By Katy Ryan Schamberger
“If you want to see some sin, forget about Paris and go to Kansas City.”
From that legendary line, written by reporter Edward Morrow for the Feb. 27, 1938 edition of the Omaha World-Herald, Kansas City cemented its reputation as the Paris of the Plains—a destination for drinking, dancing and debauchery.
While Kansas City’s continued growth, including Downtown’s captivating revitalization, brings a new vibrancy to the city, its storied past still breathes an air of intrigue and enchantment throughout its streets. If you know where to look, a trip to an earlier era is a mere step—and sip—away.
Pierpont’s at Union Station
Stroll up to Pierpont’s towering bar—one of the most eye-catching in Kansas City—and you’ll feel as if you just stepped off the train at Union Station, decked out in your finest traveling attire and with trunk in tow.
Soaring ceilings in the 100-plus-year-old building make the hushed interior feel even larger, yet comfortable bar seating and warm lighting envelop you as you peruse Pierpont’s extensive cocktail menu and wine list. The restaurant originally housed travel spaces including a women’s smoking room and a women and children’s waiting room, making Pierpont’s an integral part of travel stories both past and present.
This third-generation, family-owned restaurant is a must-try for classic Italian dishes. Equally as memorable is the Anthony’s lounge, which beckons when you step into the Downtown restaurant. Dim lighting, gently tinged with a warm red glow, combines with comfortably cushioned bar stools, call-backs to a time when people weren’t in such a hurry; instead, eager to linger over a last bite or sip.
Perched on a north Downtown hill that overlooks the nearby River Market neighborhood, Anthony’s lounge is always bustling. It’s especially busy in the late evening, as friends and family gather together for one last toast before the night officially ends.
Inside Voltaire, a beautifully burnished wooden bar stretches nearly the length of the restaurant, inviting you to pull up a stool and browse a menu of cocktails, spirits, wine and beer that would make Paris of the Plains enthusiasts proud. It’s easy to lose track of time in the low-lit interior, but where else do you have to be?
Keep your eyes peeled for The Ship—its non-descript exterior is easy to miss. Inside, however, a true escape awaits: one that will whisk you to the heyday of the classic cocktail lounge, complete with tucked-away booths, two bars and a small stage that hosts frequent live performances.
Originally opened in 1935 by Ethel Mae Wright, The Ship eventually closed, and its original location was demolished in 1995. Luckily, several people, including local architectural designer and historic restoration specialist Adam Jones, had the presence of mind to salvage and store most of the interior.
In 2014, the newly reconstructed location sailed back into the West Bottoms, welcoming parched and hungry visitors ready to embark on a journey to the past.
Harry's Country Club
No collared shirts or khakis are required at this River Market country club—just a love of beer, whiskey and a jukebox stocked with classic country music, all part of the Harry’s nod to a 1940s roadhouse.
A considerable list of beers and spirits will keep even the worldliest drinkers busy as they discover new favorites or reunite with timeless classics. A seasonal selection of cocktails rotates regularly, expertly made by bartenders dressed to the nines in shirts, ties and vests. Be sure to bring a few dollar bills for the jukebox and set your own soundtrack.
A storied past dating back to 1900 was weeks away from demolition when The Milwaukee Deli and its home, the former Cosby Hotel, were rescued in 2010 by a group of local developers and builders.
A careful renovation returned the bar, pizza and sandwich shop to its original glory, complete with a two-story interior, black-and-white tiled floor and large front windows that offer prime views of the surrounding Downtown streets.
Pull up a chair, order from the Deli’s carefully curated beer and wine menu and raise a glass to the original founder, Albert Ladzinski, who smiles at customers from his prominently displayed photo.