Few American cities have histories so richly intertwined with libations as Kansas City. While the rest of the country hid their liquor in secret basements and bathtubs during the Prohibition era, KC openly flaunted its affinity for a good time. Jazz and spirits flowed freely through the streets, earning it the nickname the "Paris of the Plains."
While it's been nearly a century since the end of Prohibition, the city — and the Crossroads neighborhood in particular — continues to be home to some of the best bars in the country. From craft beers to cocktails, here's a taste of the best places to grab a drink in Kansas City.
For craft beer served with a side of nostalgia, Up-Down doesn't disappoint. This arcade bar has more than 50 classic arcade games — like Paperboy, Mortal Kombat II, and Tron— as well as Nintendo and Sega consoles, pinball machines, and skeeball alleys. While you play, sip on one of dozens of craft beers on tap, including favorites from the nearby Boulevard Brewing Company. Cup holders are even attached to many of the machines so you aren't scrambling to find a place to set your drink down. It's a nice touch.
If all that Dr. Mario makes you hungry, the bar serves a variety of pizzas, including one that has macaroni, cheese, and bacon on top — a combination that tastes much better than it sounds. Slices are a few bucks each, or $20-25 for a whole one. When the weather's nice, take your provisions out to the patio, where you'll find giant versions of board games like Connect Four, Chinese checkers, and Jenga.
Pro-tip: The bar features daily specials throughout the week, offering discounts on game tokens and drinks. Be one of the first people to arrive on a Friday, and you could get 20 free tokens. Not a bad way to start the weekend.
The jazzy feel of Tom's Town Distilling Co. is exactly what you would expect from its location in the Crossroads section of downtown Kansas City, near the famous 18th and Vine. The bar gets its name from Tom Pendergast, a controversial political boss who, legend has it, pulled the puppet strings in KC politics in the '20s and '30s before being sent to prison for tax evasion. Pendergast got his start in Kansas City working in his brother's saloon and later founded a liquor company. Unsurprisingly, he was believed to be instrumental in the city's resistance to Prohibition.
From its roaring '20s decor to its distilled liquors, Tom's honors this piece of the city's traditions. The gin, vodka, and bourbon are all made in-house and form the foundation of some of the best cocktails in Kansas City. To taste a sampling of Tom's spirits, try the Distiller's Flight, or opt instead for one of the bar's popular craft cocktails.
If you can't get enough of that speakeasy vibe, travel down Main Street a quarter mile. There, you'll duck into an alley and pass some dumpsters and an iron gate, until you reach an unmarked door. If you're worried you might be walking into the service entrance of a restaurant kitchen, you'll know you're in the right place. If it's not propped open, push a button to get buzzed in, and walk down a set of stairs that will finally take you to Manifesto.
This Crossroad cocktail lounge is housed in the same building as a once-popular speakeasy during the Prohibition era, and it takes its theme very seriously. The first thing that you notice when walking in is it's dark — really dark. The only light source is candlelight, and the effect is immediate and powerful. You instantly feel transported back to the days when cocktails were a secret and sinful luxury. The tasty drinks available are just a bonus.
The decidedly cool atmosphere makes it one of the most popular bars in Kansas City. That, combined with the small space, make reservations a must on the weekends.
For those who prefer their bars trendy and their whiskeys neat, you'll feel right at home at Julep. Located in Kansas City's eclectic Westport neighborhood, this whiskey house and cocktail club offers a variety of high-quality liquors in classic and creative ways, including modern variations on traditional cocktails. While the Old Fashioneds and juleps are favorites among patrons, the bar also serves some tasty seasonal drinks, like Irish coffee and rum with chai-spiced coconut cream. Everything is poured by skilled and knowledgeable bartenders who know their way around whiskey.
If all the imbibing makes you snacky, the menu features an interesting assortment of bites to munch on, including apple caramel corn, deviled eggs, and fried bologna sandwiches. All of which is served in a chic and intimate setting that's perfect for date night.
Pro-tip: Drop by Monday through Friday from 3-6 p.m. during bar's Cocktail Hour for discounted prices on food and drinks.
For a town without a professional hockey team, you wouldn't expect the best sports bar to be a hockey joint — but it is. The Blueline in KC's Rivermarket has floor-to-ceiling hockey decor and proudly boasts that it's the only hockey bar in the city. But while hockey is, indeed, the focus, the myriad TVs throughout the barroom display a range of sports games and matches — including KC's beloved Royals and Chiefs.
The real draw of the Blueline isn't necessarily what's showing — it's what's being served. The bar offers 20 beers on tap at any given time, as well as a menu loaded with greasy, salty bar food that goes great with a pint. Sure, some healthy options are available — like a grilled chicken wrap or cobb salad — but like any good sports bar, it's the wings you want. Both crispy and boneless wings are on the menu in a wide range of sauces, including garlic parmesan, honey barbecue, and mango habanero.
Pro-tip: For a good deal on drinks and bites, stop by after work from 3-7 p.m. The $2 domestic drafts and $3 margaritas make the Blueline's happy hour one of the best you'll find in KC.