Thanksgiving in Kansas City
My wife and I edged our way down the long hallway at the back of the restaurant, past the bustling, smoke-filled kitchen with its blazing grill and the swinging doors where waitstaff sang out “Coming in!” as they pushed through. We reached a nondescript, unmarked doorway and whispered a secret password to the young lady guarding the threshold. She peered furtively down the empty hall and murmured, “Follow me.”
We descended a flight of steep, dimly-lit stairs. After traversing a gloomy stone-clad corridor, we found ourselves in a small subterranean chamber that contained a number of tables and chairs. The feeble illumination provided by a scattering of candles made it difficult to tell just how many people were seated at the tables. It was as if the patrons of the joint were hoping to conceal their identities.
And so began our first visit to a speakeasy.
My wife and I had motored to Kansas City to spend Thanksgiving with our youngest son, Chris, and his wife, Megan. On Thanksgiving Day, Megan prepared a tasty and traditional feast of turkey and stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy. My wife assisted her while Chris and I superintended from the safety of the living room. Somebody has to do it.
The following morning we went to a museum, because that’s just the kind of “out there” people that we are.
Specifically, we visited the Museum at Prairiefire, a soaring, modernistic structure that has an edgy, stained glass-like façade. Immediately upon entering this extremely modern building, visitors are greeted by a full-sized, open-mouthed skeleton of a t. Rex. Nothing says “new” like an assemblage of bones that are 60 million years old.
Once you get past the tyrannosaurus (Step lively! You never know if it might come back to life!), you enter a gallery that contains a large selection of fossilized sea creature skeletons. This includes sea turtles that were the size of compact cars and a monstrous set of megalodon jaws that could have accommodated a school bus.
One of the fun features of the museum is a virtual reality experience that puts you aboard the International Space Station. I don’t know what space travel has to do with ancient sea monsters, but I wasn’t there to judge; my job was to simply enjoy. The only issue I had with the 3-D International Space Station experience was that it was much too short. I was just beginning to savor the mind-blowing, God’s-eye view of our planet when the show ended. Phooey.
That evening, Chris and Megan took us to the Rieger, a restaurant which is located in Kansas City’s historic downtown district. Historic figures such as political boss Tom Pendergast and crime boss Al Capone are known to have frequented the joint back in the day.
Kansas City is a cow town, so we ordered beef-centric entrees. Each dish was meticulously prepared and presented with majestic style. Everything was scrummy, although I was a bit confused about the inclusion of pickled anchovies with the brisket. Did that qualify it as being a “surf and turf” menu item?
After finishing our meal, it was suggested that I visit the men’s room. This seemed like a timely idea, so I went.
Screwed to the wall, in a spot where a guy’s eye can’t help but fall upon it, is a brass plaque which states that Al Capone had also gone wee-wee there. I didn’t see any solid evidence to back up this claim, so I guess we will have to take their word for it. It’s a great marketing ploy, somewhat akin to making lemons from lemonade.
We repaired to the backroom area of the Rieger to await admission to the basement cocktail lounge, which has been named Manifesto. The erstwhile speakeasy has become one of “the” places to wet your whistle in Kansas City. What was once clandestine is now coveted.
While we tarried, several would-be patrons were told that there was a two-hour wait to get into Manifesto. Newbies! Those of us who are “in the know” (Chris and Megan) know that you have to text ahead for reservations.
We were given seats at a table located a few feet from the bar, where cocktail shakers were constantly rattling with professional aplomb and intensity. The cocktail menu featured nothing recognizable, so I randomly chose an item. I’m a tap beer guy, so things like “artisanal free-range heritage ice cubes” seem a bit too precious.
All in all, we had a very pleasant and memorable experience and checked a few more items off of our “must see in KC” list. Only about a thousand more to go.