it had been approximately one month since I'd been back from a whirlwind road trip around Ireland (Dublin > Kilkenny > Waterford > Copper Coast > Castlemartyer > West Cork Villages > Cliffs of Moher > Ring of Kerry > Cork) when the travel bug bite me again.
you would have throught I'd been home for 4 months rather than 4 weeks as I found myself telling people that a NEEDED a vacation. what can I say, we all have our vices and mine is travel.
the problem was that both Dylan and I work full-time jobs and had just used two weeks of vacation for Ireland - work people probs. in addition, we're heading to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for a wedding in early august and I'm heading on a girls trip to clearwater beach, Florida, in early September. with all of these factors to consider we quickly determined that a quick weekend getaway was in order; somewhere we could easily drive to for a long weekend, only take one day off work, and in the end kansas city was the winner.
full disclosure - I've been to kansas city. but in the 'I was 18-19 years old and only cared about partying' way. I spent my first year of college at k-state so the trips to lawerence and kc were far from what 34 year old heather had on her agenda. it felt like I was visiting for the first time - as a real life adult!
the first decision the adult versions of heather and dylan made was to be on the road at 8am on friday. we knew with stops for gas, water and snacks it'd take us about 5 hours, and since we took those precious PTO hours on friday we didn't want to waste them in a car. I'm pleased to report that we were pulling out of our driveway at 8:04am, coffees in hand and the latest episode of pod save america playing from the jeep stereo. and we took a page from my post on staying healthy while on the road and made sure to have water and healthy snacks.
we rolled into our hotel at in kc shortly after 1pm. first up? the hotel.
WHERE TO STAY (POWER & LIGHT DISTRICT)
upon the recommendation of friends and google searches alike we decided to stay in the power & light district in Kansas City. with easy access to bars, restaurants, live music, and general fun going-ons, as well as a close proximity to many of the things we wanted to do, the power & light district was an easy decision that made the most sense.
check in wasn't until 3pm so we were fully prepared to see if they could hold our bags, valet the jeep, and we'd be on our way to explore. (side note: parking is valet only at the hotel philips and many of the surrounding hotels, so prepare for that charge). however our room was ready when we checked in at 1:30 which was a pleasant surprise.
the hotel had a dark and elegant vibe. with chandelier's hanging from the ceiling and white modern chairs against the backdrop of a dark mahogany wood gives a dramatic feel for the lobby. I could almost picture the elegant woman dressed furs and smoking cigarettes while sipping bourbon in the lobby as I walked through.
the elevators were quick and we were up to the 8th floor to check out our room in no time. now the room was a bit different from a typical hotel room. the dark vibe continued itself in a dramatic dark gray color. perfect for sleeping off a hangover but a simple set of black out curtains would have been enough. I immediately wanted to open the curtains and get some natural light in; I'm a person who opens the doors and shades at home to let in the sun (or watch the rain) so the room was much too dark for my preference, but you know, I wasn't living there. and of course the shade on the main window was broke and couldn't be opened, so we could only get natural light from the small window by the bed.
the room was large. perhaps I was coming off of the smaller European hotel rooms I had been staying in but not only could I have fit 3 of the rooms I stayed in in cork in this the hotel Philips room, but I really felt like there was much more open space than a normal hotel room you'd reserve at Marriott, Hilton, Hampton inn, etc.
the bathroom was fantastic. it wasn't a big luxurious bathroom but the space was utilized well and had some of my favorite design elements of subway tile, a double shower, and a sliding door. the bathroom was very clean though the left side of bed was a mere 18"-24" from the bathroom door. but in our room with a king size bed you wouldn't be trying to fit a family in the room so it wasn't a deal breaker in any sense.
in addition, the hotel philips has a speakeasy located behind a secret doorway behind the check-in desk. after 5 pm you go downstairs and have amazing hand-crafted cocktails. they even infuse their own vodka and i had a fantastic green mango and vanilla infused vodka paired with champagne and mint. and they knew how to make a proper whiskey sour which always wins big bonus points in my book.
