I visited Kansas City once for twoish days. I was there to audition for a game show. I was surprised at how much I liked the place. A hidden gem of a city. I’d be happy to visit again sometime. Not in the summer though. I went in June and it was very hot and very humid. Yuck. I drove down from Minneapolis on Sunday and drove back on Tuesday. I tried to plan things so I would have some free time on Sunday and Tuesday. I also had Monday afternoon free. It was an action-packed trip. I know how to take a mini-vacation. I’d be a natural at writing that “36 Hours in…” column in the New York Times. I’m even going to copy the format here to prove it.* I tend to spend a lot less time at trendy restaurants and nightspots than NYT writers. I do spend a lot more time doing stuff that’s better than that, like driving around aimlessly and walking around aimlessly. Maybe they will read this and hire me.
*But I’m not going to copy their braindead and idiotic style of travel writing. I just don’t have it in me.
1. Look at art
The Nelson-Atkins Museum in KC is a legit museum. Much more so than you would think of a museum in a mid-size Midwestern city. They have an impressive collection of Asian art* and a downright respectable European collection. When I was there they even had one of Monet’s huge water lily triptychs in on loan. The museum is laid out like so many others these days–a terrific old Beaux-Arts building and a sleek modernist addition on the back. This is hardly my favorite thing, but it works here better than most places because the two are physically separated with a tunnel between them. The look of two distinct buildings instead of one hulking mishmash is far superior. Plus there’s a really terrific garden/open space in the front dotted with sculptures. Just a really pleasant feel to the whole thing. The Nelson-Atkins people should be commended.
*I just made a quick run through those galleries. I didn’t have nearly as much time as I would have liked, but I wasn’t about to get up super-early to drive seven hours. Not my style.
2. Take a nap in your hotel room
After a day of driving and walking around a museum you deserve some rest.
3. Eat at a famous barbecue restaurant
KC is famous for its barbecue. Specifically for a regional specialty–burnt ends. These are what they sound like. Charred, crispy, fatty ends of a smoked brisket. Served on a sandwich. The kind of sandwich you eat with a fork and use the bread to sop up BBQ sauce. This is a delicious food item that everyone should eat. This particular night I ate it at Gates BBQ. There are several Gates locations. I didn’t go to the original, but I’m sure the location I visited is just as good. Because it was fucking spectacular.
4. Watch the NBA Finals in your hotel room
Just for reference, we’re in 2011. This was the final game, in which the Mavs dispatched the Heat and there was much mocking of LeBron James.
5. Iron your pants for your game show audition and go to bed early
It’s important to look good and get plenty of rest.
6. Audition for a game show
When you arrive at a nice hotel for this purpose, it’s impossible not to feel like a big shot. If only passersby knew how smart you are. If only you could stop all of them and tell them about it.
7. Eat at a lunch counter that hasn’t changed in many decades
Town Topic Hamburgers is my kind of place. It’s old, cheap, a little run down, and has about ten seats. Really good food to boot. The kind of burgers that people who run websites about burgers gush about. 10/10.
8. Walk around for awhile
KC has a huge park complex that’s mostly dedicated to a World War I memorial. There’s a big tower in it but it was closed so I couldn’t go to the top. It’s kind of odd to think about such a big piece of real estate for a WWI memorial in a seemingly random place. And it’s apparently like the official national WWI memorial. I don’t think most Americans even know it’s there. I didn’t.
9. Drive around for awhile
KC’s pretty well-organized. They brag about having a lot of boulevards and fountains, and they should brag. It’s a really pretty urban environment. In the pretty places, at least. I swung through a bad neighborhood, same as all bad neighborhoods in non-major cities. That is, not very dense but immediately recognizable as the place where poor people live. I also went out to Kauffman Stadium and Arrowhead stadium. The Royals weren’t in town. Too bad, I’d have liked to go to a game. Also too bad that the stadiums are in their own little parking lot-enclosed world, which was closed, so I couldn’t get up close. I also made a little detour to Kansas City, Kansas. I wanted to see what that was about. I also wanted to cross Kansas off the list of states I’ve visited. Check.
10. Walk around more and eat a sandwich described as very good on the internet
After I parked back at my hotel, I checked out the nearby Country Club Plaza. I heard much hype about this place. Its basically a big outdoor upscaleish mall. Meh. I headed up to the Westport neighborhood, which I guess is like the hip spot in town. Hard to tell since there are a lot fewer conspicuously hip people in the Midwest than on the coasts. Stereotype confirmed. I had dinner at the Westport Flea Market Bar & Grill. I might be a regular if I lived in KC. Seems like they do a good happy hour business and it was a pretty diverse crowd. Executive types and bros and families and hipsters and nondescript Midwesterners. I had a chicken panini something that’s supposed to be famous. It was really good. Pretty good beer selection too. I was fairly dehydrated from walking around a lot since it was 90 degrees or so. I had a large quantity of water instead of beer.
11. Dick around in your hotel room and go to bed early
I was fucking exhausted.
12. Look at modern art
When you go to a small museum in a medium size city at 9 a.m. on a Tuesday, you will be the only person there who isn’t part of an elementary school field trip. The Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art is a solid museum for its size and scope. They even had a pretty good Tina Barney print. The Bridesmaids in Pink. Tina Barney is great. My favorite contemporary artist.
13. Learn about baseball history
KC is home to both the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and the American Jazz Museum. As much as I would have liked to hear all about the corners in KC where Charlie Parker scored heroin, I only had time for one. The NLBM was good, not great. A lot of educational material, but not a lot of artifacts. I like artifacts. I wish there had been more. It’s a rather small space, maybe that’s a consideration. I felt like a lot of it could have just been put in a book. There were a couple good video things.
14. Eat at an even more famous barbecue restaurant
My last stop was an early lunch at Arthur Bryant’s. This is probably the most famous of the local BBQ joints. And it is a joint. In a brick building. Old linoleum floors and cheap tables/chairs/silverware. Food served on trays cafeteria style. Just great. I loved it. Burnt ends weren’t as good as Gates, honestly. Better sauce though. I bought a bottle to bring home for my parents. Us Northerners aren’t used to good BBQ sauce. Thin and vinegary instead of thick and molassesy. I much prefer the former. Good BBQ is probably the best reason to move to KC or any point southeast of KC.
The Holiday Inn-Country Club Plaza is the perfect place for a broke traveler cashing in frequent flyer miles. A really good location actually. Right next to the two art museums and walking distance to a lot of good stuff.