The Pitch‘s Best of Kansas City 2017: Why we love KC now
A little less than a year ago, in the days immediately following the election, someone we love — someone older, family we were visiting in another state — offered one of those assurances that used to pass for comfort. “You know this won’t really change much about your day-to-day life,” he said. Other older relatives not living in Kansas City mustered some vague sounds of agreement, and we all sort of nodded, and some of us remembered how torn up we’d felt in, say, 2004, and how things at home back then had not, in fact, shifted in any radical way.
This year, however, is no 2005. Check our browser history. Check yours.
But this moment of relentless tumult is also one of new connectivity. Plainly put, more of us are out in the street these days. More of us are talking about what to improve and how to do it. More of us are reading and sharing.
We love that. We love that there’s more engagement than despair. We love that people are gearing up to run for school boards instead of packing up to go somewhere else.
That’s why we’ve designed our annual Best of Kansas City issue differently in 2017. Most of the print edition this month (and elsewhere on our website) reflects our yearly poll, in which our fellow Kansas Citians announce their preferences across a wide range of categories. For the record, we think you mostly nailed it this time, and we’ll see you at Joe’s and Betty Rae’s and next season at the K, and so on. But our cover story emphasizes something more idiosyncratic, more personal. Below, you’ll find what we, the editorial crew of The Pitch, tell our own family and friends when they ask us about our community. We love it because…. Some of our becauses are cultural, some are culinary, some are people. All are subject to change or departure, not to be taken for granted. What they share in common (besides being damn good reasons) is that, added up, they are what made us want to get back home from that family trip last November.
Because activism is resurgent here …
If there is a silver lining to the fallout cloud that has enveloped everything since last November, it’s that many self-identifying liberals, angered by the outcome in 2016, sat up, looked around and realized that they’d been living in a fantasy world. Turns out that, for many Kansas Citians, America has never been all that great. For one thing, the guy who took your late-night order inside the Wendy’s at 31st Street and Main makes $8 an hour — even though he’s worked at Wendy’s for 20 years. Turns out, you got a way better interest rate on your car loan than your co-worker did, for no other reason than that you are white and she is black. Turns out, that same co-worker has a cousin who was shot by police for reasons that will never make sense. Turns out, almost nobody who works at the fancy cocktail place you’re Instagramming about has health insurance. And on and on and on.
You do not have to be a self-identifying liberal, or even much of a progressive, to understand that we have to do better.
But if you want a better country, it is no longer sufficient to vote and then remember to take off your little flag sticker before you toss your shirt in the laundry. It’s not enough to like the Women’s March on Facebook. It is not enough to be mad. It is time to organize. It is time to protest. It is time to contribute.
KC’s iteration of January’s Women’s March, in Washington Square Park, was a stirring and visible manifestation of local activism, and for some participants it marked a first. But if you looked or asked around on that day and the weeks that followed, you also saw that activism was swelling well before the election. Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), which asks white activists to use their privilege to dismantle racial oppression, formed in the summer of 2016. Stand Up KC has been taking fast-food-workers’ fight for $15 an hour and a union to the streets for nearly four years. Communities Creating Opportunity has long worked on social justice issues from poverty to payday loans
Indivisible KC (see next page) formed after the election and has been remarkably efficient monitoring and mobilizing against Republicans’ efforts to take health care away from 20 million people. Northland Progress is organizing along meat-and-potato lines: against Missouri Republicans trying to defund schools, deregulate environmental protection and disenfranchise voters in Parkville, Gladstone, Liberty and the like. The list goes on: One Struggle KC, Cosecha KC, Faculty Forward KC, Black Lives Matter. Google them. Sometimes a cataclysmic event like Trump is what’s necessary to shake people into action, to turn the everyday injustices that surround them from an abstract idea into something stinging and visceral. Judging by the turnouts at rallies this year, that recognition is beginning to take root. Let’s keep watering it and watch it grow.
… and because activism is starting to produce inspiring new candidates — including Hillary Shields
Like the majority of the country (literally), Hillary Shields woke up disgusted November 9. But instead of sulking, she got online and discovered the Indivisible Guide — “a typo-riddled Google doc, written by former Congressional staffers, that laid out exactly how you could organize a small group and make a difference by influencing your elected representatives,” Shields says.