other hotels in the area:
- hilton president kansas city
- ambassador hotel kansas city, autograph collection
- courtyard by marriott kansas city downtown
- residence inn by marriot kansas city downtown
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
we stopped at simple science juices on friday after we arrived. we were walking from our hotel to the aquarium and stumbled upon this fresh juice store. I'm admittedly a sucker for a fresh green juice - yes, I actually really like them - and we hadn't ate anything but the snack on the drive to KC, so I needed a pick me up and this healthy juice was the perfect thing.
now I'll warn you; it was delicious but pricy. I picked a 16oz. bottle and Dylan picked an 8oz. bottle of the same juice and the total was just about $16. not a huge deal because we're not spending that money every day, but something to be aware of if you're on a budget.
up-down was recommended to us by one of dylan's good friends; it's an 80s/90s arcade bar that serves slices of pizza. i'll confess that i used to play a bit of mario bros and super mario kart back in the day, and i'd be lying if i didn't enjoy playing pac-man on my grandparents atari when i was little. i'm definitely not a video game person, but there's some fun nostalgia to be had when you encounter these games that bring up visions of my childhood.
we arrived at up-down shortly after they opened at 3pm on friday. as one of their first 100 customers through the door we received cup filled with tokens, each token equaling $.25, which is the "cost" to play each game.
the door guy was really friendly and upon seeing our iowa id's told us that up-down actually originated in des moines, iowa. des moines is only 2 hours from where we live in cedar rapids and des moines is really fun city. when we got inside we each got a drink, then set off to scope out the games.
we made the decision to go at opening on friday because we thought that the bar might get pretty busy on the evenings and weekends, so just keep that in mind if you're wanting to go on a friday or saturday night.
the bar itself was super fun. the bottom level was comprised on your standing arcade games, 4 skeeball shoots (do they call them shoots? i'm afraid i'm not up on my skeeball lingo), and a huge projection monitor where up to 4 people can race in mario kart. upstairs is all pinball games but they do have a mix of older and more recent pinball machines. case in point - i played a few rounds on the game of thrones pinball machine.
we stayed about 2-2.5 hours total had an absolute blast. we even had a few tokens left over that we gifted to a couple sitting next to use as we decided where our next stop was going to be.
tom's was a completely impromptu stop for us. we were full speed ahead walking from up-down to dinner at BRGR when we said 'oh what's this cool looking brick building?' curiosity got the best of us and we stopped in to discover they were a distillery that had their own lines of award winning whiskey and vodka.
since we had really had our first sips of good whiskey when we were in kilkenny we were curious so we tried a sampling, thought it was wonderful, had a few bourbon drinks, then desperately needed food so we paid up (bought a bottle of both their whiskey and their vodka), and headed towards BRGR.
BRGR was an indulgence for us. we aren't afraid to have good food, but we don't typically go to burger bars. however that day we hadn't had any lunch; only the healthy snacks on our drive, a green juice, multiple waters, and enough vodka to give a sailor a run for their money. we needed to EAT. we were more wore out and starving than anything, having walked miles across the city to visit the aquarium and back.
BRGR was packed when we got there around 7:30 that evening but we immediately got a booth in the bar area. and the menu was so so fun. a small sampling of apps, multiple burger offerings, a few other sammy's, and then fun tater tot combinations made for sharing.
our starvation got the better of us and we ordered an appetizer. okay, a BIG appetizer:
PIG WINGS - crispy pork shank, scotch honey glaze, blue cheese, sambal, celery
in our defense we only ate one wing because we suddenly knew our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and had the following items coming for dinner:
BLUE CHEESY TOTS - blue cheese sauce, blue cheese crumbles, bacon and green onions
STEAKHOUSE BURGER - hatfield signature beef special blend, roasted mushrooms, onion straws, wisconsin white cheddar, watercress, steak sauce and a brioche bun
FISH FILET - beer-battered haddock, wisconsin cheddar, lettuce, tater sauce and black pepper brioche bun.
