Back when I started this blog, the Big 12 Tournament moved back to Kansas City -- its rightful home -- after the Sprint Center was built. This weekend, fans of K-State, KU, Western Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova, Ole Miss, Wisconsin and either Boise State or La Salle will converge on the city for a weekend of hoops.
This guide is intended to help you find your way around, find good places to eat, drink and be merry, and know a little about the city you'll be visiting. Good luck, unless your team is playing K-State.
The Sprint Center/The College Basketball Experience
It's not brand new anymore, but I'm still confident the Sprint Center will impress. It is located in the heart of downtown Kansas City, at 1407 Grand Boulevard. To accommodate pedestrian traffic and the various events that go along with NCAA Tournament games, Grand Boulevard and several other downtown streets (information here) will be closed for some portion of the weekend. The Sprint Center's Web site has helpful directions and parking information. Here's another site with more general parking information for downtown Kansas City.
Across the street to the Sprint Center's west is the Kansas City Power & Light District, which features numerous bars and restaurants. It also has a courtyard area with a large projection screen that will show the games throughout the weekend. The weather isn't looking very good right now, but the courtyard has a roof and there when it's cold they usually have heating stations around to keep things temperate. If you can't get tickets, the courtyard or the bars aren't a bad place to watch the action.
Speaking of tickets, selling tickets on the street is legal in Kansas City, Missouri, so you will see plenty of scalpers around. If you want to sell your tickets or you're looking to buy, you can do so as long as you're not on the block where the Sprint Center actually sits. Beware that you will be politely but firmly chased off the Sprint Center's property if you're trying to sell tickets there.
Finally, if you're a diehard college basketball fan -- and if you're traveling to Kansas City to watch your team play, then you probably qualify -- you should take some time to check out the College Basketball Experience. It's connected to the Sprint Center and, from what I'm told, is well worth the visit.
Bars and Nightlife
As mentioned above, the Sprint Center is directly adjacent to the Power & Light District (or "P&L" for short). If you're looking for something a little different, you have several options.
Around downtown Kansas City, you can find the Cashew to the south in the Crossroads district, Harry's Country Club to the north in the River Market (sorry about the autoplay music), and the Quaff to the west in downtown. If you want to go a little more upscale, make a reservation at Manifesto.
Kansas City has two other main bar districts a little farther from downtown. At approximately Westport Road and Broadway, there is the aptly named Westport. For food, hit up Westport Beer Kitchen or McCoy's Public House. Harpo's is probably your best bet for nightlife in Westport, because there won't be any Iowa State fans around to keep Kelly's hopping.
A little farther south, you'll find Kansas City's Country Club Plaza ("the Plaza" to locals). This is almost more of an outdoor shopping mall that happens to have good food and bars, too. I'm partial to Tomfooleries, Granfalloon, and Gram and Dun for having a drink. For food, I'm a fan of Blanc Burger + Bottles. If you're looking to go out for an upscale dinner, The Capital Grille and Plaza IIi Steakhouse are good options.
You can't talk about food in Kansas City for very long without talking barbeque. And given that even mentioning BBQ is akin to opening Pandora's box, I'm not going to argue with you about what's good and what's not. If you like it, that's good enough for me. Here are my recommendations:
Oklahoma Joe's: As they say at the original location, it's the best food you'll get in a gas station. It may also be the best food you'll get anywhere. They're famous for their Z-Man sandwich, but I'm partial to the Smokie Joe. It's pretty difficult to go wrong here, though, so order whatever looks best. This one is based on Kansas, so it'll be a little more of a hike than some of the others, but it's well worth it.
Arthur Bryant's: It's one of the giants, and it's one of my favorites. Some people find the sauce an acquired taste, so take that into consideration before you cover your food in it. Believe it or not, the turkey sandwich may be my favorite here, but the beef and ribs are excellent, also. Go to the original at 17th and Brooklyn, and you'll get an idea of how famous the place is by the pictures on the wall.
Gates: Gates rounds out KC's Big Three. The burnt ends are the order of the day here -- it's the tender meat at the end of the rib, chopped up and put into a sandwich that could keep you full for two days. My favorite location is the one on Cleaver, just east of the Plaza. Note that at both Bryant's and Gates, you very well may be prompted for your order the second you walk in the door. Either be ready to order or let them know you're not ready and let others go ahead.
Johnny's: Down in Shawnee Mission (KC is dominated by suburbs, as you'll find) is Johnny's. They feature Guy Fieri a little too prominently on their Web site for my taste, but the food is very good. It's small, like most KC BBQ joints, it's small, so plan ahead or plan on a line.
Big T's: This is a recent discovery of mine. It's just down Little Blue Parkway from the more-famous (and worse, in my opinion) LC's.
Fiorella's Jack Stack: If you ignore the BBQ "purists" who claim this sit-down restaurant doesn't embody what Kansas City-BBQ is all about, you'll discover excellent food. The Poor Russ is a favorite of mine, and the beans are cooked under the brisket, the better to gather chunks of meat that fall off. The Freighthouse location is the most convenient, but the Martin City location is probably the coolest.
Kansas City is home to two excellent museums, conveniently located right next to each other. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum is a must-visit if you are a baseball fan. Right next door, and appropriately located in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, is the American Jazz Museum. Two top attractions, right next door and only a mile or so from the Sprint Center.
Boulevard Brewing Company was on the front end of the craft-brew revolution. With Anheuser-Busch's sale to foreign interests, Boulevard is now the largest American-owned brewery in the State of Missouri. They got famous off their Unfiltered Wheat beer, but they have plenty of better offerings now. You can tour the brewery, and I highly recommend it. My wife and I had our wedding reception there, and it's a beautiful facility.
Bonus Honorable Mention: If you're a fan of Red Dirt Music -- think country music that's not that crap from Nashville -- there's an excellent concert on Saturday night at Knuckleheads, where Evan Felker (Turnpike Troubadours), Cody Canada (Cross Canadian Ragweed), and Chris Knight will be playing an acoustic set. Get your tickets in advance.
Kansas City Generally
I won't claim any expertise on Kansas City hotels, because I can count on two fingers the number of times I've stayed in a hotel here. Hit this link for more information about where to stay if you haven't already found a place.
The main freeway routes through Kansas City are I-70 going east-to-west and I-35 going north-to-south. Near downtown, there is also I-670, which runs along the south side of the downtown loop and right next to the Sprint Center. U.S. 71 runs south out of downtown.
Flying into KC
Some of you will probably be flying into Kansas City International Airport (MCI officially, KCI practically). It's a great hometown airport in that it's easy to get into and out of. It's a good 15 miles north of downtown, though, and it's a terrible airport in which to wait out a delay, as there aren't a lot of food and drink options to occupy your time.
Depending on where you stay, public transit may be an option, although KC doesn't offer much other than buses. You can learn more about the bus system at the KCATA's Web site, and they have a faster bus system called the MAX that could be helpful in and around downtown.
If you're coming to Kansas City for the games, welcome, safe travels, and enjoy yourself.