Indivisible chapters were starting up around the country in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, but not here. So Shields, a paralegal determined to get a lot done during lunch breaks, did it herself. Since then, over months that have felt like long years, Indivisible KC has organized numerous demonstrations and turned up the health-care heat on Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt, Kansas U.S. Rep. Kevin Yoder and Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran. It has protested Betsy DeVos’ visit to Kansas City. And it has challenged Kansas Secretary of State and anti-enfranchisement crusader Kris Kobach’s lunatic views at open forums.
But pleading with elected leaders not to embrace terrible policies gets you only so far, and Shields knows that we need better people in office. So, over the summer, she announced her early candidacy for the 8th District of the Missouri State Senate, an election that wasn’t to be held until 2018. (The 8th District includes parts of Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs, Independence, Oak Grove and other cities.) Then, a surprise: Will Kraus, the Republican who occupied the Senate seat, was offered a job with the Missouri Tax Commission — triggering a special election to replace him. Now Shields will have a chance to flip the district — one in which a Democrat hasn’t even run since 2006 — a year early.
Shields has, accordingly, been campaigning her ass off, running on a common-sense platform: Expand Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, repeal right to work, fully fund public education. It’s all informed by her experience with Indivisible. As Shields told us earlier this year: “People can call it what they want, but to me, calling your member of Congress, going to a town hall and engaging in a peaceful protest — that’s just being a good citizen.”
Because KC is a great place to be a dog — and hang out with dog lovers
Kansas City’s expansive system of parks includes dozens of dog-friendly trails and several off-leash areas. That alone is the kind of constant good it’s easy to take for granted. But this year, our heart swelled with joy when we visited Bar K Lab. Yes, it’s a private business that’s not affiliated with any public entity, and for now it remains in beta mode, ahead of a far more expansive restaurant and dog-park complex its ownership is opening on the riverfront next year. But this is a genius startup, and we’ve never left Bar K feeling anything close to grouchy. More important, neither has any of our four-legged friends. Here, dogs of all shapes and sizes (with an equally diverse array of humans attached) mingle in baby pools filled with tennis balls and play on specialty ramps and platforms. Bipeds, meanwhile, get to enjoy beer, wine and cocktails. This is no mere dog park. It’s a social nexus that makes metro citizens of the animals while we people temporarily shed our political worries in favor of actual, offline connection.
Also, we have several no-kill shelters, and the people who run them are using social media (especially Instagram) to advance their missions — by putting adorable adoptables in front of your phone-checking face. Wayside Waifs, KC Pet Project, Tara’s Dream, the Humane Society of Greater KC, and Great Plains SPCA are devoted to animal welfare and finding safe homes for pets, and their posts range from furry faces to event and adoption announcements. The pups (and cats) at these shelters are plenty photogenic without the usual gimmicks, and any exposure means getting one like closer to finding a permanent home.
Because KC is a great place to be a kid
No matter where you live, if you’re a grown-up without a kid or two, you sometimes feel you’ve run out of new stuff to do. But if you’re a child in Kansas City, you never run out of things to do (provided someone can provide transportation). Childhood, you’ll recall, thrives on repetition: The best activities simply never get old. And watching kids see and do things that don’t get old for them, you’re not bored, either.
There’s Science City, with its warehouse full of educational, hands-on exhibits. Surrounding it, there’s Union Station itself, with its model trains, seasonal events and a gift shop that sells astronaut ice cream. And outside, there’s the streetcar. Or stay inside and tramp through the elevated link to Crown Center, home to the Coterie Theatre, a children’s play area and kid-themed restaurants like Fritz’s, which delivers food by miniature train. Also nearby are the Kaleidoscope art studio, Sea Life Aquarium and Legoland Discovery Center.
At the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, kids are invited to seasonal cultural events such as the stellar Day of the Dead festival, featuring crafts, performances and exhibits. The Steamboat Arabia museum in the City Market, which uses recovered artifacts to tell the story of an excavated riverboat, is enough to inspire a kid to become a Midwestern Indiana Jones. In Overland Park, Museum at Prairiefire utilizes state-of-the-art technology, friendly staff and engaging displays to teach kids about everything from outer space to microorganisms.
Outside, in the summer, Hyde Park, Loose Park and the newly renovated Dagg Park in North Kansas City are just a few of the places with great splash parks. To see animals indulge the occasional splash, there is always the Kansas City Zoo. Families with bikes (or bike trailers) can spend hours on the trails at Shawnee Mission Park, Turkey Creek, Mill Creek Streamway Park and the Riverfront Trail, with plenty of picnic spots along the way. Farmers’ markets abound across the city. Another family favorite during summer months is the Kansas City Northern Railroad, a mini train you can ride around a half-mile oval track for just 75 cents a pop.
