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If Taylor Swift is living in Kansas City, here's what locals say she should know

Taylor Swift celebrates a touchdown during the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers game at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 22 in Kansas City, Mo.
David Eulitt
Getty Images
Taylor Swift celebrates a touchdown during the Kansas City Chiefs and Los Angeles Chargers game at Arrowhead Stadium on Oct. 22 in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Taylor Swift — international superstar, the most-streamed artist of 2023, and onetime New York City tourism ambassador — is apparently now a Kansas City resident.

At least temporarily. During a scheduled break in her Eras Tour, Swift reportedly moved into the mansion of her boyfriend, Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce.

And we know what you must be thinking: Of course she's living in Kansas City now. That place is the coolest city on Earth, she's going to love it there.

But I know there's many people out there, not just Swifties, who hadn't thought much about KC before Traylor entered the picture — or think that Kansas City is a city in Kansas (you're only half right!).

Even if you don't know burnt ends from a short end, here's a (brief!) introduction for Taylor Swift and the rest of the world to understanding Kansas City and what makes it so enchanting.

What do we need to know about Kansas City?

Whether or not this relationship narrative turns out to be a PR stunt, or this whirlwind romance ends up more "Sad Beautiful Tragic" than "Paper Rings," it's certainly put Kansas City "at the center of the universe" more than even our most recent Super Bowl win could.

Here's one thing to know right off the bat. We are actually three different Kansas Cities spread across two states. You might know about Kansas City in Missouri (KCMO) and Kansas City in Kansas (KCK).

The Missouri one is the 37th most populous city in the U.S., with about 510,000 residents according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

KCMO is where the Chiefs currently play, next door to their currently-much-less-successful Major League Baseball equivalent, the Royals. And once it's completed next year, KCMO will also have the world's first stadium built specifically for women's soccer.

That's great timing because in 2026, even more of the world will get to experience Kansas City when it hosts matches for the FIFA World Cup. KC is the smallest U.S. host city to take part in the international event, and it's scrambling to get ready — our new airport just opened earlier this year, and the KC Streetcar is in the middle of a long expansion project.

(Unlike Taylor Swift's previous residences in NYC and London, Kansas City has no subway system, and our lack of expansive public transit remains a problem as more big events come to town. So she'll have to keep relying on Kelce's getaway car to get around.)

Oh, and we can't forget to mention that Kansas City is also the "City of Fountains," with more than 200 dotting the metro — a larger number than anywhere else in the world other than Rome.

Just across the Kansas River is Kansas City in Kansas, which consolidated with Wyandotte County in 1997 to become the Unified Government. It's only the third largest city in Kansas, with about 150,000 residents. Nearly a third of KCK residents are Hispanic, and the city has a real claim to being the "true taco capital of the United States."

Chicken, carne asada, and beef tacos with a side of rice from the kitchen of Las Palmas Restaurante in Kansas City, Kansas.
/ Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Chicken, carne asada, and beef tacos with a side of rice from the kitchen of Las Palmas Restaurante in Kansas City, Kansas.

To add some confusion, there's also North Kansas City in Missouri (NKC) which is — you guessed it — north of KCMO, and much smaller than the other two. But that's where you'll find Swift Street, which was temporarily renamed in June to "Swift Street (Taylor's Version)" and equipped with a "Cornelia Street" sign in honor of the singer's Eras Tour stops.

The Kansas City metro stretches across the ancestral lands of the Osage, Kaw/Kansa, and Otoe-Missouria people. Just driving around the area, you'll find locations that reflect the traditions and influences of the Shawnee, Wyandot and other Native American nations, who were forcefully relocated away from the region by white settlers.

(Now is a good time to remind people that, although the Chiefs are the reigning Super Bowl champions and arguably now one of the world's most well-known sports franchise, they're still widely criticized for their name and appropriation of Native American imagery and traditions. Many people wonder if the Swift Effect could help change that.)

While crossing the border between the two states is often as easy as crossing the street, the divisions between Missouri and Kansas run deep. As you might remember from the "Bleeding Kansas" portion of your U.S. history class, Missouri joined the Union in 1820 as a slave state — one of the few places in the Louisiana Purchase territory where the practice was legal — but abolitionists fought to maintain Kansas as a free state.

