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Bar guide: Five modern bars that toast Kansas City’s rich history

At Tom’s Town, J.T. Koenig-Riley oversees a cocktail menu that includes classics that reflect the bar’s Kansas City roots. Housed in a building at 1701 Main St. that dates to 1908, the bar takes its name from notorious political boss Tom Pendergast.
At Tom’s Town, J.T. Koenig-Riley oversees a cocktail menu that includes classics that reflect the bar’s Kansas City roots. Housed in a building at 1701 Main St. that dates to 1908, the bar takes its name from notorious political boss Tom Pendergast. tljungblad@kcstar.com

In Kansas City, taking something old and making it new again isn’t a recent phenomenon.

For years, dilapidated buildings, often unloved for decades, have been renovated and reinvented. From the restoration of Union Station and the redevelopment of the Power & Light Building to luxury apartments, Kansas City has a healthy respect for its beloved landmarks, and the evidence is in the shiny new spaces inside historic buildings dotting the landscape.

Many of the city’s most beloved bars are in buildings that were around before Prohibition, including Kelly’s Westport Inn, the Peanut on Main and Manifesto. And now there’s a fresh crop of modern establishments in vintage spaces that raise a glass of beer, wine or whiskey to Kansas City’s rich history.

Boulevard Beer Hall

One of the best views of the Kansas City skyline is from the outdoor terrace of the Muehlebach Suite at Boulevard Brewing Co., 2501 Southwest Blvd.

Until recently, catching that panorama of downtown and the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts required an invitation to the rental-only event space. Now it’s available to the masses on the second floor balcony of Boulevard’s Beer Hall, 2534 Madison Ave.

The brick building that houses the Beer Hall (and Boulevard’s Tours & Recreation Center on the first floor) was built for Skelly Oil Co. in 1929. The main entrance originally served as a rail dock. When the Beer Hall’s balcony doors are open, the sound of distant trains carrying coal and freight mingles with the hum of cars on Interstate 35 to create an urban symphony.

When Boulevard bought the building in 2015, it was filled with cubicles. Traces of that office space were wiped away to reveal raw wood, steel and concrete. With its open and airy feel, the space has become a gathering spot for families, couples and friends.

The Beer Hall’s bar serves 24 rotating Boulevard beers, including several test brews that aren’t available anywhere else. The beer can be ordered by the glass or in a flight of tasting-sized pours. For those who have trouble making decisions, the Beer Hall offers pre-selected flights such as The Essentials ($8), which includes samples of Unfiltered Wheat, KC Pils, Pale Ale and Bully! Porter.

Adventurous types should try the more experimental R&D Series ($8). On a recent visit, that flight included a Dry-Hopped Helles, Black Walnut Ale, Barleywine and Schwarzbier.

Into whiskey? Try a pour of Boulevard’s big, bold Rye-on-Rye Sazerac. The limited-edition release mimics the flavors of a classic Sazerac cocktail. It was brewed with lemon peel and spices and aged in Templeton Rye whiskey barrels.

In addition to beer, the Beer Hall boasts foosball, a photo booth and food. The menu includes pretzels, sausages, charcuterie and cheese boards.

The Myers Hotel Bar

The vibe at the Myers Hotel Bar, 220 Main St. in downtown Tonganoxie, is sort of like a dear aunt’s house: comfortable and homey, with a mashup of furniture that looks like it once belonged to Grandma.

The four-bed hotel attached to the bar was opened in 1880 by Molly Myers, who once charged $2.25 for a one-night stay that included a fried chicken dinner and breakfast.

You can sense the history in the bar: The wood floors creak and the doors stick, but the fresh white paint makes the space airy and bright when the sun is out. After dark, the bar and its adjoining rooms are intimate, with a cozy fire burning outside in the firepit.

At the helm of the Myers Hotel Bar is owner Kate Brubacher, an affable and knowledgeable bartender who serves fresh, sophisticated cocktails such as the off-menu Sweet Earth ($9), which mixes beet juice with passion fruit juice and the customer’s spirit of choice (Hint: Choose gin). The drink is garnished with fragrant basil and is available for as long as beets are in season.

The Myers Hotel Bar’s drinks taste like something from a juice bar, with the added bonus of a buzz. The unconventional menu reads like a grocery list of garden-grown herbs and seasonal produce that Brubacher transforms into shrubs, syrups and juices. Customers can pick a combination or ask for a recommendation from the bartender, and out comes a lively cocktail that smells and tastes like the season.

On a recent Sunday, Brubacher served Bloody Marys made with fresh tomato shrub that tasted like biting into a juicy tomato on a hot day in mid-July.

Tom’s Town Distilling Co.

Tom’s Town, a distillery and bar at 1701 Main St., has deep roots in Kansas City’s history.

