, which was an African-American affiliation of the American Federation of Musicians. Mainly established to serve as an advocate service, the union building also became a social gathering place, and eventually the tradition of late-night jam sessions was born.
Since the 1930s, jazz aficionados have been coming to the foundation for all-night weekend jams that run until 5 am and feature musicians both local and international, professional and amateur, young and old. For decades the venue operated as a speakeasy, but when the police threatened to close it down a few years ago, the city rallied and a special provision was passed to exempt buildings on the National Historic Register (including the foundation) from the prevailing liquor laws. Though Kansas City’s days as a town where the booze flowed freely are gone, the foundation’s tradition was saved and it remains the best place to hear jazz in the city (and the only place in the state of Missouri where drinks are sold until 6 am).
If you feed them, they will come
The regeneration of Kansas City’s downtown is also due, in part, to the recent arrival of several new farm-to-table restaurants where chefs focus on using organic and hyper-local ingredients. One of the first was The Farmhouse, a cosy space with exposed brick that opened in 2009 in the River Market area just a few blocks north of the downtown core. Here they take a seasonal approach to the frequently-changing menu, using whatever is local and fresh from a select group of farmers. Another 2009 addition, Westside Local, creates locally-sourced and seasonally-influenced comfort food, like macaroni and cheese with local chicken and seasonal veggies, or house-smoked short ribs served with barbecue sauce made with Boulevard’s Pale Ale.