Full restaurant and bar, jazz & piano bar, live entertainment, Tuesday jam sessions, Sunday Hangover Brunch, located in the old dicey Phoenix Hotel
On a blustery Monday night on Central Street in downtown Kansas City Mo.—at a time and place anyone might guess lifeless—music rumbles from the Phoenix Jazz Club. The Phoenix holds court on the corner of 8th and Central Streets, a nondescript outpost of life. The surrounding brick high-rises beckon to an older world, where a jazz heritage inspired songs like the “One O’clock Jump” and created legends like Charlie Parker. So you might be surprised to learn that the Phoenix isn’t part of this heritage at all.
The Phoenix Jazz Club, while residing in the historic Phoenix building, has only been a music venue since the 1990s. Unlike the national treasures on 18th and Vine (like the Mutual Musicians Foundation’s 84-years-and-going late night jams), the Phoenix cannot claim quite the same longevity as a breeding ground for local and national artists breaking into the jazz scene. But that doesn’t bother its loyal community. Mondays at the Phoenix, Millie Edwards fronts the band—they’ve been coming every week for years. That’s not unusual at the Phoenix: tap dancing wonder Lonnie McFadden can be found pounding the bar every Friday afternoon, and Everette DeVan hosts an open jam every Tuesday. The aim isn’t exclusivity. After a short break, during which the band mingles at the bar, Millie Edwards often lingers with her drink while the stage opens up to singers in the crowd.
The invitation to prospective performers in the audience establishes the Phoenix as part of Kansas City’s jazz tradition. Just like the late night jams at Mutual Musician’s Foundation, this communal approach to jazz performance colors the scene that still thrives in Kansas City. And it brings life once again to the Phoenix building on Central. The booze flows as surely as the music, with an extensive bar offering happy hour deals Monday through Saturday. Even more notable is the Saturday Hangover Brunch, with a tasty selection of hearty food and a tantalizing Bloody Mary bar. And for the real classicist, the bar sells cigars to be enjoyed on the enclosed patio. With weekday lunch and hangover brunch, and music every night but Sunday, there’s a little bit of life to be found every day at the Phoenix.
The Phoenix Hotel, built in 1888, was a dicey establishment in the booming Garment District. More brothel than boarding house, with a speak-easy downstairs, the Phoenix served the rowdy crowds of laborers after their shifts at one of the numerous factories in the neighborhood. The Phoenix was once a major competitor of the still-standing Savoy Hotel at 9th and Central Streets. The developing Garment District was anything but lifeless on any given night back then. While jazz was erupting further east, the Phoenix was part of a downtown scene that excites just as many myths of the lurid old Western town. The building, the neighborhood, and the jazz scene are tamer now, but no less alive. As Edwards belts out the final note to “At Last,” there’s no question that whichever piece of history the Phoenix has preserved, it’s done so with gusto.