These beautifully designed Kansas City boutique hotels have become hotspots for locals

XR, a casual, quick service bar specializing in artisan pizza from a wood-burning oven.
XR, a casual, quick service bar specializing in artisan pizza from a wood-burning oven.

Hotels aren’t just for sleeping anymore. At least the new boutique ones popping up in Kansas City aren’t. The rise of independent hotels is offering new choices for preferred hangouts that cater to local residents — not just business travelers.

You won’t get miles or star perks on your visit, but you will be rewarded in culture and style.

Far from just providing breakfast in a staid suite and meeting spaces in bland conference rooms and lobby bars, independent hotels are reinventing themselves as the keepers of Kansas City’s unique culture of art, history and, yes, cocktails.

Developers — even those far outside the Midwest — have focused their attention on what makes each building relevant to our city, and homed in to enhance existing character.

The most recent example is Crossroads Hotel, which opened last fall at 2101 Central St. in the Crossroads Arts District. Its most unassuming brick facade was overlooked by developers for decades until Chicago’s Aparium Hotel Group bought the former Pabst Blue Ribbon bottling and distribution center and a second building that housed the office of none other than Kansas City bossman Tom Pendergast. Fine dining restaurant Lazia, on the street-level corner, is an homage to Pendergast’s Mafia ties, and you can dine in one of the fire-glazed brick vaults — if you don’t mind tight spaces.

From its blank slate, Kansas City’s El Dorado Architects, in conjunction with Chicago’s Simeone Deary Design Group, carved out distinct spaces using well-known local designers and purveyors: Convivial Production, Hammerpress, Happy Habitat, Christopher Elbow Chocolates, and Mikey and Megan Wheeler, tattoo artists who designed the guest rooms’ wallpaper.

The main public space is a rich scene of a central bar surrounded by couches and stools, billiards and shuffleboard tables. It’s the type of place to take a meeting, then pop open your laptop and stay until happy hour. The wood-fired pizza oven burns all day, and you can order three square meals off the menu at XR until 10 p.m. Coffee service starts at 5 a.m.; the bar closes at 1:30 a.m. on weekends.

Percheron, the hotel’s rooftop craft beer garden with a 360-degree view of the downtown skyline, will open as soon as the weather warms.

Though it is not locally owned, Crossroads Hotel is a translocal environment, says Hesse McGraw of El Dorado, who curates the hotel’s art collection and manages its artist residency program.

“It’s a place rooted in local character, culture, artists and artisans, and at the same time, it has guests coming from around the world who want to connect directly with what makes this place Kansas City,” McGraw says.

Crossroads Hotel couldn’t be what it is without the neighborhood’s connection to art. It reflects and contributes to the community with a 2,000-square-foot gallery and studio space dedicated to installations.

The hotel’s guest check-in area is also a work of art, with its central core blown out to create a five-story atrium with a sawtooth skylight overhead. Cladding the walls of the atrium are the floorboards from the opened space. The former cobblestone walkway was also reused.

The beams are original to the 1911 building; stringers and bracing were added for support.

“We’ve gotten to where we want to be,” says Jeremy Bennett, the hotel’s director of lifestyle. “It’s the perfect mix of neighborhood residents and transitional travelers. People focus on food and the beverage culture as much as on the rooms — that’s the shift in the model. We are a restaurant with rooms on top.”

Here are a few other boutique hotel hangouts in Kansas City.

The Fontaine

The Fontaine, 901 W. 48th Place on the Country Club Plaza, is another revamped property looking to connect with locals on new levels.

“People aren’t just staying the night or going to a function, it doesn’t have the same effect as the Holiday Inn,” says Ryan Ocker, director of sales and marketing.

Now under new management, the physical surroundings have been designed to be warmer and more approachable than the former Hotel Sorella, and the opportunities for nearby residents are abundant. In addition to ongoing weekday specials and private events, The Fontaine is facilitating a number of nascent programs. For starters, it’s catering to the coworking movement by giving public access to its vibrant and naturally lit lobby with work tables and free access to Wi-Fi. A grab-and-go coffee and sandwich concept is in the works in the adjacent Seville-inspired atrium.

For now, the space attracts visitors with Thursday night programming started in December featuring candlelit tables, live music and small bites. Coming soon on Saturdays, the hotel will begin offering workshops on craft cocktails. Yoga is offered in a number of ways — on a private patio, on the rooftop pool deck and as part of a combined event called Art and Yoga Flow, for all levels of painting and practice. The rooftop pool is for hotel guests only, except for ticketed events, such as movie nights every Friday, April through October, where the public can swim and watch for free. Tickets are available through EventBrite or Facebook.

21c Museum Hotel Kansas City

21c Museum Hotel Kansas City, 219 W. 9th St., is located in one of Kansas City’s oldest historic buildings. The former Savoy Hotel was barely surviving until 21c Museum Hotels, based in Louisville, stepped in to revitalize it. The Kansas City hotel and contemporary art museum opened last summer. The entry ramp leading to the check-in counter features a site-specific light installation by Luftwerk that emulates the colors of a Kansas City sunrise. It’s the first (and the last, featuring sunset colors on your way out the door) work that indicates 21c Museum Hotel Kansas City is serious about its art.

Museum Manager Jori Cheville makes the emphatic point that it’s a museum first. Focused solely on 21st-century art, the main and second levels are open 24/7 free of charge to the public. Guided tours are given Wednesdays and Fridays at 5 p.m. And yes, cocktails are allowed. Stay for dinner at The Savoy at 21c — the handsome bar remains in its original glory, with President Truman’s favorite wooden booth intact. The restaurant’s contemporary dining room features a complexion-enhancing warm glow from a transitioning LED light ceiling.

Hotel Phillips Kansas City

Hotel Phillips Kansas City, 106 W. 12th St., has been a Kansas City staple since 1931, but a $20 million renovation in 2016 by Arbor Lodging Partners in Chicago gave it new life for locals. Now managed by Hilton as part of its Curio Collection, the lobby features a gorgeous gathering spot, with Instagram-worthy green velvet couches, and an Art Deco sculpture, Dawn, that’s original to the building.

Shuffleboard and free Wi-Fi tables occupy the former check-in counter, which has been decentralized to what was formerly an open stairwell. The hotel’s Kilo Charlie coffee shop feeds the on-the-go set with its own off-street entrance and serves fresh-baked pastries and sandwiches, as well as locally roasted Parisi Coffee.

Tavernonna is a high-end but casual Italian kitchen known for its meatballs, brisket and handmade pasta. The best hot spot, however, is behind a former electrical closet door in a former storage area: a stairway descending to P.S., a swanky speakeasy-style bar in the basement with live jazz on Thursdays and DJs on weekends. Reserve a seat through Open Table or take your chances at the door. Follow social media to find out about special events, such as flash mobs and Cocktails & Conversations with prominent local business leaders.

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