April 6, 2017

Jazz Greats Still Echo At Drum Room Lounge in Kansas City

Drum Room Lounge

photo by: Historic Hotels of America

Inside the Drum Room Lounge at the Hilton President Kansas City, a Historic Hotel of America.

When it opened in 1926, the Hotel President was the first hotel in Kansas City that was able to produce its own ice. Too bad it was the middle of Prohibition, and that ice couldn’t be used to make a cocktail.

Not to worry. There are plenty of cocktails to be had in the hotel’s Drum Room Lounge today. The most popular is the Drum Room Old Fashioned. But the others are just as good and have presidential names, to boot. There’s the Truman-hattan, with Old Grand-Dad Bonded whiskey, sweet vermouth, and Jerry Thomas bitters. Or try the Calvin Coolidge Fizz, with cucumber-infused gin, simple syrup, mint and hopped grapefruit bitters. The First Lady is another favorite, with Saint-Hilaire and St-Germain.

Built by the architectural firm Shepard & Wiser, the hotel—now called the Hilton President Kansas City—was one of Kansas City’s most elegant hotels when it opened, featuring an ornate lobby and mezzanine and 453 guestrooms. In 1928, two years after its doors opened, it was headquarters for the Republican National Convention. It was there that Herbert Hoover was nominated for president.

It wasn’t until 1941 that the Drum Room Lounge, a swanky restaurant and bar, opened. The large, circular room featured a big, drum-shaped bar in the middle. There was live music almost every night.

And in a city famous for its jazz, it’s no surprise that some legendary figures passed through its doors—Benny Goodman, Frank Sinatra, Glenn Miller, Patsy Cline, to name a few.

“Anyone who was performing in Kansas City would come to the Drum Room,” says Philip Strnad, the hotel’s general manager.

Hilton President Kansas City

photo by: Vincent Parsons/Flickr/CC BY-NC 2.0

The Hilton President Kansas City (originally called the Hotel President) opened in 1926.

Both the hotel—now a member of Historic Hotels of America—and the Drum Room Lounge have been restored and renovated over time. And while the lounge no longer has its drum-shaped bar and no longer features live music, it looks much like it did on opening day.

“You can still feel the history inside,” Strnad says.

Drum Room Lounge entrance

photo by: Chris Murphy/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The curved window and the door are original to the building.

Location: 1329 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, MO 64105

Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Thursday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Don’t Miss: Happy Hour, every Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 p.m., featuring food and drink specials.

You’re Having: In addition to the presidential cocktails, the Drum Room Lounge has an impressive selection of whiskeys. Try general manager Strnad’s go-to: “My favorite is a steak and a Maker’s 46.”

Best Yelp Review: “A classic, classy cocktail lounge that plays up Kansas City's heritage as a slightly seedy entertainment destination of decades gone by. The bartenders are well-dressed and old-school polite. The menu is comprised of drinks giving a wink and nod to KC heritage—e.g. ‘The Truman-hattan.’ Space is limited, but both times our group of four visited, we easily found a spot on a Friday night. … Anywhere that touts itself as a former hangout of Frank Sinatra is good in my book.”

Lauren Walser is the Los Angeles-based field editor of Preservation magazine. She enjoys writing and thinking about art, architecture, and public space, and hopes to one day restore her very own Arts and Crafts-style bungalow.

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