Batter up, boys, it’s World Series season here in America, in case you didn’t know. This is the 110th World Series, with the San Francisco Giants and the Kansas City Royals fighting for the title. Baseball non-fans may be tempted to throw their casual support behind San Francisco simply because of the city’s reputation as a mecca. How unfortunate, however, it is to so easily turn one’s nose up at the thought of Kansas City.
True, not every neighborhood of the city is glamorous. Carol Burnett created her famous “Mama’s Family” sketch when her tour bus broke down in the Kansas City suburb of Raytown, and she met some of the locals. However, every city has its ups and downs. Ever been to the the Marina in San Francisco? Probably not, and there are many reasons why.
So wipe that furrowed, judgmental brow off your faces right now. It may be easy to dismiss places like Kansas City as fly-over country before you get to an exciting city like San Francisco. Those who take time to get to know Kansas City may find some delightful surprises that would even impress the most jaded urbanite.
1) This is the place, darling: Like many cities across the U.S., Kansas City’s core is being revitalized by urban pioneers looking for a multi-cultural, pedestrian-friendly experience without worries of finding decent schools for their not-yet-existent children. Urban renewal has historically been the frontier of the gays, but in Kansas City the general hipster population has joined the march to downtown, thanks to an unusual tech boom in the city.
The New York Times took note of Kansas City’s tech boom, partly a result of jobs from companies like Sprint and Garmin, which are located in the ‘burbs; however, perhaps the most exciting draw is Google’s choice to use Kansas City as a test market for Google Fiber, which delivers screaming-fast internet service at speeds normally seen in South Korean computer labs. Throw some cheap urban real estate into the mix, and the city is internet start-up heaven. Millenials, ages 25-34, make up 25% of Kansas City’s urban core’s population. So thank Google Fiber because getting online and finding a millenial lad of your own is that much quicker.
2) Names, darling, names names names: This may take a little bit of time to convince some of the retail snobs out there. However, we heretofore make a claim: one of the best men’s clothing stores on Earth is in Kansas City.
Hallmark, known for making greeting cards, is headquartered in Kansas City, in an office/retail complex called Crown Center. Beneath the cubicles filled with artists drawing birthday cards, the company also owns a department store called Halls, and it is glorious.
In the 1990’s and early 2000’s, much of the department store chain population in the U.S. was poached by Macy’s, which now operates over 800 stores. This means shoppers everywhere are subjected to the whims of the same handful of buyers who fill their stores’ racks with what Tim Gunn would refer to as “just clothes.”
Halls is a rare gem in the retail arena: it is an only child, unique to Kansas City, one of the last great independent department stores in the country, and its racks are filled with fashion artistry.
Prada, Gucci, Zegna, plus a collection of lesser-known designers like Andrew Marc and Moods of Norway, with leather jackets, ready-to-wear, and did we mention the shoes?…it’s almost too much.
It certainly begs the question, Who in Kansas City is buying these clothes? A visit to any of the gay bars in town is a feast of locals wearing plaid button-down shirts and jeans, and they are probably not wearing the $50 socks sold at Halls. But who cares? Get thee to Halls and buy yourself a Belstaff coat, or at least stop by just to drool.
3) But is it art, Eddie? Contemporary art is heartily embraced here in The Heartland. Officials at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the city’s premier art museum, famously commissioned an installation of giant shuttlecocks around the museum’s lawn, as if giants were playing badminton, because they felt the pillared edifice of the museum was too stuffy.
Design in all of its forms is a part of life in the city. DIFFA, Design Industries Foundation for Fighting AIDS, has a thriving chapter in Kansas City, started long ago by local.
Several urban neighborhoods have blossomed with revitalization, and much of the credit goes to the local art and design community. The Crossroads Arts District, is dotted with live/work gallery spaces and restaurants; also the River Market area centers on a downtown farmer’s market selling locally-sourced produce, and is surrounded with shops, design offices and gentrified lofts. The Kansas City Art Institute churns out artists who fill the old warehouses from industrial days gone by, and K.C. plays host to a “First Fridays” art gallery walk in The Crossroads, which is fun for about 20 minutes and then all the art looks the same, but alcohol is usually involved and who doesn’t love that?
Of course, all those artists and other related hipsters need coffee. Locally-roasted coffee booms in Kansas City and the scent of roasting beans often fills the air. Try one of the locations for Filling Station, or Mildred’s. If you want to hang with suburban yoga moms who complain about the warranties on their SUVs, try The Roasterie.
And while we’re on the subject: Is Kansas City in Kansas or Missouri? Actually it’s in both. The Kansas City metro area straddles the state line between Kansas and Missouri, which primarily follows the Missouri River. Kansas City, Missouri was established first, named after the Kansa Tribe of Native Americans in the area. This was all before the state of Kansas existed. When the city boomed, investors moved to the other side of the river, stole the name, and formed Kansas City, Kansas, to capitalize on the existing city’s fame as a trading port.
Now the cities sit side-by-side along with numerous suburb towns, and a street runs north-south dividing the two states. Stand on the east side of the yellow line and you’re in Missouri; stand on the west side, and you’re in Kansas. Liquor laws in Missouri are not as strict, so Kansas residents often drive over the state line to the better liquor stores on the Missouri side.
Sporting Kansas City soccer is in Kansas City, Kansas. The Kansas City Royals baseball stadium and Chiefs football stadium are in Missouri, ironically in Carol Burnett’s favorite suburb, Raytown.