Do some or all of this. Repeat until college.
Because Electrosexual is out, loud and safe
In a bar called the Batcave on the west end of the Crossroads, Mac Adkins celebrated the end of summer with a wild dance party. Definitions of wild will vary, but at this particular party, we were hit in the face with a flying wig covered in black-light paint during the final drag performance — and we loved it.
Electrosexual changes locations and performers, but the event’s high energy and open inclusivity are constants. In 2015, Adkins believed that the gay scene was split between institutions such as Missy B’s and ephemeral pop-up events that never seemed to gain a toehold. What we needed, he figured, was a big queer dance party. Thus was born Electrosexual, and it is indeed a welcome solution.
Less likely to hurl a wig at you is the accompanying queer-themed zine, For Your Eyes Only, filled with poetry, fiction, photos and personal stories. Each issue is published around the same time as a new party and given to an audience at Night Blooms.
Best of all: Electrosexual maintains a staunch policy against creepy behavior. It’s not for rubberneckers, and there’s nary a bachelorette party in sight. This is where we go to come out and dance our wigs off.
Because we finally resolved the Kemper Arena situation
Exactly 10 years ago — October 13, 2007, to be precise — Elton John sat down at a piano inside the Sprint Center and inaugurated the shiny new arena with the opening notes of “Funeral for a Friend.” It was a fitting hymn for a place the musician had played in years past: Kemper Arena, two and a half miles to the west, was dead as the city’s destination for high-profile concerts and sporting events.
But the funeral went on and on: KC spent the next decade trying to figure out what to do with Helmut Jahn’s old, white West Bottoms spaceship, so far beyond the glory days of the 1976 Republican National Convention, the Kansas City Kings, the Kansas City Scouts, and the 1988 Final Four. The last remaining permanent fixture at Kemper was the similarly declining American Royal, whose livestock and rodeo shows drew minuscule crowds. Three years ago, the Royal, already receiving a sweetheart deal from the city on its Kemper lease, had the audacity to demand from the city an even better deal. This led to a very public confrontation that only served to highlight the fact that the Royal had evolved into a city-subsidized country club for a small group of rich people (its popular, one-night-a-year barbecue competition excepted). In the end, the Royal agreed to an amendment of its lease that allowed the city to move forward with fresh ideas for Kemper.
Finally, in February of this year, a deal was at last hammered out. Foutch Brothers, a local development firm, will convert Kemper into Mosaic Arena, a youth sports complex, featuring a new second floor, a 350-meter track, multiple basketball courts, and commercial space. If all goes according to plan — never a safe assumption, but we’re optimistic on this one — Mosaic will bring even more life to the ongoing resurgence in the West Bottoms. Sometimes, patience is rewarded.
Because KC is where chefs and bartenders see their risk-taking pay off
If you measure a city’s culinary bona fides by keeping track of James Beard Award nominations, bartending-contest winners and champion baristas, KC is, you already know, kind of a big deal. But another way of recognizing our dining scene’s place in the firmament is to keep track of how often you hear your friends and co-workers say, “I’ve been meaning to try that place.” And how often you say that you need to get there, too. And how often you say, once you finally visit a new spot — the consistently great, casually elegant Antler Room, for example — that you’ve found a new favorite place.
At the Antler Room (pictured here), chef Nick Goellner’s ever-evolving and often wildly diverse menu of small plates shows global influence in sly, unintimidating ways: baby squid with pili pili and chicharrones at home alongside beef tongue served in XO sauce or pakora with salted yogurt and a preserved-lime syrup. Not far away, in the Crossroads, feted chef Michael Corvino has staked out multiple territories as a restaurateur, with a space that’s part elite tasting room, part expansive supper club, and part service-industry electromagnet (thanks to a constant supply of Hamm’s and addictive cheeseburgers).
Taking his own chances on the more workaday end of the spectrum, the highly trained chef John Cedric Smith opted to make his new place a Southern-style “Meat and Three.” EJ’s Urban Eatery, in the West Bottoms, taps into that neighborhood’s blue-collar roots and is already a destination for downtown lunch crowds, with an even more diverse crowd lining up for dinner. We love the pimiento-cheese sandwich as much as the espresso-rubbed brisket in white sauce with a serving of fried green tomatoes.
