I just spent the weekend in Bentonville, AR with a group I was touring from JCCC's Friends with Taste. We stayed at the glorious 21c Museum Hotel located a short yet scenic walk away from the Crystal Bridges Museum and the main downtown square of Bentonville. Everytime someone at the 21c Museum Hotel in Bentonville would ask our group where we were from, and we told them Kansas City, we always got the same response: "Did you know that we are planning to open a 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Kansas City at The Savoy?" THIS was news to me. Exciting news. Long awaited news. SOMEONE needs to do SOMETHING with this landmark piece of history in Kansas City.
The Savoy Grill & Hotel was built in 1888, with the restaurant added in 1903, in downtown Kansas City at the cross streets of 9th and Central where it still stands today. Being over 110 years old, the hotel was the first luxury hotel of it's time in Kansas City. It has hosted many wealthy cattlemen and grain merchants, along with visiting celebrities, movie stars and Presidents across the decades. In it's heyday, it boasted a rooftop garden, ballroom, Italian tile floors, marble walls, a stained glass skylight and carved oak woodwork, and many of these features can still be seen in the hotel & restaurant today. In 1975, the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, marking it worthy of preservation. Today, The Savoy Grill & Hotel is remarkably still open for business. Two floors of the hotel have been remodeled into a bed & breakfast and The Savoy Grill, the oldest restaurant in Kansas City, is still serving lunch and dinner from 10:30 am to 9:00 pm, 7 days a week. Talk about living history. There has even been talk of the hotel and restaurant being haunted, which to me, only adds to the rich storytelling value of this historic building in Kansas City.
Over the last few years, many local KC Chefs and restaurateurs have been tromped through the restaurant and kitchen to see if one of them would be interested in taking over the operations of the historic restaurant. While everyone who has seen the space, appreciates the look and feel of the historic dining room and bar, they all agree that the menu has remained frozen in time, and that food quality has diminished over the years.
The kitchen at The Savoy Grill is rumored to be one of the biggest commercial kitchens in the city, but most of the equipment in there is from circa 1965, which has kept most of the serious Chefs from biting on the opportunity. It would simply cost too much money to start over. The kitchen was more than likely remodeled in 1965, which was same year that Don Lee purchased The Savoy in the hopes of making the restaurant a Kansas City destination, after years of neglect and gradual decline. Lee came from a veteran restaurant family, and purchased the hotel, as a way to ensure the lease on the restaurant. Lee was successful and The Savoy Grill enjoyed a period of renewed success in the 1970's through the 1990's where The Savoy Grill became a place for high-dollar business lunches and a romantic location for tourists and out-of-town guests to enjoy a traditional steak dinner. Remember, this was all before our downtown area was actually a place you wanted to be, unlike today with the Crossroads Art Galleries, The Sprint Center, The Kauffman Center for Performing Arts and the Power & Light District. This place survived at a time when there was no reason to be downtown after 5 pm.
In 1985, Lee would begin the renovations on the hotel to turn it into the bed and breakfast that it is today. See this promotional video below done after the renovations as a way to promote the newly remodeled hotel.
Although, everyone agrees when it comes to The Savoy Grill & Hotel, "the old gray mare, she ain't what she used to be." That being said, there is no doubt that Don Lee is the Kansas City restaurateur responsible for keeping the restaurant and hotel open through economic depressions, a blighted downtown, the tighting of corporate budgets and reduced tourism after 911. Kansas City owes him a debt of thanks for being the keeper of this small part of our city's rich history. Thank you, Mr. Lee.
According to my contacts at the 21c Museum in Bentonville, and this article from the Kansas City Business Journal from October 2013, construction is set to begin at The Savoy in late 2015, with plans to open the new 21c Museum Hotel in Kansas City sometime during 2016.
I am crazy about this hotel chain, which currently has locations in Louisville, KY, Cincinnati, OH, Bentonville, AR, with locations opening soon in Durham, NC, Lexington, KY, Oklahoma City, OK and finally Kansas City, MO. I think that they might just be the perfect group to come and do something wonderful with our beloved historic Savoy Grill & Hotel in Kansas City. All of the hotels in the chain, with the exception of the Bentonville location, are built from rehabbing older historic hotels, so you can rest easy that they will not be tearing The Savoy down to build something new. Instead they plan to bring back some of the former glory to her bones, while they morph it into a destination art hotel & restaurant.
Each of the 21c Museum Hotels (named for the 21st Century Art that is on display in each of their hotels) are all unique, and there is a real commitment to craft cocktails and wonderful locally sourced, Chef-driven cuisine here, which I truly appreciate. Locals and tourists alike will enjoy eating, drinking, visiting and staying at this new boutique hotel in Kansas City. We are not alone. In 2014, Travel & Leisure Magazine reader's poll named 21c Museum Hotel in Lousiville the #7 best small market hotel chain in the US.
Below is an interview with the couple that owns the 21c Museum Hotel chain, Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, talking about their inspiration and hopes and dreams for the hotel. Notice the nuzzle Steve gives Laura Lee at the end of this video. Grrrr. Adorable. I heart them, and I think you will heart the 21c Museum Hotel.
So, know that The Savoy Grill & Hotel only has a short time left in it's current historical condition. Make your plans to go in for one last celebratory meal at The Savoy to honor and celebrate all that it once was, and to toast to all that it will become as a new 21c Museum Hotel.
The Savoy Grill & Hotel
219 W 9th St, Kansas City, MO 64105