Beneath the City: Black Business Owners Turn History into Hot Spots

KC has more to offer than just our famous BBQ. Learn the history behind our Black business’ fascinating blend of aesthetic and architecture.

Kansas City dominates the food and creative scene with our rich cultural cuisines. If you’ve ever been to 18th & Vine or any of our city’s historically Black venues, you know we can chef up a lot more than just our famous BBQ.

But we’ve got a lot more to offer than cuisine alone — including the history behind our Black business’s fascinating blend of aesthetic and architecture.

When Black business owners operate within the walls of vintage building spaces, the question often arises; why did these owners choose to not make contemporary upgrades?  

When the structures were purchased by Black business owners, 1930s Manhattan nightclubs were a popular aesthetic. Suspender-clad butler and exclusive entry was beginning to resurface, just as the speakeasy era was preparing its funeral.

At the beginning of the prohibition, Missouri was the second largest alcohol producing state in the country; and during this time, the vintage style was making its grand re-introduction.

Business owners discovered new ways of maximizing the existing brick-wall architecture and preserving the antique structures. Why the brick? At the time, it was a rite of passage for new construction in predominately Black communities.

Beyond a simple design choice, the walls of these structures now tell an enchanting story without needing to utter a word.

Unlike Missouri, Kansas experienced an alcohol drought in mid-1888, forcing locals to cross the state line if they wanted to grab a drink or purchase liquor. As a result, Kansas City (MO) amassed breweries, distilleries and basement bars mimicking noir jazz clubs.

Located in our city’s plentiful historical districts are late-night restaurants that make for memorable, late-night experiences.

Continue reading to discover KC’s Black-owned historical hot spots fit for your next evening out with friends, or even for flying solo.

The Ship Restaurant

Home to late Ethel Mae Wright, The Ship became a success after the repeal of Prohibition in 1935. For decades, it was pronounced as the prime destination for jazz. It also became the home to Kansas City visitors, politicians, and sex-workers.

The Ship’s nautical interior aesthetic still holds its cultural appeal to newcomers and regulars alike. The roots of this historical building between Oak and Locust in Downtown Kansas City were reconstructed in late 2004 and finalized in 2014.

Owners and responsible renovators, Josh Mobley and Bob Asher hit a jackpot when they realized amidst the reconstruction that the building housed specialty historical artifacts within its hidden basement. They decided to mimic the original layout of The Ship while taking careful consideration of its natural Manhattan flare, which was a success.

Soiree Steak and Oyster House

Soiree Steak and Oyster House offers New-Orleans and Creole inspired fare, located in the historical district of 18th and Vine. It incorporates weekly live performances on their large front stage, and local owners promote their small businesses.

With its 6,300-square-foot dining space, Soiree is ready to deliver dinner and a show fit for one or fit for a group.

The Kansas City Juke House

Located in the historical district of 18th and vine, soul food staple The Kansas City Juke House is a blues club offering weekly live musical performances from local jazz and classical musicians. Southern staples such as chicken & waffles and catfish filets are some of their local fan favorites.

This is part 1 of our series highlighting Black restaurants and businesses who are turning history into hotspots. Stay tuned for upcoming pieces!

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