And for anyone who figures KC is the secret source of every TV-news B-roll showing faceless chubby people walking and smoking on anonymous urban streets, we even have clean eating and fancy juices these days. In Brookside, Unbakery and Juicery is making cold-pressed juices and tonics de rigueur, and has made us serious fans of fresh tuna and salmon poke, vegan salads and no-bake goodies. Who’d have thought one place could reward so many different visions?
Because Boulevardia got great this year
Sometimes a makeover does exactly what it’s meant to do. Exhibit A in 2017: Boulevardia’s move slightly southward, from the West Bottoms-iest part of that neighborhood to the Stockyards District segment of same. (The distinction is theirs, not ours, though it isn’t lost on us.). That little tick of the compass turned this annual beer, music and maker festival, organized by the thousand-pound gorilla of local brewing, from hot (as in ohmygodthesun!) to hot (as in hell yeah). For one, remaking a multistory parking garage as a large beer garden and VIP area provided vastly more shade and seating, the better to push back against our crushing summer weather. For another, booze offerings expanded to include wine and cocktails. And it’s no small thing that this year’s music lineup featured George Clinton, Parliament Funkadelic and Local Natives, in addition to dozens of local acts. Boulevard could have sold out Boulevardia without seeking to better the event. Instead, organizers heard what fans had steadily reported, making new fans in the process.
Because Patrick Miller is at the University of Kansas
A political science professor at the University of Kansas, Patrick Miller studies American politics, with a particular emphasis on attitudes of partisanship. Our current American moment being one with a particular emphasis on attitudes of partisanship, we’re glad he’s nearby. His Twitter feed (@pmiller1693) has become an indispensable resource. A data-oriented scholar, Miller is able to put polls, elections and pronouncements in the proper context. When John Kasich spoke out against gerrymandering, for instance, Miller tweeted out images of ridiculously labyrinthine districts in Ohio that Republicans had redrawn during Kasich’s first term as governor. He’s funny, too. In the run up to the recent local election in Lawrence, Miller posted a photo of a candidate’s homely yard sign. “I’m not sure that I can trust someone to spend Lawrence taxpayer money wisely if they will spend their own money on this yard sign design,“ he wrote.
Because there’s great beer … in Raytown
Joke if you want about this little-loved part of the metro (Boca Raytown, one of our friends calls it), but it’s home to the area’s most inventive brewery. Crane Brewing’s signature offering seems designed to fit between your skeptically puckered lips: Gooseberry Gose marries delectable sourness to full-bodied refreshment. And oddball concoctions such as Beet Weiss or Tea Weiss transcend their seeming novelty. What you first bought as a gift to surprise your seen-it-all beer buddy is now a staple in your refrigerator. Even the labels are supercool. Oh, and Crane’s comfortable, affordable taproom is a destination unto itself. More often than you’d think, you’ll find us in Raytown.
Because we can apparently support record stores like it’s 1979
You know, there’s a cool record store in a strip mall off Hickman Mills Drive, an acquaintance told us one night last winter. What? Another one? In Grandview? Morning came, and we made the drive. The story checked out. It’s called Gotwhatulike Records, and the owner keeps a fine, well-curated, intelligently priced selection of records, plus audio equipment. So here, we’d like to pause for a short apology to any cranky vinyl heads who might be upset at us for publicizing this hidden gem. (Respectfully, it’s the right thing to do.)
Gotwhatulike is one of several relatively new businesses that have stumbled upon the same surprising conclusion: Kansas City is a pretty OK place to own a record store. Over the past half-decade, Gotwhatulike, Mills Record Company, Records With Merritt, Brothers Music and Josey Records have set up shop around these parts. More to the point, their doors are still open. So, in this era of instant gratification via Spotify and YouTube, are Vinyl Renaissance (now in Overland Park), Revolution Records (formerly Zebedee’s, now in the Crossroads), and 7th Heaven (still kicking on Troost). How do all these places make the numbers work? We think it has something to do with engaging the community by selling local artists and holding in-stores for local and touring bands. Or diversifying into selling tube amps and stuff. Honestly, we are not really sure. But as long as they keep the crates fresh, we don’t really care. We need something to do on Saturday afternoons — just as people presumably have ever since the first Victrola.
