Sep 17, 2013

Getting a charge out of downtown Kansas City

Of all the cities which are less than a day’s drive from my home port in Springfield, Ill. – St. Louis, Chicago, Milwaukee, Nashville, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, etc., – I rarely used to think of Kansas City, Mo., as a go-to destination.  Maybe I associate it with the West (and rightfully so), which makes it feel farther away from the heart of what I consider the Midwest than it really is. 

Thankfully, on our way out to Colorado, I had an opportunity to explore some of downtown Kansas City – even it was a few short hours on a relatively innocuous weeknight – with my friends Christine and Ken.  The takeaway:  Kansas City takes its fun seriously, and there’s a wide variety of fun to find there.     

If there’s one place to consider “party central” in downtown Kansas City, it’s the Power & Light District.  Veteran party aficionado Ken gave the area his highest recommendation, so we headed straight there from our dinner at Gates Bar-B-Q.  But along the way, I ran into a familiar friend – the Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, Kansas City outpost

The Flying Saucer has been serving what seems like a gazillion kinds of draft and bottled beers since 1995 and has expanded to 16 locations throughout the Midwest, Southeast and Texas.  I’m pretty sure one of the oldest locations is in Memphis a couple of blocks off of Beale because I've been enjoying their variety and British pub atmosphere for well over 10 years.  Seeing the Flying Saucer immediately put me in the mood to try something new.  But decisions, decisions …

Oh, well, why not go with something local?  In this case, it was A Free State Stormchaser Summer IPA, brewed in nearby Lawrence, Kan.  I don’t usually go for pale ales, but since I was on vacation I adopted the “when in Rome” philosophy to my decision.  Plus, it was the daily special (I’m a sucker for a bargain). 
Cheers!  It's not the beer; Instagram just makes me look fuzzy
All in all, it wasn't bad, quite refreshing in fact, and not nearly as overpoweringly hoppy as I had feared. 

Ken, on the other hand, took advantage of the fact that Abita Amber was on the menu.  And since it is increasingly difficult to find Abita in Illinois, I completely understood the decision. 

He's not known as the Beast of Virden for nothing.  He actually IS from Virden,Ill. 
With a good start to the evening, we walked a couple of blocks toward the heart of the Power & Light District.  The entire area encompasses eight blocks of downtown Kansas City and features more than 50 businesses.  The variety of bars, restaurants and entertainment venues is pretty impressive.  And the most impressive part is the KC Live! Entertainment District, an outdoor plaza within Grand Boulevard, 13th Street, Walnut Street and 14th Street.  We literally stumbled in here and into a crowd gathering for a free live music event. 

Well, well, what have we here?

Pretty awesome backdrop, especially when lit.
The crowd begins to settle in.
As you can probably tell from the pictures, several bars and restaurants get more foot traffic from here than from the street, especially when a free concert is scheduled.  We took advantage of one of those, the Dubliner, and as fate would have it we found another great drink special -- $5 Red Bull bombs.  Two grape bombs for me and Ken, please.  It was about this time that I began to see the fake wife shaking her head with mild disbelief.  Nonetheless, Ken and I were happy, and we both received generous pours.  I always like to point out a good bar’s generosity.    

Since we were in Kansas City – and you do get the sense you’re on the eastern edge of the Western frontier whenever you’re here – it was no shock to learn the free concert was part of the Power & Light District’s Miller Lite Hot Country Nights series.  Tonight’s entertainment:  the Phil Vandel Band.     

The headliner, whoever he is.
I will confess to not having the first clue as to who Phil Vandel is, but I got the impression it was a pretty good booking.  If you look at the entertainment schedule for the Power & Light District, they draw a lot of nationally known country and rock acts, and many of the shows are free.

Phil played both kinds of music, of course, and he even threw in a couple of classic country covers that almost anyone would recognize.  We enjoyed the show, but probably not as much as this guy. 

This guy could give Kent Argenta some competition.  He also took a liking to Christine and showed off some of his best moves to her.  All I can say is be glad  I'm not posting video.
We ended our brief tour of the Power & Light District at PBR Big Sky.  I was hoping the bar was themed after Pabst Blue Ribbon, but instead the connection is to Professional Bull Riders.  It becomes obvious once you see the mechanical bull in the middle of the bar.  And while we got to watch a few drunks try their luck (spoiler alert:  the bull goes a lot slower if a hot chick is riding it), Ken and I enjoyed the waitresses and their western attire a lot more (spoiler alert #2 – think ass-less chaps and bikini bottoms).

The fake wife humored us the entire time.  It helped that our bartender gave us some type of Friday half-price happy hour special … on a Thursday night.  It may or may not have been intentional.  We didn't want to find out.  Admittedly, it was still relatively early, and the place was slow.  I had a couple of PBRs because the initials just seemed to be calling my name. 

The mechanical bull also gave us a good background for photos to commemorate the first night of our road trip. 

Ken and Christine, my fake wife -- photo-bombed by a bull rider

Me and Christine

Ken and me -- is it just me, or does the camera just love Kenny?  
Now that I have a taste of Kansas City nightlife, I have a thirst for more.  And if you know been following this commoner for any length of time, you know I like to give places I like repeat business.  And I hate not being able to explore all the places I wanted to go to but ran out of time.  I think a return trip to Kansas City in 2014 is a strong possibility.

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