full disclosure. after being up at 6 am, driving for 5 hours, walking for miles, consuming vodka, whiskey, tater tots and burgers the food coma was the real deal. we walked back to our hotel and and went to bed with full bellies, ready to get a good night's sleep for the next day.
p.s. is the speakeasy located in the hotel philips that is accessed by secret door. they open at 5pm and is a great place to have proper cocktails.
we found cleaver & cork wandering around the power and light district. they describe themselves as a butcher-driven gastropub focusing on meat and seafood, which was exactly what we ordered. after our barbecue-fueled tour around kansas city we weren't hungry for a full dinner, but wanted to share a couple plates.
at the same time as we were reading the menu outside of cleaver & cork there was a HUGE bustling of people around us. we had no idea what was going on around us and it wasn't until we sat down to order that we realized there was a flo rida concert about to happen out back as part of a summer concert series a local radio station puts on.
we ordered the cheese & charcuterie board to share, which was wonderful, then we shared the sautéed scallops with sweet potato tart, balsamic, swiss chard, prosciutto, and fennel.
it was the perfect meal to share after all the bbq, and we watched a little bit of the free concert (well, free for us because we happened to eat at a restaurant whose patio backed up to the concert).
the yard house was an impromptu stop after cleaver & cork. we were walking back to the hotel and stopped this beer stop. boasting over 100 beers on tap we decided to pop in and check it out. there's not much to say; there was literally over 100 beers on tap. our service was great and if beer isn't your thing they do have a full bar and full food menu if you're hungry.
WHAT TO DO
washington square park
washington state park is a fun park in the middle of city. located right across from the nelson-atkins museum and a mere half mile from the sea life aquarium, the park is the perfect place to get some greenery in the middle of the city and enjoy the nice weather.
after we checked into our hotel on friday we walked to the sea life aquarium. I love history and the ocean and it's always so difficult for me to choose what to see, but after reading some reviews we chose the sea life aquarium.
the aquarium is linked to the Legoland museum, so just be forewarned that while aquarium's are already family-friendly places, prepare for the influx of kids visiting both.
the aquarium was also very....neon. seriously. you'll see in my pictures below. it was very colorful, childlike, if you will. much more so compared to other aquarium's I've been too. last I checked fishes didn't require bright neon colored lights, but sure. BUT, the fishes were cool. there was no shortage of all kinds of ocean life to look at and I loved all the fun facts around the aquarium as you walked through.
pro-tip: after you buy your ticket you'll find yourself waiting in a line to get in. this is the 'we're going to take your picture and super impose you on an ocean background and try to sell you the picture at the end of your tour' line. if you're not interested in this and just want to go into the aquarium just flag the person setting up and taking the pictures and tell them you don't want a picture and they'll let you go in.
by far, the highlight of our trip was the Kansas City barbecue tour. recommended by a friend, this 4 hour tour costs $65 per person and you're driven to 4 key barbecue restaurants in Kansas City (and a bottle factory), and is well worth the money.
first, you get meals. not samples, but meals. the name of the game is to pace yourself, so no matter how hungry you are when the tour starts, I recommend leaving your membership to the clean plate club at home.
second, you get to learn not just the history of barbecue in kansas city, but also so much fantastic history of kansas city in general as your are driven around from place to place.
and all of wouldn't matter if you did have three - the best tour guide ever. arlin spoke to my sarcastic foodie heart. she was witty, fun, informed, and really completed what was honestly the highlight of kansas city things-to-do.
