Super Cities: Comparing Kansas City and Tampa Bay
By Brad Zollars
In the coming days, there will be untold number of stories, think pieces, analytical dissections and theoretical discussions surrounding the Big Game. Will the Chiefs be impacted as the first true road team in SB history? Can the magic of Mahomes make Tom Brady’s big game prowess disappear? What sort of offensive recipe has Andy Reid cooked up?
And while all these questions will be answered come Feb. 7, there is an equally intriguing yet totally non-consequential query that needs to be made: When comparing these two super cities, what’s the tale of the tape? Fire up the telestrator, let’s break it down.
- Cigar City: During its peak in the 1920s, Ybor City cigar factories would hand-roll approximately 500 million stogies per year.
- The City of Fountains: More than 200 fountains are scattered throughout the area
- Paris of the Plains: This nickname came from the Prohibition era, where the free flow of alcohol in the city transformed KC into a destination party town.
FOOD & BOOZE
Like having Brady or Mahomes under center, if your city can master the food and drink scene, the rest of the roster is a mere formality. Luckily, both locales know how to fill up the stat sheet and fill up your belly.
It stands to reason that Cuba invented the Cuban sandwich, right? Wrong. This unbeatable bite, which lore says was first created in Tampa, originated as a snack for cigar workers in the 1890s. Over time, various groups emigrated to the area, adding a touch of their own local flair to the package and thus molding the sandwich into its present form.
Its ingredients, not to be altered, are as follows: crispy Cuban bread, thinly sliced sweet ham, roast pork and genoa salami (added in Tampa, but not Miami), all topped with swiss cheese, dill pickles, and yellow mustard before being pressed into a warm, meld of melted heaven. (My God, that sounds good.)
Tampa knows its booze as well. In fact, during Prohibition, the city was one of the top sellers of illegal liquor in the country. Because of its prime coastal geographical location, the city became a haven for smugglers bringing in unlawful liquor from nearby Cuba and the Bahamas. For those that missed out on the thrill of partaking in Prohibition times, head over to one of Tampa’s many speakeasies, including the Spookeasy Lounge, a semi-secret gothic-inspired bar located on the second floor of Stone Soup Company in Ybor City. To gain access, a fake bookshelf acts as the entrance.
Tampa also boasts a vibrant craft beer scene with more than 50 breweries cranking out some high-level suds, including award-winning establishments like Cigar City Brewing and Coppertail. And as of a few months ago, the city now has a signature cocktail, the “6 a.m. on 7th Ave,” which pays homage to Ybor City’s culture and is a boozy take on a café con leche.
Not to be outdone on the food invention front, our friends down south probably aren’t aware that the McDonald’s Happy Meal was dreamt up right here in KC. Bob Bernstein, founder of local ad agency Bernstein-Rein, was inspired after noticing his son staring at a cereal box during breakfast. It’s estimated that an eye popping 602,000 Happy Meals are sold each day. Here’s hoping Mr. Bernstein gets a commission.
Of course, Kansas City is more well known for another meal that makes one happy: barbecue. And, more specifically, known for a small cube of pure heaven that tastes so good it’ll buckle your knees: burnt ends. These cubed chunks of beef, cut from slow-smoked brisket, are unique to Kansas City BBQ. And while no one really knows how burnt ends came to be, there is little doubt of how their hype began. In 1972, journalist Calvin Trillin wrote in Playboy about his memorable visit to Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque, and from that, a legend was born:
“The main course at Bryant’s, as far as I'm concerned, is something that is given away free – the burned edges of the brisket. The counterman just pushes them over to the side and anyone who wants them helps himself. I dream of those burned edges. Sometimes, when I’m in some awful, overpriced restaurant in some strange town, trying to choke down some three-dollar hamburger that tastes like a burned sponge, a blank look comes over me: I have just realized that at that very moment, someone in Kansas City is being given those burned edges for free.”
Sure, from time to time, other cities might try and snatch the crown from the Barbecue Capital of the World, but in the words of Omar Little in The Wire, if “You come at the King, you best not miss.” And when it comes to barbecue, KC never misses.
Of course, nothing goes better with some ‘cue than a cold beer to wash it all down, and in Kansas City, you won’t go thirsty. Boulevard Brewing Co. is the undisputed king of KC suds, but don’t sleep on the multitude of other local breweries in town, including KC Bier Co., Brewery Emperial, Double Shift Brewing Company, BKS Artisan Ales, Torn Label Brewing Company, Stockyards Brewing Co., and many, many more.
