Our Man in KC: Romantic Revels Gala and a Night in North KC

Damian Lair with Good Will at Romantic Revels Gala.

Reveling with Romeo

The Heart of America Shakespeare Festival’s Romantic Revels Gala annually coincides with Valentine’s Day weekend. And who could argue with showing a little love for an organization that brings joy to so many? The gala is the primary source of income for supporting not only the cherished three-week Shakespeare Festival in the Park, but also summertime camps for children ages 8-18, and year-round educational programming in schools and around the community. Oh, and the festival? It’s a classic crowd-pleaser this year: Romeo and Juliet. June 14 – July 3 in Southmoreland Park.

This year’s 30th Anniversary Gala was special indeed. Outside the Intercontinental Hotel ballroom, silent auctions kicked off the evening. The signature Romeo and Juliet cocktails helped as well. I could remember being in this place two years ago—because it was impossible to forget the last gala I attended before returning from vacation to a city that was completely shuttered. Two full years. Who’d have guessed—or believed? So, yes, the evening felt extra special. 

Inside the ballroom, candelabras flickered, and chandeliers sparkled. We were greeted by everyone’s favorite HASF executive artistic director, Sidonie Garrett. Among the evening’s festivities was, easily, the best and most entertaining fund-a-need I’ve experienced. No simple task to create fun amidst pleas for money! I shouldn’t have been surprised that these creatives nailed it. Equal-parts fundraising and performance, we were invited to a Shakespeare enactment—with challenges. Imagine shoddy lighting, then poor props, then untrained actors. No money for costume deodorizing? Also, best left to your imagination. Amidst all this, Evan Cleaver made a convincing and charming Romeo. Stand-in (non-actor) Bill Ye… well, this is why we give.

Chairs Jessica and Jason Chanos were on hand to graciously bestow the Founder’s Award on superstar supporters, Bernie and Scott Ashcraft. Perhaps because I was feeling sentimental and reflective about the two years that had just passed, I noted one of Scott’s simple but poignant remarks: “Great art elevates the humanity in all of us.” I would imagine that most people suffered or struggled in some way—and may still—as the first global pandemic in a century gripped the globe. And maybe not everyone—but for myself and many people—art, taking many forms, held powerful healing properties during this time. 

So, it wasn’t the lovely steak dinner that we came for. We filled the room to ensure that the elevating abilities of art don’t start and stop in certain zip codes. They can lift all boats, regardless of their size or splendor.

Spotted: Congressman Emanuel II & Dianne Cleaver, Barb & Bob Bloch, Ed Milbank, Michael Fields, Amy Embry, Bernie & Scott Ashcraft, Ursula Terrasi, Jim Blair, Kevin Hancock, Dan Nilsen, Don Loncasty, Terry Anderson & Michael Henry, Dan DeLeon & Jerry Katlin, Lauren DeLeon, Loretta & Tom Mentzer, Garrett Toms, Laurence & Edward Bate, Frank Campanella, Mary Jo Olinger


“You got a light?”

“No. Sorry. I only smoke in Paris.”

A Trip North

On a recent Friday, I met up with friends at a place they’d recently fallen head over heels for—Sail Away Wine. Coming straight from work, we managed to grab ourselves one of the few empty tables. It remained entirely full for the rest of our time there. Sail Away was—for me—a brand- new wine experience. It’s also the first of its kind in Kansas City. 

Unless you’ve been before, your first task will be securing a free “wine passport”—a personalized credit card of sorts. Then, browse the tasting bar’s selection of 72 rotating wines, organized by type. Each has an informative tearaway description that you take back to your table for trading notes with your sipping companions. 

All you need to do is insert your passport card, and your name appears on a screen with pour options: 1 oz., 3 oz. or 5 oz. Wondering what a certain wine tastes like? Don’t guess—try just an ounce. Find something you really like? Pour a full glass. There’s a reason their tagline is “Taste the World One Sip at a Time.” 

I loved the low-commitment aspect and the ability to experience numerous wines in a way that’s more challenging if you’re ordering by the bottle or a limited by-the-glass menu. There’s also a variety of price points, with pour samples starting around $1.50 and escalating with pour volume and each wine’s cost. You can also order by the bottle or take one home at a discount. Your card’s tab is settled at the end of your stay.

