IT’S NO SECRET: The folks at the Crossroads are big—like, really big—on art. Arrive on any first Friday of the month, and you’ll see the love in full bloom, that is if you’re able to find a place to park. In fact, on a beautiful summer night, walking might even take a bit of smart maneuvering. This is the time of the month when the enormous art scene—which, on a regular day, touts more than 100 galleries and studios—in this neighborhood just south of downtown Kansas City, Missouri, becomes even larger. Businesses turn their lobbies into miniature art galleries. You’ll find hot-dog carts and food trucks hustling up quick bites for tourists and locals. You’ll likely see street performers and magicians keeping crowds entertained. “If you go on a First Friday, you’re not going to hit every gallery,” says Bill Sundahl, longtime musician and development director at KKFI 90.1 FM, over the phone. “You’re just not. It’s impossible.”

 

That the neighborhood looks and feels the way it does today is in large part thanks to Jim Leedy, who, back in the ’70s, took it upon himself to renovate abandoned, crumbling warehouses that lined the then-nameless stretch of the city. He transformed them into studios where artists could live cheaply, hone their craft and exhibit their work. Slowly, interest in the area grew. By 2001, it had adopted the name of the Crossroads Arts District and housed a growing number of galleries, restaurants, bars, shops and other businesses.

In 2005, as Bill stood in the storage space of local artist Stretch’s sculpture studio, it occurred to him that the neighborhood needed something else: a music festival. “I said, I’d like to put on a show here—start a festival, like a one-day thing,” Bill recalls. “[Stretch] said, Oh, we’ve been talking about building a stage here.” For the Crossroads Music Fest’s first year, Bill brought in eight bands and projected local independent short films on the wall right next to the stage between sets. Now the event, which has morphed into a type of pub crawl where a wristband gives you access to all the venues, brings in 30 to 50 bands on eight to 10 stages, depending on the year. “We chose [the area] because that’s where art was being made,” Bill says. “I wanted to be a part of that.”


Crossroads Reference

Getting the right angle on KC’s cultural hub

Brewery Emperial

If you’re looking for a place to hunker down for a cold one and a juicy burger, you’ll be pretty darn pleased at Brewery Emperial. This Oak Street institution boasts a dining room interior, brewhouse and an outdoor beer garden, complete with 24 picnic tables and fire pits. “It’s really an awesome place to hang out and drink delicious beer made right there on the spot,” says Bill. Nab a seat by the “chef’s counter,” where you’ll get the best view of the brewery’s open kitchen. And as long as we’re handing out advice, opt for the wood-fired half chicken tortillas or the grilled whole ruby-red trout served with “beernaise” sauce and roasted cauliflower. Oh, and you’ll probably want to order a pint, but that’s obvious, of course. (1829 Oak St., Kansas City; breweryemperial.com)

Messenger Coffee Co. + Ibis Bakery

What happens when you marry a roastery with a bakery that churns out flaky goods right there on the premises? A place you’ll never want to, erm, dessert. The first thing you’ll see when you walk into this three-story building is a display case chock-full of housemade pastries and a selection of the bakery’s straight-out-of-the-oven loaves. If you’re in the mood for a meal, don’t pass up an opportunity to sink your teeth into one of Ibis’ buttered toasts and avocado tartine, which we’re told are crowd favorites. Aside from housing the bakery on the first floor and the roasting facility on the second, this open-floor-plan building boasts an airy cafe, many cozy nooks, a rooftop deck, and a conference room people can reserve for meetings or some quiet time. (1624 Grand Blvd., Kansas City; messengercoffee.co)

Josey Records

Vinyl has had a heck of reign for the past few years, and it’s not showing any signs of slowing down. If you’re in the market for some new tunes to spin, Josey Records’ outpost in the Crossroads (the business has three other locations in Dallas, Lubbock and Tulsa), is where you can make many, um, sound purchases. Josey Records boasts 6,500 square feet of space, with row after row of vinyl, CDs and DVDs, along with turntables and posters. And in keeping with the true spirit of the neighborhood, the place hosts bands every first Friday of the month, with a few shows sprinkled throughout the year. Also, for the record, it happens to sit a stone’s throw away from The Crossroads at Grinder’s, another of the city’s noteworthy music venues. (1814 Oak St., Kansas City; joseyrecords.com)

