The Past, Present and Future of Kansas City’s East Bottoms
With the debut of J. Rieger & Co.’s new distillery experience, the East Bottoms looks to reclaim its past glory as a destination neighborhood—and reintroduce the title of Electric Park, a classic moniker that pays tribute to the region’s theme park history.
Get to know the past, present and future of KC’s East Bottoms.
Once one of the largest beer producers in the country, the Heim Brothers Brewery called KC’s East Bottoms home, where the company made and bottled pre-Prohibition-style German suds. Before the 19th amendment was ratified, Heim Brothers was producing 100,000 bottles of beer each day.
But delicious malted beverages weren’t the brewery’s only contribution to KC culture. At the turn of the century, the minds behind the company concocted a novel concept: a full-time amusement park, completely powered by electricity. In 1899, they debuted Electric Park next to their bottling facility.
It was an immediate success. Visitors could ride rides, indulge at a beer garden where Heim’s brews were piped directly from next door and marvel at other turn-of-the-century wonders. Eventually, Electric Park became so popular that it relocated to a bigger space in Midtown in 1906.
The new location was even more popular than the original. In 1911, the park attracted more than 1 million visitors, and even inspired a young Walt Disney, who borrowed several of its features when planning his iconic Disneyland, which opened in 1955.
As is so often the case, the good times didn’t last. Eventually, fires and financial calamities forced Electric Park to shut down in 1925. Its legacy remained dormant for decades, surviving only in the minds and memories of those who visited.
In recent years, the East Bottoms became most notably known as a live music hub when Knuckleheads Saloon made its 2001 debut in a former railroad boarding house building constructed in 1887. The sprawling, rough-and-tumble institution touts stages indoor and out—and an atmosphere that’s perfectly impromptu.
It’s also now home to legendary distiller J. Rieger & Co., which became a mainstay in the spirits community following its 2014 revival, thanks in part to the sherry-blended Kansas City Whiskey and other top-notch offerings such as vodka, gin, coffee liqueur and more.
The company set up shop in the former Heim Brewery bottling plant, partly due to an abundance of inexpensive production space and partly as a nod to the region’s history.
In 2019, J. Rieger opened its elevated visitor experience and hospitality center in the 100-plus-year-old building, completely renovating the space to offer tours and tastings, as well as cocktail lounges, event spaces and an extensive exhibit that details the history of the brand and the East Bottoms. Visitors can even enjoy a KC Bier Co.-produced Heim Beer, a special brew that recreates the style so popular during Heim Brewery’s heyday—only available at J. Rieger.
J. Rieger’s new destination facility marks a turning point for the East Bottoms. The distillery has repositioned the identity of the entire district, changing direction from “the other Bottoms” to the Electric Park neighborhood, an entirely unique section of KC that’s deeply tied to the city’s roots, all while forging a new path forward.
There’s no telling what will come next for the district, but with a new destination for travelers and locals alike—plus a beloved live music hotspot still kicking out the jams—there’s already plenty of reason to pay a visit and raise a glass in appreciation of Electric Park.