By Saul Schwartz
My wife Fern and I spent three days in Kansas City in September, both on the Kansas side and the Missouri side. With a population of just under 500,000 the Kansas City, Missouri area is the largest city in the state. The downtown is near the confluence of the Kansas and Missouri rivers and we walked from our hotel to a river overlook adjoining the River Market neighborhood.
Highlights included viewing ornamental fountains, touring a fine art museum and our night at a speakeasy. The weather was hot and humid, but we had a great time!
Starting on the Kansas side
Four municipalities consolidated in 1986 to form the Kansas portion of the greater metropolitan area. Today’s Kansas population of the city is around 150,000. We discovered that there is less to see and do on the Kansas side, so we started there after our arrival.
The Rosedale Arch is a small scale replica of Paris, France’s famous Arc de Triomphe. This arch is dedicated to the veterans of Kansas City, Kansas who gave their lives in military service. It is located on Mount Marty in Rosedale, overlooking the intersection of Rainbow and Southwest Boulevards. A plaque lists the names of veterans from World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam.
Breit’s Stein and Deli
The deli is located at 412 North 5th Street. The small restaurant and bar has a limited menu, but it has a very homey, neighborhood atmosphere. The prices were very reasonable and our turkey sandwiches, with sides of cole slaw were very tasty. Service was very prompt.
Then on to Missouri
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
William Rockhill Nelson died in 1915 and left the majority of his estate to be used to purchase art. Mary Atkins had died in 1911, leaving a large sum of money to build an art museum. Trustees of the two estates joined forces to open this extraordinary art museum.
The museum is located at 4525 Oak Street. Admission is free. Parking costs $10. The permanent collection of more than 3300 art objects is one of the country’s finest.
We spent about 5 hours touring the spectacular collection, including a 1 ½ hour docent led tour of the highlights of both buildings. The 1933 Beaux Arts original building is a dramatic contrast with the modern 2007 Bloch building.
The collection surveys art from around the globe. We particularly enjoyed the impressionist rooms which feature Claude Monet’s Water Lilies. Other highlights include the indoor Noguchi sculpture rooms which nicely transition into a glass wall and the outdoors. The adjoining Kansas City Sculpture Park is on the lawn outside the museum. Of the 30 sculptures, we thought the most whimsical were the series of gigantic 18 foot shuttlecocks designed by Claude Oldenburg. The outdoor area also includes gardens and statuary. Of note, there is a collection of bronzes by English sculpture Henry Moore.
We enjoyed lunch within the Rozzelle Court Restaurant, a cafeteria within the museum. This part of the museum is designed in the style of a 15th century Italian courtyard.
Country Club Plaza
We really enjoyed wandering around the outdoor shopping plaza, with its exquisite Spanish and Moorish architecture and terra cotta roofs. The plaza begins at 4750 Broadway Street. Located in the Country Club District, the Plaza is designed to be in a style similar to Seville, Spain. The Plaza was built in 1922. There are many high end stores and restaurants over a series of streets, with free parking in lots.
Fern and I spent some time checking out the series of European fountains and sculptures in the Plaza. With about 200 fountains in Kansas City according to the latest total, Kansas City is also known at the city of fountains!
Right outside the Plaza, is one of the most beautiful fountains. The J.C. Memorial Fountain is 80 feet in diameter with horses, dolphins and cherubs. Dedicated to the developer of the Plaza, there are also four heroic horsemen which represent the rivers of the world.
Other fountains of note include the humorous Boy and Frog (1928), an original in bronze and marble purchased from Florence, Italy. Also from 1928 is the Pool of Four Fauns which was purchased in Brindisi, Italy and features four Roman children frolicking in the water. The Seville Light (1967) is a replica of the iron light from the plaza in Spain. A brochure is available that maps out the locations of the various fountains and sculptures within the Plaza.
Where to stay
Hotel Philips at 106 West 12th Street is right in the center of downtown. This restored boutique hotel features a stunning 1930s Art Deco design, with elaborate bronze and nickel metal works. In addition to an adequate fitness center and comfortable rooms, the hotel provides a full breakfast in the Tavernonna Restaurant. Guest passes are provided to a very extensive fitness center just one block from from the hotel. The Philips was once the tallest building in Kansas City, standing 20 stories high.
Food and Drink Options
This market started in 1948 in a small neighborhood store by the Cosentino brothers and sisters. The three markets offer traditional grocery store products and specialty foods. The very large downtown store is located at 10 13th Street. The downtown market is one of the largest city markets that we have ever encountered. We particularly enjoyed the great big chocolate chip cookies and the made to order pasta dishes. Local Kansas City chocolates were also featured.
The Mixx has three locations including downtown at 14th and Main Streets. The Mixx serves fast fresh health minded food. For lunch, I enjoyed one of the made to order salads. The menu also includes sandwiches, salads and wraps. The Mixx is a great fast casual option with moderate prices.
PS is a contemporary incarnation of the 1930s speakeasy. Hidden from the long arm of prohibition era law, Kansas City speakeasies welcomed revelers seeking spirits and good times. Kansas City is well known for its jazz scene. PS is a speakeasy hidden in the long forgotten basement of Hotel Philips. The hidden entrance is behind the hotel lobby’s desk and we entered through an unmarked door. We enjoyed classic cocktails while listening to a talented live 3 piece jazz ensemble, featuring a lead singer with a fine voice in a flapper dress. A $5 cover charge is required to enter.
We were in the mood for Italian food one night, but the restaurant we picked was disappointing. The city is well-known for its barbeque restaurants, but we did not try one during this visit. Nevertheless, we found Kansas City to be well worth a three day visit.