Pivoting to libations, KC was indeed a “Paris of the Plains” during the Prohibition era as “Boss Tom” Pendergast, who wielded tremendous influence in the city during the time, allowed the booze to flow within the Heart of America. Speakeasies were plentiful and the cinema on Main street, now Alamo Drafthouse, once had basement tunnels connecting to the President Hotel a block away, allowing bootlegged booze to travel undetected.
These days, KC residents looking to re-live Prohibition can stop into any number of speakeasies that dot the area, including P.S., which is located inside the basement of Hotel Philips. Be sure to head over to the front desk and ask them in hushed tones for access to the secret door.
Head down a narrow alley on West 19th Terrace and you’ll make your way to a non-descript green door, your initial entry to Swordfish Tom’s, which is as close to authentic speakeasy experience as there is. Once inside door #1, you’ll find yourself in a small waiting room with an industrial light over the entrance to the bar, a sturdy looking iron door. Once it turns green, congrats: you’ve gained entry to this cozy cocktail haven. Just don’t tell the coppers.
As with most things in life, it’s all about who you know. Having famous friends can shine a spotlight on a city that wouldn’t otherwise be illuminated. So, beyond the gods of the gridiron, let’s look at which super celebs have that hometown connection.
The Chiefs aren’t the only ones with a stacked roster. There are some heavy hitters that hail from the Kansas City area, including President Harry S. Truman, aerial legend Amelia Earhart, jazz trailblazers Charlie Parker and Count Basie, unmatched animator Walt Disney and the original outlaw, Jesse James. The Ageless One, Paul Rudd, is from the KC suburbs and even Slim Shady himself, Eminem, lived in the area for his formative years. Want more? How about Don Cheadle, Melissa Ethridge, Kate Spade, Walter Cronkite, Ed Asner and Negro Leagues legends Buck O’Neil & Satchel Paige.
Not to be outdone, Tampa has some high-profile names they associate with as well. Baseball legend Tony La Russa hails from West Tampa, while successful singer Aaron Carter, brother of Backstreet Boy Nick Carter, grew up in Tampa, as did former Mets superstar Dwight Gooden. Actress Sarah Paulson was born in Tampa, while Channing Tatum and Angela Bassett both went to High School in the area. “The Hulkster” himself, wrestler Hulk Hogan, grew up in Tampa, and sportscaster Joe Buck was born in nearby St. Pete.
LET’S GET WEIRD
Gasparilla Pirate Festival vs. the KC Renaissance Festival
Tampa Bay is a pirate town and proud of it. Each year, Downtown Tampa throws a pirate-themed bash that includes a parade, food, drink, music and the world’s only “fully-functioning pirate ship.” The festival, which is celebrated each year, honors the legend of notorious pirate Jose Gaspar, known as The Last Buccaneer. Gaspar, who called himself “Gasparilla,” pillaged and plundered his way across West Florida during the mid-1700s, seizing merchant ships along the way before accidentally picking a fight with the U.S. Navy.
The Kansas City Renaissance Festival, now one of the largest Renaissance Festivals in the U.S., is truly a trip to another world. From an ornately costumed cast and crew to massive turkey legs to giant mugs of mead to hyper realistic jousting battles, complete with (I think) fake wounds, this mini theme park will truly transport you to 16th-century Europe. Featuring a non-stop deluge of food, fun and fantasy, the KC Ren Fest stands a world apart.
SET THE RECORD
- Tampa is home to the world’s longest continuous sidewalk, Bayshore Boulevard.
- KC’s Swope Park, at 1,805 acres, is more than twice the size of Central Park in New York City.
- In 1851, Tampa native John Gorrie invented the first mechanical refrigeration system, paving the way for air conditioning.
- KC built the first suburban shopping mall: the Country Club Plaza.
- The world’s first scheduled commercial flight flew from St. Pete to Tampa in 1914.
- Kansas City has more boulevards than any city but Rome and more fountains than any city but Paris.
- Babe Ruth hit his longest home run during an exhibition game in Tampa, an unreal 587 feet.
- KC has more barbecue restaurants per capita, than any other city in the world.
- Florida’s oldest restaurant and America’s largest Spanish restaurant spans an entire city block in Ybor City, the famous Columbia Restaurant.
So, no matter your rooting interest come Sunday, if you call one of these super cities home—or your next travel destination—you’ve already won.