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"36 Hours in Kansas City, Mo."

From: New York Times, The

Date: May 16, 2010

A weekend in Kansas City.

Kansas City is known for its barbecue, bebop and easy-does-it Midwestern charm. But a decade-long effort to revitalize the city’s downtown has transformed this former jazz mecca, which straddles the Kansas-Missouri border, back into a culturally rich metropolis. The city’s standing will be further bolstered next year when the much-anticipated Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts opens, giving a sleek new home to the symphony, opera and ballet. True, Kansas City is no backwater, but don’t expect high polish. In fact, it’s the city’s unvarnished grit that may be its best asset.

4 p.m.
1) CROSSROADS REDEFINED

Industrial stagnation and suburban exodus in the 1960s left the Crossroads neighborhood nearly deserted. But thanks to the recent efforts of arts advocates and city tax breaks, the Crossroads Arts District (kccrossroads.org) is now home to some 70 galleries. Two pioneering mainstays are Sherry Leedy Contemporary Art (2004 Baltimore Avenue; 816-221-2626; sherryleedy.com), which specializes in midcareer artists like Jun Kaneko, and the Byron C. Cohen Gallery (2020 Baltimore Avenue, Suite 1N; 816-421-5665; byroncohengallery.com), representing several artists from China, including the photo-artist Huang Yan. If it’s the first Friday of the month, many galleries hold open houses until about 9 p.m.

7 p.m.
2) SAUCE IT UP

Debates over the best barbecue rouse as much passion here as religion or politics. Some swear by the old guard like Gates Bar-B-Q (gatesbbq.com) and Arthur Bryant’s (arthurbryantsbbq.com), both of which have multiple branches. Others cross the state line into the Kansas side, to a relative newcomer, Oklahoma Joe’s (3002 West 47th Avenue; 913-782-6858; oklahomajoesbbq.com), which opened a second location in 2005. It serves up pulled pork and beef brisket piled high on white bread, in a sauce that may just be the perfect amalgam of sweet, smoke and vinegar. At a little under $19, a full slab serves two or three people.

11 p.m.
3) BEYOND BLUES AND JAZZ

If the city’s indie music scene hasn’t garnered the same hype as those in other Midwestern cities like Minneapolis or Omaha, it’s not for lack of guts or artistry. Homegrown bands like Ssion, a gender-bending art-punk music collective that has built a following with over-the-top live shows, cut their teeth in downtown galleries and dives. Hear up-and-comers at the Record Bar (1020 Westport Road; 816-753-5207; therecordbar.com) and the Brick (1727 McGee Street; 816-421-1634; thebrickkcmo.com). One of the newest spots is the Czar Bar (1531 Grand Boulevard; 816-221-2244; czarbar.com); it’s owned by John Hulston, who also runs Anodyne Records, which counts the Meat Puppets, the BellRays and Architects among its better-known acts.

Saturday

10 a.m.
4) PARK LIFE

Kansas City is said to have more fountains than any other city except Rome. One of the loveliest can be found at Jacob L. Loose Park (51st Street and Wornall Road), a Civil War site, where the Laura Conyers Smith Fountain, made of Italian stone, is encircled by thousands of roses in some 150 varieties. The park is popular with picnicking families and bongo-playing teenagers on furlough from the suburbs.

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