Because KC is quietly home to widely admired writers …
First, the bad news: Patricia Lockwood doesn’t live around here anymore. The funniest poet in America — and the author of Priestdaddy, this year’s most entertaining memoir — recently moved from Lawrence to Savannah, Georgia, so we can no longer claim Lockwood (whose father is the priest at Christ the King Catholic Church, in Waldo) as one of our own.
But now the good news: Some pretty great and even successful writers call Kansas City home. Like who? How about Amie Barrodale, fiction editor at Vice and author of last year’s wonderful collection of short stories You Are Having a Good Time. Or her husband, Clancy Martin, University of Missouri–Kansas City philosophy professor and recent author of the books Bad Sex and Love and Lies. (Martin is also one of the country’s sharpest magazine writers; see his work in Harper’s, among others.) Also at UMKC: Whitney Terrell, whose Iraq War novel, The Good Lieutenant, earned notice last year. On the other side of the Country Club Plaza, at the Kansas City Art Institute, you can find essayists and poets Anne Boyer (Garments Against Women) and Cyrus Console (Romanian Notebook) shaping young minds. And we just heard the other day that Jessa Crispin — she of the influential litblog Bookslut — recently moved here.
Who needs Brooklyn?
… and because Zine Con is lifting up the next generation of DIY writers and artists
When the first KC Zine Con sprouted up here, in 2015, it wasn’t some brand-new idea. Plenty of other cities were holding zine festivals, spurred by a renewed interest in handmade, hand-distributed works of art and literature. Such micro publications serve as antibodies against the disconnection that haunts our digital age, and KC’s version of the vibe was just right: More than a thousand friendly weirdos gathered inside the Uptown Theater’s Valentine Room to peruse chapbooks, comics, tote bags, screen prints, T-shirts, buttons, pottery, poetry collections, and old-school zines made of photocopied and stapled pages. Last year, the fest moved to UMKC, and this year it was held at El Torreon, with ever more of that same lovely energy. To attend Zine Con is to feel a part of a beautiful artistic community beginning to break through. This groundswell is a testament to the event’s founders and the tablers, sure, but of course it’s also about a pool of young, broad-minded talent in and around Kansas City.
Because Hot Hands lets you own real art at a bargain price
Who among us has the means or the will to be an art collector? Who among us wants to be introduced to other humans as “an art collector”? Not many of us!
But wanting to own good art — an object that moves us, a drawing or a painting or a sculpture or a fabrication we regard as fascinating or even beautiful — that’s different.
And, for the past couple of years, it’s also been an entirely achievable aim, thanks to Hot Hands, the annual Front/Space fundraiser at the Drugstore studios. More than 20 artists set up stations in the front room and spend hours producing work for the crowd. Volunteers snatch up completed works and display everything on the wall for purchase. It’s first come, first serve, and work by the previous year’s hottest artists doesn’t stay available for long. All the money raised is funneled back into Front/Space, an artist-run gallery in the Crossroads, for the next year’s programming. Each piece of art is presented on a sheet of copy-size paper and sold for $30, no matter the materials used or the career status of the artist.
Hot Hands is one of those Kansas City events that feels welcoming to art-scene outsiders, familiar to insiders, and exciting for everyone involved. It’s a significant asset to anyone who cares about local art, and it restores our faith that taking risks can pay off —for artist and would-be art collector alike.
Because @ladybroseph makes us laugh
The Twitter account @ladybroseph, which has amassed more than 25,000 followers, is essentially a scaffolding for jokes. Some of the jokes are great. And some of them feel personal and necessary.
One post, netting more than 1,000 retweets, puzzled over the Target-purchased instructions that people hang in their kitchens. “Home decor assumes you regularly forget to live, laugh and love,” the tweet said. Another popular tweet imagined someone passing along advice, remote control in hand: “Life? Listen to me, kid. You only have to watch River Monsters once for your Netflix recommendations to be in shambles.”
The author of the tweets lives in Kansas City. She created the account in 2012 and built a following as other comedy writers on Twitter recognized her chops with retweets and favorites. “No, the Church of Satan I go to is different,” she tweeted in 2014. “Very chill. No black robes or chants. You can wear jeans. It’s about the relationships.” Sex and relationships are also frequent subjects: “Is it okay to break up by text if you’ve only been married two years?”
The woman behind the account is not a professional comedian. She works as a psychotherapist at a local hospital and in private practice. The pen name Lady Broseph allows her to express herself without interfering with her vocation.
