By Hope S. Philbrick
This is not the Kansas City that I remember from my childhood.
For starters, it’s easy to get around.
My father’s sister lived in Kansas, so when a conference offered my dad an excuse to visit Kansas City, he signed up and then brought our family along. The one vivid memory that I have of the trip is of my mom sobbing uncontrollably for what felt like hours while she circled the same two cloverleaves entering/exiting an Interstate. While my dad was sitting in some seminar at the Crown Plaza, my mom, my brother and I were riding an endless figure eight in the Winnebago. When my mom managed to break out of the matrix, we returned to the hotel, where she threw the keys at my father and my brother and I contented ourselves in hotel pool until it was time to head to our aunt’s place.
These days, especially when equipped with a GPS, getting to Kansas City, Missouri, from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, is a straightforward five-and-a-half-hour drive south on I-29. The Hilton President Kansas City is neatly positioned on a grid: Had my family stayed here, my mom might never have gotten so turned around.
The hotel is fantastic. With its chic yet historic grownup vibe, it’s far too fabulous a place to imagine kids jumping up and down on the beds. (Though it is a Hilton, so children are permitted, the vibe here is far more “adult” than “family-friendly”—exactly how we like it.)
Stepping into the lobby feels like traveling back in time to the 1920s. A piano plays tunes that echo around the ornate space. The overall pace is subdued, not frantic. Staffers are eager to answer questions, tote luggage, provide directions and even drive guests anywhere within two miles of the hotel.
That free shuttle service, coupled with the fact that Hilton President is located within Kansas City’s new downtown “Power & Light District”—which boasts more than 50 restaurants, bars, shops and entertainment venues—means that you can easily hand over the keys to the valet and leave your car parked while you explore the heart of the city on foot.
Nearby highlights include the magnificent Union Station and the Crown Center, which is home to the Hallmark Visitors Center, The Money Museum, LEGOLAND, National World War I Museum and more. In the opposite direction, the historic City Market and Arabia Steamboat Museum is a short shuttle ride away.
But no one will blame you if you just want to hang out at The President.
From the lobby, you can step into The Drum Room Lounge, which dates back to 1941 and in its heyday hosted such entertainers as Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra. Current menus are aimed at modern palates with options like BBQ glazed pork belly with maple chili glaze, ahi tuna tacos with guacamole, cast iron roasted meatballs with smoked tomato sauce, and smoked heritage pork sliders. Craft cocktails bear names inspired by local history and lore, such as the “Kansas Cyclone”—the bar menu explains, “President Eisenhower’s nickname, 1 of 2 Presidents with a pilot’s license, our riff on an Aviation”— a tasty blend of gin, lemon, elderflower, maraschino liqueur and orange bitters, “Truman-hattan,” featuring “Harry Truman’s whiskey of choice” Old Grand Dad Whiskey, and “Ford’s Bramble Tonic,” billed as “President Ford’s favorite,” a mix of Pinckney Gin, lemon juice, tonic and blackberries.
Construction of The President began in 1924 and the hotel opened in 1926 as one of downtown Kansas City’s original grand hotels—it was the first hotel in Kansas City able to make ice on premise. In 1928, it served as the headquarters for the Republican National Convention, which nominated Herbert Hoover for president. It closed in 1980, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, and remained vacant for years while people debated whether to tear it down or preserve it. A $45.4 million restoration/renovation was led by developers H. Drake Leddy and Ron Jury, and it reopened in January, 2006.
The restoration project followed specifications set by the National Historic Preservation Society. Though originally the hotel had 453 rooms, in order to meet modern standards guest rooms were enlarged so now there are 213 rooms and suites. To meet preservation requirements and maintain the look of the original hallways, there are eight faux doors on each floor.
At least four U.S. Presidents—Hoover, Truman, Eisenhower and Nixon—stayed in or visited the hotel. Other celebrity guests have included Charles Lindbergh, the Marx Brothers, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Bob Dylan.
Fellow guests can be good company—friends can be easily made in the Drum Room Lounge, with its relaxed social vibe—but retreat to your guest room and close the door if it’s privacy you crave. Rooms are clean and spacious. Bathrooms spotless. High-speed Internet facilitates work if you have to or want to connect online. Comfortable beds invite deep sleep. And city views invite dreams even if sleep eludes you.
This is not the Kansas City I remember from my childhood: It’s way better.
I look forward to returning for more in-depth exploration of this vibrant, jazzy, flavorful city in the “Heart of America.”
Just For Laughs…
This hotel is in Missouri, but Kansas City is also in Kansas, a state featured in “The Wizard of Oz.” The toilet brand in this hotel is “Toto,” a name shared by Dorothy’s dog in that classic film. We posted a photo on Twitter @21plusTravel.
- Odds of Encountering Children: Possible, but less likely than typical Hiltons. I saw none on my weekday visit in August.
- Complimentary internet (wired and wireless)
- No smoking in the hotel
- Only service animals permitted
- Self parking $18/day; valet $20/day
- 37-inch TV
- Clock Radio with MP3 connection
- in-room safe
- The “Hilton Serenity Bed” features an allergen-free down comforter and pillows, 250 thread count sheets and duvet cover, plus a custom-designed mattress set
- Ergonomic desk chair
- Accessible guest rooms available with mobility features with entry or passage doors that provide 32” of clear width
- Complimentary van shuttle within a two-mile radius of the hotel
- On-site dining options include the Providence New American Kitchen and the Drum Room Lounge; room service is also available
- Save in the Drum Room Lounge during happy hour; stop by the hotel concierge desk for details and coupons
- Complimentary 24-hour fitness center
- Hilton President Kansas City is the only hotel in the new Kansas City Power & Light District
- The hotel is near the Spirit Center, the new Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts, the Kansas City Convention Center and Music Hall complex, and Alamo Drafthouse Mainstreet Cinema
Hilton President Kansas City received the 2013 TripAdvisor Certificate of Excellence Award and has earned the prestigious AAA Four Diamond rating for five consecutive years.
Hilton President Kansas City
Kansas City, Missouri 64105
-Photos © HSP Media LLC