I began with a Veneto pinot grigio sample, purely because it’s a region in Italy that I’m fond of. I was quickly reminded that, regardless of my regional favoritism, I abhor pinot grigio. Still. Glad it was just an ounce. I moved onto another white—a chardonnay savignan blend, with hints of walnut, apple, and toffee. Delightful. Switching to red, but remaining in France, I tried a pinot noir sancerre rouge that was very nice. Finally, I went for something on their pricier end. For that, I chose a Côte Bonneville red from Washington’s Yakima Valley, with a bottle price of $195. Of course, a glass was just a fraction of that price, and I still got to enjoy the subtle tastes and aromas of coffee, barrel spice, tart cherry, and cranberry. 

Throughout, we nibbled on various charcuterie boards that I insisted upon. It was a truly unique and fun experience that we universally enjoyed, and for which I will definitely return.

Beyond Sail Away Wine, which we specifically ventured this direction for, we had no other plans. So, we wandered directly across the street (Armour Road) to a place that looked charming: Mitch e Amaro. And it was. 

Part upscale retail liquor experience (in the front) and part cocktail bar and lounge (toward the back), it was another unique concept. It’s a place where cocktail nerds can totally geek out on hard-to-find products, and novices can expand their creative horizons. A liquor mega store it is not. They maintain a thoughtfully assembled selection of more unusual amaro, aperitivos, gin, mezcal, tequila, cachaça, whiskey, bitters, barware, and books. 

The cocktail bar is an integral part of this shopping experience. The bartender can demonstrate techniques, answer questions, and of course, pour you a corresponding cocktail before you commit to any bottle purchase. I was in the mood for something more exotic, so I ordered a matcha highball from their Japanese Whisky cocktail menu. Combined with lemon, honey ginger syrup, and soda, it was refreshing and comforting at the same time.

Not sure where to head next, we flipped a coin whether to take a left or right down Armour. Left won the day, and we didn’t stumble far. A few doors down, we found Cultivar. It was surely the live music that grabbed our attention from the sidewalk. Cultivar is a shared space for food, drink, and entertainment. That live music? It was coming from The Rino. Which, coincidently, was hosting a costume dance party. That would explain the unicorn and cowboy at the bar. 

The dance floor was packed, so we saddled ourselves up to the bar—alongside what ended up being some very interesting characters. But, that’s a story for another day. With the chilly weather outside, I ordered what sounded appropriate—the Fireside Chat. With botanical vodka, pomegranate, house-made honey sage syrup, splash of rum, and a few passes under a flame torch, it warmed me right up. 

Next to the cocktail bar, is a bar of different sorts—a vegan food counter, Dead Beet Eats. Saving room for dinner—but obligated to try something—we snacked on the pretzel babies, paired with beer mustard and vegan nacho cheese. Upon witnessing others’ orders, we should have doubled down on the freaky fries and the burger, but it’s a reason to return. 

I also really wanted to dig into the offerings at Sweet Emotion, which feature oat milk ice cream, the most gorgeous vegan/gluten-free cookies, and naturally—ice cream sandwiches that smash together the best of both those worlds. 

Elsewhere inside Cultivar is Post Coffee Company, The Triceratops Room professional recording studio, Barnasty Ferments handcrafted fermented sauces, Grimm Bitters liquid spice rack, and finally, brewChurch, a faith community committed to authenticity and inclusivity. The novelty of a church and bar/entertainment venue sharing space together in harmony struck me with curiosity and led me to their website to learn more. Their vision can be best described here: “We’ve found that some of the deepest conversations and moments of growth can happen around a drink—whether coffee or beer or a craft cocktail. The hope is to break down the wall between the sacred and the secular because we can encounter God in a variety of places.” How divine. 

Final stop: dinner. We’d all been hearing about the still-quite-new Pizza Tascio, so we had to try it. They close up shop at 9 p.m., and I think we graced them with our presence at 8:55. No time for complicated orders on this night. Fortunately, the walk-up counter has slices ready to be warmed in their pizza oven and then straight to your plate. Very Sbarro’s style—and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. 

While Tascio has a thicker-crust Sicilian option—which I of course tried—New York-style pizza is their game. And if I’m the referee, they are winning. The pizza was as delicious and satisfying as they were gracious in entertaining our nonsense, when I’m sure they’d have rather been on their way to their own late-night Friday plans. We ate fast, and the roof of my scorched mouth is still paying the price. 

Rather than trashing the remaining slices before closing up, they sent us all home with pizza for breakfast. Really nice folks. Being just a stone’s throw across the river, I know I’ll be back soon to repay the favor. It was the perfect closing to what was an entirely uncharted evening, visiting all new places, in a neighborhood I don’t visit often enough. A quintessentially Kansas City adventure.

So, KC—where do you want to go? XO

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

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