The Crossroads Arts District is leading the charge in Kansas City’s cultural boom. Restaurants, local retailers, loft space, hotels, offices and the KC Streetcar have helped revitalize an area that, until the last few years, was primarily populated by the brick husks of long-gone businesses.
What turned things around? There were a lot of factors. Crossroads’ events, specifically First Fridays, played an undeniable role. As a nationwide return to urban areas was influencing the business and living decisions of Kansas City residents, Crossroads’ events were welcoming thousands of individuals to experience this unique neighborhood — a crisscross grid of short brick buildings crammed in between the towering downtown skyline to the north and high-rises of Hospital Hill to the south.
Today, new developments are popping up in the form of new construction and business. The Crossroads’ events that helped propel the district forward are still ongoing throughout the year. This guide to the Crossroads will give you some events to attend and some food to try while you are there.
First Fridays is a monthly street fair that has blossomed into one of the largest events in the entire city. It happens on — you guessed it — the first Friday of each month, all year long. This tradition began in 1995, when Kansas City was struggling to be more than office buildings and parking lots. Urban living was near an all-time low, which made street-level storefronts for art, retail and dining hard to maintain. Of all the Crossroads’ events, this one is intricately linked to the return of livelihood to downtown.
The festivities begin at 5 pm. It might be worth showing up right at the beginning, because First Fridays will be packed, especially on nice evenings. Thousands of people flood the Crossroads’ streets. Traffic is diverted to only a few roads as the connecting streets are shut down for food trucks, concert stages, art booths and other entertainment.
You’ll be surrounded by all of the Crossroads’ best restaurants during First Fridays, and this can be a great time to try them out. However, it’s probably best to take advantage of the eclectic community of food trucks that gather at this event. You won’t find a more diverse collection of menu offerings within one city block any other time in Kansas City.
You have to start with First Fridays when you’re looking at Crossroads’ events. But we’re not done, because there’s a lot more to do.
Where to Find Other Crossroads Events
You won’t find a ton of events in the Crossroads that are annual festivals. What you will find is a full event calendar with entertaining options anywhere you look. Here are a few reoccurring events that you can always look for when you’re planning a night out in Kansas City.
Kauffman Center for Performing Arts
A crown jewel of the Crossroads, the Kauffman Center catches your eye immediately. Modeled after the world-famous Sydney Opera House, the sparkling venue sits at the top of a hill on the northwest edge of the Crossroads, the last building before crossing over into the true downtown area. At the Kauffman Center, you can find theatre, opera, orchestra and more Crossroads’ events throughout the year. If you are looking for a nice evening out, it might be the best place in Kansas City to start.
Back in the 1930s, the Crossroads was most known for its connection to Hollywood. Before the digital age, major studios needed a central point of distribution for all their movies. Kansas City made sense, and “Film Row” was established in the Crossroads. This is the earliest roots of the Crossroads’ artistic sensibilities. Film Row paved the way for the many art galleries operating in the area today. If you are looking for Crossroads’ events, it’s never a bad idea to check out all of the gallery shows happening each week.
Jazz in Kansas City
The rhythm of jazz reverberates in the foundation of Kansas City. The historic 18th & Vine Jazz District is a nationwide epicenter for this classic style of music. But you can also find jazz at Crossroads’ events in the arts district. The Green Lady Lounge and Black Dolphin jazz lounges, directly next to each other on Grand Boulevard, are premiere listening destinations. Take a seat, grab a cold cocktail and take in the music.
Exhibits at Union Station
Union Station is one of the most beautiful buildings in Kansas City. It was established in1914 as the transit hub of not only the city, but the whole region. As rail travel declined, Union Station transitioned into a cultural center with exhibits, shops, restaurants and entertainment. You should always take a look at what’s happening at Union Station for Crossroads’ events.
Restaurants to Try at Crossroads Events
Whether you’re catching a performance of the Lyric Opera at the Kauffman Center or a happy hour jazz performance at the Green Lady, there are plenty of delicious Crossroads restaurants to explore. Check out our complete guide to good bites in the Crossroads for an extensive overview. But for now, here are some restaurants to complement the Crossroads’ events you are going to attend.
- Jack Stack at the Freight House: Upscale barbecue with old-school flavor in a beautifully renovated historic building on the southern edge of the Crossroads
- Lidia’s KC: A family-owned, historic Italian restaurant worthy of a nice evening out after attending a performance at the Kauffman Center or visiting galleries in the Crossroads
- Mission Taco: Chow down on tacos, burritos or tortas at a cheap price without sacrificing any of the flavor
- The Parlor: Kansas City’s first true food hall experience, choose between seven different restaurants in one building at the east Crossroads hangout
The Crossroads is a vibrant district at the heart of Kansas City’s continually blooming culture. Crossroads events are a great way to get to know the city, whether it’s a walk around First Fridays or an evening with the KC Symphony. We hope you find experiences that create memories at Crossroads’ events, and find some good food while you’re at it.