Kansas City’s culinary and cocktail scene is exploding with a host of new independent restaurants and locally made spirits and brews. You can’t do it all in one night, but you might as well try. For this #ThreeStopHop, we eat, drink and play in the three different downtown KC areas.
Stop 1: Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen
The light-wrapped trees twinkle on the patio at Tannin Wine Bar & Kitchen, pulling in folks downtown with the simple call of rosé. After that, it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure with wine. You can relax at the simple wooden tables on the patio joined by a crisp, citrusy Sauvignon Blanc and a plate of roasted seasonal vegetables. Or you can venture inside to the u-shaped wooden bar, where a Cruvinet (a temperature-controlled wine dispensary) showcases Tannin’s dedication to wine by the glass.
Wine is the soul of Tannin. It spurs spontaneous conversations about place and where you want to visit. The exposed brick walls provide a haven for experimentation, a way for wine novices and experts alike, to sit and sip and ponder a dry Riesling. The dinner crowd here gravitates toward the long-backed booths that line the south wall where the buzz turns as mellow as Merlot. Tannin, which opened in 2011, is a connector – a magnet that acts as a de facto streetcar stop. It sets you on a gentle course for the evening by letting you choose, with a little help when needed, what’s next for your glass and plate.
Stop 2: Il Lazzarone
A few blocks and streetcar stops will take you down to Il Lazzarone in the River Market; where the neon pizza sign makes your mission clear. Walk through the sleek dining room, but stop to take in the pizzaiolo working the white, wood-fired Mario Acunto Forni oven (just over 6,00 pounds and imported from Naples). Take a peek at the floors too. Before opening in 2015, owner Erik Borger took a blue flame to the refinished wood to create subtle char marks to match the leopardization of his Neapolitan pizza.
When you arrive at the back bar, the red stools lend a little pop of color to the white subway tiles and reclaimed wood that is at once Scandinavian and Midwestern. Order a Negroni straight from the tap. The luxe red, gin-based cocktail substitutes Cappelletti Aperitivo (a wine-based Italian aperitif) for Campari, lending the drink a sultry quality and rounded sweetness. It will also buy you time as you debate whether to order the frito (fried dough) or dessert pizza. In the end, you’ll order both – the pizza shimmering with Nutella and the frito demanding to be dipped in the mountain of accompanying Marscapone whipped cream. All that’s left is to enjoy the warm glow that slowly settles on your evening and in your belly.
Stop 3: The Ship
With a little bit of wine and dessert, perhaps you’re willing to venture a little further on to the West Bottoms. The Ship is a lovely tribute to the nautically inspired cocktail lounge that originally existed 80 years ago downtown. Owners Bob Asher and Josh Mobley faithfully rebuilt the iconic bar that was thought to be lost nearly two decades ago.
The bar, which sits improbably beneath the silhouette of a steam ship, features exclusively Boulevard beer on tap alongside a few surprises. Chief among them are the Freezees. The Java Hook is a potent take on an Irish Coffee that emerges from the depths of a frozen drink machine. There’s even a potato chip rack as a port of last call.
The music, by design, is as eclectic as the crowd. Records spin or jazz streams out from the stage to the right of the bar, wafting down the long deck of the interior (the back room is a trippy take on a cabin with portholes and an ocean-esque light projection on one wall). The design feels casual, but it’s literally taken years for Asher and Mobley to bring the ship’s wheels and mermaids back to life. The reconditioned neon sign is Instagram candy. The rivet-ringed doorframes are the effortless authenticity that Las Vegas craves.
The Ship is grounded in our land-locked city, but the soft red glow from the front deck and the strum of a country or blues guitar extend a siren song to those who would take a little trip.
Photography: Chris Mullins