In between potent one-liners (“You’d think dudes named Chad would be cooler cause chill + rad”), the account gives poignant voice to one woman’s anguish. In a recent thread, she described how she uses opposite action, a skill from behavioral therapy, to manage the times when she feels “crummy for no reason.” She told us last month: “I’ll share so much, but it’s always on my terms.” She says her jokes seem to get a better response when she’s feeling depressed. “You’ve always got Twitter when you’re suicidal,” she says.
Because we’re starting to truly reinvest in the East Side
Center stage on April’s local ballot was occupied by an $800 million bond proposal to upgrade Kansas City’s crumbling infrastructure. It passed — we’re glad — but so did another proposal that started the day against very long odds. The One City initiative, a grassroots petition taken up by leaders on the city’s East Side, sought a citywide eighth-cent sales tax. The money would not be dispersed citywide, though. Instead, the expected $8 million a year over the next decade would be sent to the area extending north from Gregory Boulevard all the way down to Ninth Street, and west from the Paseo to Indiana Avenue. In other words, a good chunk of the East Side.
“Development is occurring all around the city,” Rev. Vernon Howard, an East Side pastor, said in the run-up to the election. “But there’s not been an equitable focus within the inner city where most people of color and poor whites live.”
Undeniably true. But would our notoriously tightfisted citizenry agree to tax itself in order to aid an area where the majority of voters do not live? Surprisingly, the answer came back yes: the proposal squeaked past, with 52 percent of the vote.
There have been other recent investments in the urban core. The city broke ground earlier this year on a publicly funded $13 million redevelopment, anchored by a Sun Fresh grocery store, at Linwood and Prospect. There’s a new, $74 million crime lab at 26th Street and Prospect. The Land Bank is chipping away at blight by demolishing houses. And bus rapid transit, in the form of a Prospect MAX, is ready to go, once federal funding is approved. It used to be that dumping money into 18th and Vine was the city’s go-to move for signaling its commitment to counterbalancing disinvestment on the East Side. Nowadays, we’re seeing efforts that come closer to the equitable focus Howard described. It’s about time.
Because Union Station is low-key wonderful
Probably, you do not find yourself in Union Station all that often. That’s OK. You live here. You’re busy. But imagine you’ve never been to Kansas City before. Now imagine yourself newly arrived at Union Station, on an Amtrak train. And let’s say it’s the Christmas season. What would greet you after your exit from the train is this:
A massive, ornate lobby, decked out with holiday decorations, including a gigantic Christmas tree; lots of people (but not too many people), walking with purpose; a pretty-dang-good coffee place (Parisi Café); an open-air restaurant (Harvey’s) that looks kind of like a double-decker merry-go-round; and a tucked-away fine-dining establishment (Pierpont’s, pictured below) with one of the best happy hours in the city.
Head outside, and you’ll see the solemn pillar guarding one of the top cultural attractions in the city, the National World War I Museum at the Liberty Memorial. You’ll see Crown Center. To the east, you’ll see people waiting for or boarding the streetcar, ready to cart you toward the cultural riches that lie in the Crossroads and River Market.
We were able to experience all of this through the eyes of a KC first-timer last December, and it filled us with such warmth and gratitude for our city that — for a little while, anyway — we understood what made whoever did it first type out that #kcpride hashtag.
Because there’s healthy food on Troost
There was a moment when 4101 Troost seemed fated to be another loss to a blighted map. The former inhabitant of the space, Freaks on Troost, shut down a few years ago, after police discovered that the owner was spying on the upstairs female tenants using an elaborate camera system. That’s a fairly damning curse on a retail property, and just about any would-be proprietor would have been brave to open it back up. A run-of-the-mill fish shack or barbecue place? Great, go ahead.
What opened instead, this past January, was something very good out of something very bad: 4101 Troost became a restaurant offering something that had been largely absent along the 90 blocks of Troost Avenue — healthy food.
Smoothies, a sweet-potato parfait, chickpea tacos, a tofu-egg scramble: These are a few of the menu offerings at Justin and Rashaun Clark’s breakfast-and-lunch spot, Urban Café. The place has been a hit from the get-go, a testament to the hunger in the area for a place to eat that isn’t built around a dollar-menu drive-thru. Better yet, it is in every way a true neighborhood place. The Clarks live upstairs, Rashaun grew up a few blocks away, and they source their vegetables from the nearby Manheim Community Garden.