Its name is a nod to Tom Pendergast, the notorious political boss who some say was responsible for the city’s cultural explosion during Prohibition. The distillery’s co-founder, David Epstein, says his grandfather Herman Epstein was a bootlegger in Pendergast’s rival gang, the Rabbits. Pendergast ran Epstein out of business — which explains the drowning rabbit on the label of Tom’s Town’s Eli’s Strongarm Vodka.

The building where Tom’s Town resides has a rich history of its own. Built in 1908, it once housed an auto dealership and a candy factory. You can see evidence of a 1918 fire in the charred beams of the distillery, which also produces bourbon and gin.

Bar manager J.T. Koenig-Riley’s cocktail menu includes classics such as the Bess Truman ($12), which is bourbon served neat, without any water, ice or mixer. The drink is based on what the first lady sipped on at the White House.

Another standout is the Bittersweet Caroline ($10), inspired by Pendergast’s wife who, as rumor has it, didn’t attend her husband’s funeral. The smooth vodka cocktail is made with orange-infused liqueur, citrus and pleasantly bitter Campari.

Tom’s Town’s food menu includes adventurous takes on classic favorites. The crust on the French Onion Grilled Cheese sandwich ($10) is made crisp with a layer of melted cheese on the outside, which adds deep, nutty flavor. The tirokafteri ($4), a classic Greek cheese spread, is lively with roasted red peppers.

For the upcoming fall menu, Koenig-Riley is working on a Missouri Waltz, a bourbon and gin cocktail with allspice liqueur and housemade fig and blackberry jam.

Stockyards Brewing Co.

The bar at Stockyards Brewing Co., 1600 Genessee St. in the West Bottoms, looks like something your grandparents might have built in their basement 65 years ago. The space feels familiar and comfortable, with its low ceilings, wood paneling and leather booths. While there, it’s easy to forget you’re in the company of strangers.

The brewery’s owner and founder, Greg Bland, says it was his priority to preserve the history of the building, which was previously home to the iconic Golden Ox restaurant from 1949 until it closed in December 2014.

Bland, who grew up in Montana surrounded by open skies and cattle, moved to Kansas City in 2010, and the West Bottoms was the first place that really spoke to him. The avid homebrewer started toying with the idea of opening a brewery in 2012 and actively began seeking space in 2013.

In 2015, Bland signed a lease on the former Golden Ox building and set out with partners Ray Kerzner and Micah Weichert to build a brewhouse in the dining room and add a cellar and fermentation space.

At the original bar, everything but the cocktails are served from a tap, including local wine, beer, cider and cold brew coffee. Eight taps are dedicated to Stockyards beers.

Order a flight of four tasters ($7) to try any combination of the eight Stockyards beers on tap, including four flagship brews: Golden Alt, Saison, Thunder Hef and Black IPA. The beers are also available by the glass for $6.

If you try one Stockyards beer, make it the Black IPA, a favorite recipe from Bland’s homebrewing days perfected by Weichert, the head brewer. The Black IPA is an intense, full-bodied beer with a bitter yet smooth flavor.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the Cerveza Royale, a summer seasonal garnished with a lime wheel that’s light enough for long sessions at the bar.

Stockyards beer will soon spill outside the tasting room: The brewery plans to start distributing to local bars and restaurants by the end of the year.

Brown & Loe

The Merchant’s Bank building at 429 Walnut St. in the River Market was constructed in 1920, when the original streetcar was in operation and Woodrow Wilson was president.

The grand building near the entrance of the City Market was recently reincarnated as Brown & Loe, a bar and restaurant from Harry Murphy and Kate McGlaughlin, who also own Harry’s Country Club, 112 E. Missouri Ave.

Brown & Loe is named after a produce brokerage that once occupied office space in the building. The restaurant retains many of the original architectural details, including a facade of plate glass and green verde marble, high ceilings and an original safe door, which is behind the bar.

The space is reminiscent of grand diners from the past, when passengers crowded in for a drink before catching the evening train at the nearby station. During the day, sun pours through the windows, drenching the dining room in light. On weekends, the patio overlooking City Market is a prime location for sipping mimosas and people-watching.

At night, Brown & Loe buzzes like a hive with the sounds of people, clinking glasses and wood chairs raking across the marble floors.

If you’re there for a drink, grab a seat at the dramatic 40-foot-long bar, which serves a nice selection of wines by the bottle as well as red, white or sparkling selections by the glass from a tap ($7.50 to $9).

Brown & Loe also serves a wide selection of local, domestic and foreign beers on draft or by the bottle. And the cocktail menu stands out, with its modern interpretations of classics and its abundance of drinks made with prosecco, an Italian sparking wine.

The French 75 ($9) consists of prosecco, gin and lemon juice. It’s tart, tangy and bubbly.

For something with a bit more kick, start the evening with Americano Sparkler ($9), a layered drink made with Campari, sweet vermouth and prosecco for a beautiful pink ombré effect.

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