If the last time you were in the West Bottoms was to go to a spook house, you’re missing out on one of the most vibrant and fast-growing areas of Kansas City. From the American Royal to cutting-edge art galleries, the West Bottoms is the perfect mix of Kansas City’s past, present and future.
The Royal represents all three with double-dares and deliciousness. Alas, the rodeo has moseyed over to the Sprint Center this year. No matter, there’s still plenty of action to catch down by the river.
The Royal gets a jumpstart with its annual parade. Last year, there were 115 marching bands, including the Marching Cobras, parade balloons, floats from various city groups and more than 50 groups of Shriners with their miniature cars, boats and other vehicles. I go just for the beautiful horses that prance through downtown as if they know the city is throwing a party for them.
Five-hundred plus teams bring their sauce and secrets to compete in a series of events culminating in the naming of the Grand Champion, Best Sauce on the Planet and Party of the Year. Kids even get to try their hand at meat mastery in the junior contest.
The best advice is to find someone who has a tent for the Friday night Party of the Year event. Corporations, families and individuals attempt to outdo each other with food, drinks, music and entertainment. If you’re not lucky enough to know someone who has a spot, head on down anyway. This is Kansas City and odds are you’ll have five new best friends before the night even gets started.
Don’t fret because there’s more to explore. Dolphin Gallery offers art from local artists, along with archival framing, art consultation and more. Originally located in the Crossroads, John O’Brien moved his gallery to the West Bottoms in 2008, leading everyone to speculate about the area’s potential for development. There are also numerous smaller galleries and art collectives in the spacious brick warehouse buildings that dot the landscape between the train tracks.
The West Bottoms is the place to go, which means if you’re looking for art by up-and-coming artists, the West Bottoms is the place to be.
Galleries and spaces are open on the first weekend of the month. Look for homemade signs and groups of bohemians hanging around what used to be loading docks. Everyone is friendly, so introduce yourself and ask what you should see first.
The West Bottoms is also home to some of my favorite restaurants. A Kansas City institution, The Golden Ox has been grilling steaks and mixing highballs since 1949. I like to sit in the bar during happy hour. Drinking in the dimly lit room with its polished woods and historical photos makes me feel like an old-time Kansas Citian.
Golden Ox epitomizes where we’ve been, the two restaurants across the street tell us where we’re going. The Genessee Royale Bistro serves fabulous morning and mid-day eats in what used to be a gas station. For breakfast, you can’t beat the fried egg and country ham biscuit, which is a glorious combination of sweet raspberry preserves, salty country ham and heat from a judicious amount of hot sauce. For lunch, go with anything that includes fried chicken and wash it down with their fresh-squeezed lemonade.
The R Bar offers a seasonal menu, music on select nights and a top-flight bar. There’s always a vegetarian option, locally raised chicken and some manner of steak available. The bar is scratch and features some of the most creative bartenders in town. I like to give them an idea of my mood and let them decide on my drink. They’ve yet to choose wrong.
Amigoni Urban Winery located in the bottom floor of the historic Livestock Exchange Building, is the perfect place to stop for a drink before you go to dinner. Drop in Wednesday through Saturday for a wine tasting and wines by the glass or bottle. Amigoni specializes in small-batch wines from their own vineyards in Missouri. A nice red petit verdot or a white malbec is just the ticket for the next dinner party.
The West Bottoms staple is the antique extravaganza on the first weekend of every month. Vendors set up shop in various buildings on either side of the 12th Street bridge. With charming names like Good Juju, Bottoms Up and the Liberty Belle, the collectives stay open late on Friday and Saturday and offer live music during the busier months. I’ve bought everything from a vintage bowling ball bag, which I proudly carry as a purse, to the best lemon juicer I’ve ever used. If it’s been invented, chances are it’s at one of these markets.
I’ve heard tell that there’s a speakeasy located down a dusty alleyway, off a seldom traveled street, not quite in the heart of the West Bottoms of Kansas City. Some say it’s called The Ship, in honor of one of Kansas City’s most reminisced, now defunct bars, but I can neither confirm nor deny its existence. I’ll leave it to you to discover it on your own. In a world where almost anything is at your fingertips, a serendipitous discovery can be a welcome distraction and the West Bottoms is the perfect place to go looking.
In the Crossroads Arts District in 1992, the West Bottoms gives you the opportunity to invest in an up-and-coming area. Or if you’d like to be part of the creative scene, there are plenty of lofts and workspaces available.
The area has its challenges, but they diminish when you look at the perks. It’s centrally located, inexpensive and has one of the lowest crime rates in the city. It’s no wonder the rallying cry for the hipster crowd has become, “Go West, young man!”
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