Best of all: There seems to be a domino effect happening on other stretches of Troost. Over the summer, Nate & Sons (5531 Troost) opened its doors, serving veggie paninis, organic teas and kale salads. And, come October, a Ruby Jean’s Juicery is set to open in a new development at 30th Street and Troost. Bring on the acai bowls.
Because some of our best concerts happen outside
In a couple of years, we of the Great Plains will probably all be wearing UV bodysuits from May through September to protect ourselves from the scorching horrors wrought by the changing climate. Save for a few grueling weeks in July, though, this past KC summer was really not so bad. And without the heat as an excuse to cancel plans, we rediscovered the everlasting joy of spending a summer evening, beer in hand, watching music performed on an outdoor stage.
In our younger days, it seemed like this experience was limited to Sandstone (now Providence Medical Center Amphitheatre) and Starlight. Those venues are still alive and well — special shout-out to Providence for bringing Run the Jewels to town in September — but so, too, are spots that require less planning and less driving. It’s a particular pleasure to saunter over to Crossroads KC at Grinders after work, stand on some wood ships, sip a Boulevard and watch a show. Getting to Elvis Costello, Bone Thugs, Violent Femmes and Father John Misty, among others, required only a short walk for us — and not much of a haul for you either, we bet.
Likewise, a trip to Knuckleheads Saloon, in the East Bottoms, always rewards our appetite for rootsy music in an unfussy atmosphere. We recall a Wednesday-through-Saturday stretch in June when the place hosted Joan Shelley and Jake Fussell; Alejandro Escovedo; Chuck Prophet; and local blues heroes Katy Guillen and the Girls. We were poor in available ticket money but rich in music options, and now we’re practically spoiled for indoor culture.
Because Kenny Broberg is a big deal
If you’re looking for YouTube videos seen by fewer than, say, 3,000 people, type in the name of your favorite young classical pianist. Oh, wait — you don’t have a favorite young classical pianist. Maybe 2,900 people have favorite young classical pianists, and probably 2,500 of those are the parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles of really great young classical pianists.
We didn’t have a favorite young classical pianist until recently. But this year, we jumped on the Kenny Broberg bandwagon — hard. Broberg wasn’t born in KC (he was born in Minneapolis), but we’re claiming the Park University music grad student all the same. From this base, in June, he picked up a silver medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition. (At Park, he studies with Stanislav Ioudenitch, who won that same contest’s gold medal in 2001. Consider us on the Park bandwagon, too.) The 23-year-old also won prize money and contracts that will put him on disc and in front of more audiences. So we won’t get too attached.
But we will remember his show last month at the Folly, where he played, long of limb and fiery of fingers but Peter Parker of hair and grin, some of the music that put him into contention. He is now our favorite pianist — our favorite soloist — of any demographic.
Oh, and do look up Broberg on YouTube. In short interview segments, he’s boyish and charming, and in concert clips he is spellbinding. Many more people are about to find out how awesome he is.
Because Art in the Loop made the streetcar ride even better
If you rode the streetcar this past summer, you saw the latest Art in the Loop projects — the results of a nonprofit set up to fold a little conceptual funk into downtown’s glitz-courting development drive. We especially liked “Then & Now: Faces of KC,” by Lauren Thompson (pictured here with the finished product) and Jeff Evrard, at the corner of Third Street and Grand. Installed on both exterior sides of pickets on a fence, the work consists of photos depicting historic KC figures, past and present, that blend into an optical illusion when the viewer is in motion.
“My mom shared a video with me of fences in New York where graffiti artists had spray painted faces on the sides of the pickets,” Thompson says. “I wanted to take that concept a step further and thought there was some way to incorporate meaning to the way the faces are presented on the fence. By putting historical photos on one side of the fence and current photos on the other side, passing by the fence is more than just a visual transition but also a transition through time.”
The trick works, and seeing it in action makes you more alert to other sights along the route. The train reminds you that Sprint is giving you free internet onboard, but you have all day to do that elsewhere. Look up from your phone and out the windows.
Because the Black Rep is giving overlooked stories (and venues) new life
You don’t need us to tell you that KC’s theater scene is, by any standard, great. But it’s worth reminding you that our manifold strengths make it tough to hold on to home-grown talent when the bright lights of Broadway and film beckon artists.
