Our Man in KC: Derby Party, Martin Luther King, Jr. Square Park, and Themed Pop-Up Bars

Damian Lair at the Kansas City Museum’s Derby party.

(Delayed) Derby Day

Once canceled and once delayed, Kansas City was very much ready for the 5th annual Derby Party at the Kansas City Museum. It’s one of the handful of parties I’ve begun to look forward to every year—an occasion to put on a snappy garden look. Come on, haven’t you been shopping and spied something that made you think ‘well, this would be perfect for a garden party.’? Not just any verdant garden spot—one nestled in the towering presence of Corinthian Hall, that beaux-arts style stone mansion in the historic Northeast, home to the soon-to-open Kansas City Museum. The building and property have been undergoing an extensive, years-long $22 million restoration and will host exhibits and experiences that tell stories about our city’s history and heritage.

As for the party, guests were decked in their 20’s-era derby finery, with plenty of flappers and fascinators (my favorite featured a drunken Barbie doll tossing back a mint julep—hair appropriately frazzled). Speaking of juleps, what’s a derby, or even a derby-less derby, without them? Fortunately, J. Reiger & Co. had that covered. There were also my fave Quirk canned cocktails from Boulevard Brewing Company. Other options included Torn Label brews and wine from Les Bourgeois Vineyards and Bourgmont Vineyard & Winery. There was even an adorable Tiffany-blue bicycle that you could pedal to draft your own pitcher of Boulevard. Which I, of course, did.

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As we drank and made merry, Grand Marquis pumped out live jazz from the museum’s front porch. And there was no shortage of other things to keep us busy. Pose in a vintage convertible Packard? Why not. Take photos against a Gatsby-esque book cover with snow pouring down for extravagant effect? Naturally. Grab bites from Brown & Lowe and visit Poppy’s Ice Cream truck? We’re there. And there were plenty of yard games, dancing and whimsical, Jordan almond-colored balloon sculptures (from Pop Culture Sculptures) to boot. All in all, it was the perfect party, on the perfect day, with the most perfect crowd. Bravo to Paul Gutiérrez for all the hard work, planning and re-planning.

Spotted: Barb & Bob Bloch, Zulema & Terry Bassham, Mayor Quinton Lucas, Darcy & Lindsey Stewart, Rosie Privitera, Donna Foulk, Dr. Regina Nouhan, Kim Weinberger, Lee Page, Angie Jeffries, Heidi Markle, Katie Van Luchene & Jerry Foulds, Jennifer Janesko, Rachel Sexton, Tom Paolini, Crissy Dastrup, Meg Spilker, Melinda Ryder, Jessica Harbin, Dan Hilboldt, Kristin Brotherton

Damian’s nephew was lucky enough to be included in the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Playing with Ma-homies

On a hot Saturday, I grabbed my two favorite “homies”—little nephew dudes, César and Alexander—for an awesome adventure that only Uncle D could put together. Regularly, there are opportunities that appear in my inbox that, while seeming fun, I know would be a lot more fun with these two. As you might imagine, playground openings fall into that category. Not wanting to not generate too much excitement (and potential disappointment if the guest of honor couldn’t make it), I selectively neglected to mention how special this playground opening was to be. I told them only that it would be “matching day”, and that I’d be in my Patrick Mahomes jersey. They should plan accordingly.

We packed our bottled water, sunscreen, and snacks and headed to Martin Luther King, Jr. Square Park. Early. Upon arrival, the boys astutely noticed the #15 pennants flying overhead and started to ask a lot of questions. What is this playground? Why can’t we play on it? Why is everyone wearing Mahomes gear? Sigh. The jig was up. Is this a Patrick Mahomes park? Will he be here? I answered affirmatively that it was his playground. But, no, he wouldn’t be here—he’s entirely too busy to play in parks. So, from our second-to-none viewing spot at the entrance gate—we waited. 

Overheard: “You’re nobody until you wreck a Bentley.”

Local politicians toddled in, and others affiliated with various aspects of the park followed. And then, just like that—there he was. The man. Utter silence from these two, who seemingly spend half their words recounting every kind of kindergarten and first grade Mahomes mythology and folklore: “Yeah, well I heard that our school janitor’s daughter’s cousin’s sister’s friend actually saw him—at Target!” “Oh, yeah, well I heard …” These are actual conversations, by the way. So, with jaws re-attached, we stood in the blazing, 90+ degree heat and listened to a litany of local government types address a majority-child crowd. And listened. And listened. If you were there, you know. Be very careful when microphones are involved; for some, the gravitational pull is just too strong.

But I digress. We were delighted to hear from poet Glenn North, who recited his moving piece, A Place Fit for a King—a nod to the civil-rights leader for whom the park is named. Notably, this event was scheduled to coincide with the 58th anniversary of King’s delivery of his “I Have a Dream” speech. The Unity Drum Line—comprised of members from the Broadway Drill Team, Center Middle School, and the Gateway High Steppers—performed with pride, adding to the pomp. Marques Fitch, executive director of the 15 and the Mahomies Foundation, provided background about the foundation’s $1 million gift, the initial idea for a playground, and recounted charming stories about the care and thought Patrick Mahomes and fiancé Brittany Matthews put into the playground—from site selection, to driving by the park every few days just to witness the progress.

