Restaurants Reimagined: Dining Establishments with Unique Backstories
A metro as historic as Kansas City promises dining establishments with charming backstories, from a hotel turned award-winning restaurant to a 19th-century schoolhouse transformed into a farm-to-table hotspot.
Explore the backstories behind some of the most popular drinking and dining establishments in KC.
Now headquarters for Chef Howard Hanna and bartender Ryan Maybee, The Rieger once operated as a “travelers’” hotel, open for business to railroad workers and other businesspeople passing through town.
Much of the early 20th century charm lives on today in a restored brick exterior, black-and-white-tiled floors decorated with Rieger monogram R’s and a handsome bar that beckons to another time. Visitors are greeted with comforting food such as pork soup and cassoulet, plus scratch-made pasta and seasonal craft cocktails.
The Freight House District
The Freight House District isn’t just a hip name that inspires images of KC’s Western past—it’s actually where railcars were once stored thanks to its proximity to Union Station.
Today, diners will find an assortment of award-winning restaurants, including Lidia’s (rustic Italian from celebrity chef Lidia Bastianich), Grünauer (German and Austrian fare) and Fiorella’s Jack’s Stack Barbecue (one of the city’s most popular). All three have retained the original brick walls as well as the 25-foot ceilings designed for the passing of railcars, which creates an open, inviting environment worth sharing amongst some of KC’s finest meals.
Stockyards Brewing Co.
Often regarded as the oldest steakhouse in the city, The Golden Ox was a fixture in Kansas City’s dining scene for more than a half century. Opened in 1949 in the Kansas City Livestock Exchange Building, the establishment is credited with inventing the KC strip steak and was well-known by both Harry S. Truman and Dwight D. Eisenhower.
The restaurant closed in 2014 but since then the space has been given new life thanks to Stockyards Brewing Co., a local brewery that honors the industrious history of the West Bottoms with Western-themed décor. Meanwhile, the restaurant reopened in 2018 with a reimagined take on the KC classic, all while sharing a space with its new brewer neighbor.
When it first opened in 1914, Union Station operated as the second-largest train station in the United States. Locomotive travel looks different today, but the structure itself has retained its beautiful Beaux-Arts design, boasting grand proportions fitting for a major transportation hub. Today, the depot has been reinvented into a community gathering place with exhibits, events and restaurants.
Fittingly named for railroad baron J.P. (John Pierpont) Morgan, Pierpont’s offers elegant steak and seafood dining in a three-story space that used to house the women’s smoking room and waiting areas for women and children. Other notable features include ornate ceilings and stately light fixtures.
Before the Crossroads Arts District became center of the city’s creative energy like it is today, the area was home to The Webster School, a Kansas City public school that was constructed in 1885.
While the building closed in 1932, it was restored 80 years later into the Webster House, a beloved restaurant known for its farm-to-table fare and inspired shopping selection, which includes European antiques, accessories, jewelry and more. The Romanesque-style schoolhouse touts a rich red brick exterior and 19th-century decorations perfect for special functions and date nights.
Named for the former florist shop that it now occupies, The Russell is a fast-casual restaurant that prepares fire-roasted lunch and brunch in a warm and rustic farmstead environment.
The owners spent months collecting furniture and decorations from West Bottoms antique stores to create the cozy, welcoming space. Diners can expect flavorful salads, crave-worthy sandwiches and freshly baked sweet treats in what’s quickly becoming a favorite for midday meals.