The KC Tour: Stompin' at the Savoy

As extremely hard and sad as it is to say goodbye to a beloved relative, it often also means bidding farewell to the places and traditions you always associated with them. With my grandpa gone, my reasons to return to Lincoln have withered.  So, in order to remember our midwestern traditions, Porter and I spent a few hours flying through and photographing the places we loved as children and will always associate with Grandpa Pete.  We made a similar whirlwind tour through Kansas City - more as a means to show off this beautiful town where we grew up.  First stop in KC: The Savoy.   
The hotel went up in the late 19th c. and the accompanying Savoy Grill opened in 1903 as a men'-only watering hole and eatery (the bartender told me that the term "grill" actually denoted spots where women weren't allowed) for downtown KC's business set.  Almost everything is original to the space, including the leather bar; the only additions over the last century being air conditioning, electricity (a gas lamp used to light each booth), refrigeration - and women.  As for the things that fell by the wayside: the booth-side spittoons and one mirror, shot out during a gambling fight. 

Paul Newman's character in Mr. & Mrs. Bridge ate at the Savoy, as did Warren Harding, Harry Truman, Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan (many of whom liked to sit at booth #4, a quiet, cozy one, not this grand one, guarded by stained glass).

Artist Edward Holslag painted a series of murals covering the Grill's upper walls depicting the pioneers' departure from Westport Landing in Kansas City and their journey along the Santa Fe Trail.

While the Grill is still grand, the hotel has seen better days. The rooms look like scenes from a 1980s nursing home - quite sad, because you can see the beauty underneath.  

Thankfully, the old sinks and clawfoot tubs remain, yet cry out for subway and chicken wire tile surroundings.  Instead the bathrooms are covered in vinyl floral wallpaper and bad large square tiles that seem more fitting for a decaying office complex than a luxury hotel.

Frank Anderson designed the Art Nouveau stained glass dome for the hotel lobby.

Photos by Porter Hovey


  1. My parents are from Nebraska and I lived in Kansas too until I was 9. My husband and I took our boys (4 & 2) to Nebraska over the summer to visit my grandparents and the thought of not having a reason to go there is heartbreaking. There is something special about the relaxed vibe of a midwestern summer that I just can't seem to replicate. I'm sure the boys won't know any different because it's my memories that make that place special but I'm hoping they'll want to go back sooner rather than later.

  2. Crushed I did not get to see you! Glad you are finding the silver lining.

  3. I would be perfectly happy living the rest of my life in that beautiful hotel. Thanks for the great post.

  4. DocP says:

    Was in KC on business this week. Had dinner at the Savoy Friday night. What a beautiful and historic building!

  5. Looking through to see the real beauty beneath is often 1/2 the fun (in a sad way). That shows the eye of a truly creative person who can do the actual work! So important!!

  6. Despite the vinyl wallpaper and office ambiance it sounds like heaven. Thankfully, it hasn't been given the W hotel redo.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Beautiful post- you ve managed to share your respect for your grandfather which I find particularly admirable and take us on one of your visionary rides all at the same time. It continues to be a pleasure to read your blog with all its unexpected twists and turns.
    Thanks for the memories.

    * That hotel is so cool and the name!

  8. Anonymous says:

    we do remember our grandparents throught the places we were sometimes together. I discovered in your blog that America still has beautiful old places. For this and for other things, thank you.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Love Porter's photos - she captures,with great beauty, what I want to see.