arthur bryant's was where we met to begin the tour and has been one of the key staples of kansas city barbecue since the beginning. see, arthur's brother charlie brought barbecue to kansas city with a guy named henry perry. way back in the day when you worked in the stockyards in kansas city you could take any leftover meat back home and essentially feed your family after each day's work. henry however decided that he was going to start selling the leftover meat along with a hickory pepper barbecue sauce, and thus kansas city barbecue was born. charlie eventually started working with henry, he sweetened up the sauce a bit, and charlie's brother arthur opened up arthur bryant's.
the wall of fame was impressive. from steven spielberg to my man Barak Obama, it's immediately clear that ab's is a staple in the history of kansas city barbecue.
arthur bryant's may have invented burnt ends, but LC's perfected them. and boy oh boy are they GOOD. holy moly. with a small walkup counter surrounding the smoker that's in the middle of the brick building you order your food at LC's, attempt to find a seat, and rub elbows with your neighbors.
pro-tip: be sure to pair your burnt ends with the thick cut fries and smokey based beans. LC's was my favorite stop on the barbecue tour and may have been the best barbecue I've ever had.
the third stop on the kansas city barbecue tour (and much needed food break) was at original Juan's; a bottling factory in Kansas City where you can tour, taste, and shop. original juan bottles over 800 barbecue sauces, over 900 hot sauces, and various salsa's.
they also bottle the hottest sauce in the world known to man - the source. at 7.1 million scoville (scoville is the hotness level that peppers are rated on) the source is 4x hotter than police pepper spray. for reference, one habenaro pepper is 300,000 scoville. if you try a taste of the source you can make the original Juan hall of fame. and when I say 'a taste' I mean a toothpick barely dipped in the sauce. we had one brave college girl decide to try it and her facial expressions went something like this:
- I don't what the big deal is
- yeah this fi-oh....
- oh wow
- son of a bitch
- everyone stop staring at me
our third barbecue stop (fourth tour stop) was at danny edwards bbq. though danny Edwards is 30 years old, it's quite young on the Kansas City barbecue scene, at least compared to the locations we had stopped at.
danny edwards is the little brother of lil' jacks bbq and they specialize in smoking and serving a unique part of the pig I had never heard of - the flat of the back and the point, the place where the muscle and fat meet.
I think you should you really go and try this unique meat, but spoiler alert - it's delicious!
our final stop was gates' BBQ. essentially the rival of Arthur Bryant's, gate's bbq started because george gates, who was the first black postal worker in kansas city, had worked his way up at USPS and one day his boss said to him "you have a white man's job". gates looked at his boss and replied "well you can give the job back to him then", quit on the spot, and began training with henry perry (the fella I mentioned in my summery of arthur bryant's above) and began his own journey to bring his version of barbecue to kansas city (spoiler alert: AMAZING ribs!)
after our barbecue tour we decided walk the .6 miles to burn some calories and check out the negro leagues baseball museum and jazz museum. both share a 10,000 square foot building so you can buy a ticket for each in the gift shop.
this museum is fantastic, which I feel is an understatement. telling the story of african-americans in baseball, the museum houses photographs, artifacts, multi-media displays, and a life-size bronze statues of key players on a large field.
it tells a beautiful story of the beginnings and evolution of what life was like as a black player from the late 1800s through the 1960s. it's important and so well done; this museum is well worth putting on your to-do list for kansas city.
the american jazz museum shares the building with the negro leagues baseball museum. it's bright, colorful, interactive, inspiring and there is a jazz bar that opens up with live jazz music in the evening.
other things to do in Kansas City:
- nelson-atkins museum - located close to the sea life museum and union station, the museum is 98% free and takes 3 days to go through
- ww1 national museum - the museum houses only 25% of world war 1 artifacts and still takes 2 days to go though, which is why when you buy a pass it is a two-day pass.
- country club plaza - an entire neighborhood dedicated to eating, shopping and music; the country club plaza area boasts so many fountains it's where the city got it's nickname 'little rome'
- kaufmann center for the arts
- arrowhead stadium
- kansas city zoo
what are you favorite places to eat, places to stay and things to do in kansas city?