Finally, it was time for Patrick. He was gleeful, yet humble; excited to share this personal gift, but aware of its significance. It was lost on neither him, nor me, that we were standing on what may very well have been covered by a hastily swashed, ethereal red line on a government map. A crimson smear across a human grid, solely intended to wall off a white garden on the other side. So, it was especially poignant that this project wasn’t just about making better use of an underutilized patch of city park or to build something pretty. It was designed to bring people together. And not just people—but all people.

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The playground was thoughtfully designed to encourage accessibility and inclusiveness for children with all physical and mental abilities. It features a large, net play structure, multiple types of swings, musical marimba, a wheelchair-accessible spinner, a synthetic turf mound with climbing features, and a wide concrete hill slide. Encircling the park are pavers engraved with MLK quotes—tying the whole project together in one big ribbon of love and hope for a promising future for everyone who will now get to play here.

When it came time for the ribbon-cutting, César and Alexander were gobsmacked to be among the handful of little ones selected ahead to stand alongside Patrick, holding up the ribbon. César jumped at the chance, but Alexander succumbed to a major case of stage fright and wouldn’t budge. With a spare adult face mask haphazardly smashed on, César stoically stood next to Patrick as the scissors snapped, confetti cannons exploded, and cameras flashed. I asked him after: Do you realize you just got to stand with one of the most famous living athletes on the planet, at the ribbon-cutting for his own playground?? His melted, nearly tearful response: “He put his hand on my shoulder.”

On the way home, that out-of-body like reaction made me think about power. The power one human being could have over so many. How people with so much power can use it in infinite ways—to lift people up, self-promote, usher change, impede progress, give generously, hoard greedily, inspire people, or denigrate them. And then there’s the power, however much smaller, that each of us have. What might be possible with the power we hold? Being there that day, intoxicated by a thick cloud of humility, made me want to go forth and harness my own time, abilities, and resources toward something good. Which is the cool thing about power and inspiration—it’s exponential. One person’s benevolence might spur others to behave the same. Who, themselves, might then galvanize others they encounter to go forth similarly, in an ongoing trail of selflessness. It keeps going.

Patrick, the world is lucky to have you, and we are so glad you’re here in Kansas City.

Something Spooky

Themed pop-up bars have been all the rage lately, and I’ve written about several of them here. While Christmas and winter themes tend to be the most common, Halloween seems to be coming in a strong second. And I love Halloween. Which is why I jumped at the chance to be among the first souls to check out the brand new Apparition: Spookeasy in the lower level of 3 Trails Brewing in Independence.

The scintillating selling point? One hundred years ago, the building was home to J. Ott & Co Undertaking. Halloween drinks inside a former morgue? Count me in. Upon arriving, you’ll be given a lantern that you’ll need for navigating the very dark maze to the bar. There, you’ll have a full menu of otherworldly elixirs and spirit options.

Overheard: “I’m talking like chic, Parisian flea market ‘old’—not Wayfair dead stock ‘old.’”

I threw caution to the wind, and let the ghouls choose for me. This resulted in the “Pumpkin King,” a pumpkin-spice white Russian with Tom’s Town vodka. Yummy. My less adventurous friend chose for himself and had the “Suspiria”, a clarified milk punch (trend alert: I’m suddenly seeing milk punch everywhere) with Earl Grey-infused Tom’s Town botanical gin. Numerous lemon slices arranged around the rim reminded me of the shrimp cocktail scene from Beetlejuice. No reservations are required (or available) for this pop-up. It’s spacious enough that I don’t expect much of a wait. But if so, you could always enjoy a beer upstairs prior to your descent.

After drinks, we hopped across the street to an eatery I hadn’t been to in roughly a decade: Ophelia’s Restaurant & Inn. On this Friday evening it was poppin’, with every table full. We slipped in by the bar, had a lovely meal, and even made some new friends while there. I had O’s Mac n Cheese, which was decadent. And my friend had what must be the signature dish because we kept seeing it fly by us—the bison meatloaf. I tried it and loved it.

Overheard: “Who are you? And why didn’t you stay home?”

Also, you may have guessed by the name, but they have a handful of cozy rooms upstairs, which I’ve actually stayed in.  They’d make a perfect staycation perch above the historic Independence Square.

Back to pop-ups for a second. Looking for some other fun options? My absolute favorite from last year (and I’ve already got reservations for this year) is the incredibly inventive and well done Something Wicked bar inside Julep in Westport. Follow along with me on Instagram as I capture it all. Another option of note, and not Halloween per se, is the topsy turvy Alice and Wonderland-themed The Fall in the basement below Ale House. It’s a trippy fun time.  Spooky cheers!

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

email: dlair@inkansascity.com  | Instagram: @damianlair #OurManINKC

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