Enter the Black Repertory Theatre of Kansas City, a fresh company founded by artistic director and beloved local actor Damron Russel Armstrong. The Black Rep spent its first season minting meaty opportunities for local actors, directors and designers of color. Bonus: The theater committed to a part of town that isn’t already saturated with arts orgs. Shows play at the Arts Asylum, a recently renovated space at Ninth Street and Harrison. The company’s self-stated goal is to “tell the tales of the unsung.” The Black Rep absolutely does this — and sings them with style. Last year’s musical season finale, Five Guys Named Moe, was a feast of talent on a shoestring budget. We can’t wait to see what the theater can do as its following (and its funding) grows.
Because we’ve (still) got Vanessa Severo, and she’s still finding ways to surprise us
OK, we’ll cop to a little fangirling over local actor Vanessa Severo. She has graced this publication’s “Best Of” lists in the past, and for good reason: She has comedic chops, dramatic bite and a range that runs deeper than James Cameron can find in a submarine.
So yes, we admired her performances in last year’s Annapurna and this year’s Men on Boats. But we are freshly impressed by her directing for Spinning Tree’s Shipwrecked! An Entertainment, a reprise of one of the theater’s best-loved shows. Severo made it her own. We expected her ear for wit to shine through in the play’s gags. We didn’t expect to be misty-eyed over the entrancing movements of a mop head. Severo and her actors conjured a whimsical yet fully realistic world with minimal props and few set pieces — showing that a good director was in charge. We’re hoping to see more of her work behind the scenes, even if (sigh) it means we see a little less of it under the lights.
Because David Wayne Reed is still doing what he does
“I think it’s in the act of listening that we incubate empathy. And empathy breeds compassion, and compassion tears down proverbial walls of otherness.”
That’s what David Wayne Reed told us last winter when we asked him about his Shelf Life storytelling project. He would say something like that. Reed, an actor and playwright long familiar to KC theater audiences, is the sort of local fixture it’s easy to take for granted. He’s been a barometer sensitive to changing attitudes; he has occasionally seemed ubiquitous but also disappeared for spells. When he says he’s putting disparate voices onstage to talk Moth-ily, using objects (from, you know, off the shelf) as jumping-off points, you figure you know what to expect.
Yes and no. Shelf Life as pure live entertainment? Yup. Reed as witty ringmaster? Of course. Notes that felt different this time? Yes. Reed is still Reed, you see, but we’d forgotten how true his instincts can be. We hope this Shelf stays fully stocked.
Because, one rider at a time, we’re becoming a cycling city
It’s not going to happen overnight, the whole no-longer-taking-your-life-in-your-hands-when-you-hop-on-a-bicycle thing. Kansas City motorists have long been pathologically unfriendly to cyclists, blind to us on a good day — hostile to us on a bad day. But leaders have been paying closer attention to bike advocates this year, and the resulting conversation has been productive. Dedicated lanes are at last being added to Grand and appear to be on the horizon in more places. All summer, we saw more people on two wheels, looking comfortable in traffic, looking happy not to be on the highway.
Meanwhile, we still have long thoroughfares like Beardsley Road — pictured here — that remind us how much of KC remains to be discovered in the open air. Push up the hill like an athlete or cruise down it like a kid, and you’ll remember why you loved being on a bike in the first place.
Because we’re nice to come home to
It’s the eternal failsafe for Kansas Citians when someone asks us to list the advantages of living here: We’re in the middle, allowing us to reach various places with relatively little hassle. This is the very definition of faint praise, though it is basically true. Ringed by river burgs and college towns, we are the day-trip capital of the Great Plains. And launching a getaway weekend from here is simple: A drive north to Minnesota won’t cost you more than seven hours, and some of the drive is almost scenic; Crystal Bridges, in Arkansas, isn’t a slog, either, and the reward is great art. Wherever it is you like in Nebraska, Oklahoma or Iowa can be reached in short order.
Absolutely you should get yourself to all of these places and more. Go, go, go.
Admit it, though: You’re always glad to get back. For the reasons outlined in these pages, sure — because Joe’s, because the Nelson, etc. — but also because this is home. And home isn’t really about best. Home is about good. Home is where you decide that what’s good outweighs what’s less good — and where you see yourself making yourself and those around you better.
For years, we’ve asked people who take The Pitch’s Questionnaire what they’d put on their KC postcards. Here’s what we’d put on ours: one of Wilbur Niewald’s paintings of Kansas City. The eminent, beloved nonagenarian artist renders the skyline as both pastoral and industrial, summer-green and brick-red, partly cloudy. It’s our city, without illusions, as seen by someone who has chosen to be here a long time. It looks like home to us.