The Brick

Located smack-dab in the heart of Crossroads, The Brick is a lot of things. It’s an eatery that offers up one of the best meatloaf sandwiches in town, according to Bill. (And he’s got a point. This juicy goodness even made an appearance on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives!) In the evening, The Brick is also a music venue, playing host to a slew of acts from country to folk to everything in between. It’s kinda, sorta, in a way, an art gallery, too. The walls are often dotted with paintings that rotate out every few months. “It’s laid-back if you want to have lunch or dinner, and then stay late for shows,” Bill says. On Mondays, the joint hosts their “Rural Grit” happy hour, which Bill tells us is a menagerie of folk and old-time and country musicians. In other words, it’s another good time to wind down at The Brick after a day of schlepping all over town. (1727 McGee St., Kansas City; thebrickkcmo.com)

The Belfry

Beer nerds, rejoice. There are certainly many fine establishments slinging excellent brews ’round this part of town, and The Belfry is a worthy stop on your boozy itinerary. We’d recommend a few favorites, but with the eatery’s constantly rotating craft beer menu, you never know what you’re going to get. “It’s one of my favorite things to do. I go in there with the expectation of being adventurous,” says Bill. Not to mention, the libations list also includes about 150 whiskeys. And the food? Helmed by James Beard Award-winning chef Celina Tio, the kitchen churns out inspired shareables like citra hoppy pickles and fried cauliflower with walnut-miso dressing, as well as mains like fried chicken and biscuits. Word to the wise: No matter what you get, order a side of hand-cut fries, which we’re told is a house favorite. (1532 Grand Blvd., Kansas City; thebelfrylounge.com)

RecordBar

When in the Crossroads district, you’re likely going to feel a tad bit overwhelmed by all the live music options. (If you haven’t noticed, this stretch of the city has got a rockin’ music scene.) “If an up-and-coming artist is going to do a big show, [RecordBar] is probably where they’d do it,” Bill says. Inside the dark-tinted windows, the space houses a stage with high-quality sound, a dining area and a mezzanine level that opens up for bigger shows. Another reason RecordBar pulls in a packed house every night: its kitchen and bar. The menu is flush with tried-and-true bar eats—a barbecue pulled-pork sammie and poutine, for instance—which, on their own, warrant return visits. During shows, the house pizza is something you’re going to want on your plate, no matter how you slice it. (1520 Grand Blvd., Kansas City; therecordbar.com)

Thanks to Kansas City’s One Percent for Art Program, which sets aside one percent of public construction costs for public art, there’s no shortage of art in the Crossroads.

Swordfish Tom’s

Any place that makes good use of all the trappings of a speakeasy—secret entrances, unmarked doors, passwords and the like—is a cool spot to be in our book. Granted, Swordfish Tom’s isn’t so hush-hush about its location, but finding it still feels like a secret you’re lucky to uncover. Walk down an alley up to a door that bears the bar’s name. There, you’ll see a light. If it shines green, then you’ll know there are open seats up for grabs. If it’s red, you’ll have to do some waiting. Once in, you’ll notice the bar takes full advantage, aesthetically speaking, of the basement’s former boiler room. Equally impressive? The cocktails, which include favorites like The Main Street Exorcism, a concoction whipped up with local Tom’s Town Gin and house-made hibiscus and cubeb-pepper syrup. “It’s a welcoming atmosphere,” Bill says. “With fancy, fancy cocktails.” (210 W. 19 Terrace, Kansas City; Search “Swordfish Tom’s” on Facebook)

Leedy-Voulkos Art Center

So we already mentioned just how big art is at the Crossroads, right? There’s nary a gallery-hopper that hasn’t heard of Leedy-Voulkos Art Center, which boasts a serious cultural cachet. Thanks to Jim Leedy—yes, that Jim Leedy—it’s served as an incubator for Kansas City creatives since first opening its doors back in 1985. Although the gallery does bring in international and regional acts, spotlighting local talent—an eclectic mix of painters, sculptors, ceramicists, photographers and designers—still forms the core of its exhibition premise. “They also tend to do a lot with students from the [Kansas City Art Institute],” says Bill. If you’re in the market for new art and are feeling a bit splurgy, Leedy-Voulkos Art Center is a Crossroads must. Don’t have that extra wall space? There’s no shame in just browsing. (2012 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City; leedy-voulkos.com)


See Also:

Corvino Supper Club & Tasting Room

Belger Arts Center

Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop

Extra Virgin

The Crossroads KC @ Grinders