You can find remnants of those Civil War-era tensions across much of Kansas City's geography and politics: for example, Kansas City in Missouri is the only major city in the country that does not control its own police department, despite decades of protests and lawsuits from residents.

And that's not even getting into the other ways in which Missouri and Kansas — both of which are run by deeply Republican legislatures, although the Kansas governor is a Democrat — are politically at odds with these deep-blue cities and purple suburbs.

So where technically is Taylor Swift living right now? That would be the suburb of Leawood, Kansas, where Travis Kelce recently purchased a mansion for about $6 million.

Kansas City Chiefs players during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVII victory parade earlier this year.
Jay Biggerstaff / Getty Images
Getty Images
Kansas City Chiefs players during the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl LVII victory parade earlier this year.

That puts Traylor squarely in Johnson County, where more than half of the metro's residents live (about 620,000). And they're in good company: While Kansas City's urban core has been shrinking in population, those Kansas-side suburbs are growing quickly.

So what is there actually to do in Kansas City?

There are certainly a lot worse places to spend the winter! Kansas City has a pretty mild and dry cold season, especially compared to other Midwest cities, but it has a whole lot of holiday cheer.

And that's not even taking into consideration how wired the city gets when the Chiefs are on a Super Bowl-contending run, which might happen again this year. (The team has held five straight AFC Championship games at home, an NFL record, and they're doing pretty well again this year too — at least when Taylor is in attendance.)

But enough about football. Let's talk barbecue.

As a new Kansas Citian, you'll need to develop a taste for smoked meats if you don't have one already, or at least fake your way through it. Don't listen to Texas, or anywhere else for that matter: This is the home of burnt ends, and the best BBQ in the country.

Kansas City, Missouri.
/ Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Kansas City, Missouri.

Two of the juggernauts in town are Arthur Bryant's and Gates, and Ted Lasso (aka Kansas City native Jason Sudeikis) and SNL cast member Heidi Gardner (perhaps you met during your recent surprise appearance?) both recommend Joe's Kansas City (which is over on the Kansas side of the state line).

While they're all classics, many of us at KCUR would point you to LC's Bar-B-Q over near the stadiums (run by one of the city's few female pitmasters) or Slap's in KCK — those who know, know.

For a primary on KC barbecue, you'll want to listen to this James Beard-nominated podcast episode from A People's History of Kansas City.

Another great Kansas City institution is Town Topic, a 24-hour burger stand with an onion-covered patty that was named one of America's essential hamburgers. You know it's great because that's where Cardi B went for a bite after the Renaissance Tour in October.

If that wasn't enough of a recommendation, the Palestinian deli Baba's Pantry — located on Troost Avenue — was named one of the best new restaurants in the U.S. by Bon Appétit Magazine.

How about a drink after dinner? The national publication Punch just named Wild Child — a low- and no-alcohol bar in the Johnson County suburb of Shawnee — as one of the five best new bars in the country. Next door is its sister bar, the James Beard Award finalist Drastic Measures.

Despite attempts by Missouri lawmakers to restrict drag shows, Kansas City has a long and celebrated history with the art form, and across the week you'll be able to find drag performances or other events at the city's LGBTQ+ bars like Missie B's and Hamburger Mary's.

Kansas City is one of the great jazz cities in America. Charlie Parker and Julia Lee are from here, Count Basie made his career here, and the American Jazz Museum and the area's many jazz clubs carry on that legacy today. You can hear live jazz every single night of the year at The Green Lady Lounge, which will really make you feel like you've transported back to the flapper days.

For the literary-inclined, Afterword Tavern & Shelves is a combination bookstore-bar in Kansas City's Crossroads neighborhood where you can pick up a new novel while sipping on a cocktail. Speaking of bookstores, not too far away is the Kansas college town of Lawrence, where you'll find The Raven, which was named the country's best bookstore just last year.

Of course, Taylor Swift is more than acquainted with the University of Kansas — she dropped into a journalism class in 2009 that her best friend was attending at the time. Maybe she'll stop by again for the final exams of "The Sociology of Taylor Swift," an honest-to-goodness class taught at KU this fall by Prof. Brian Donovan.

Two great places to escape the winter doldrums are the neighboring Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, which are both free to attend. In the historic 18th and Vine district, don't miss out on the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum or the American Jazz Museum,

At the edge of downtown is the National WWI Museum, which also boasts an incredible view of the skyline. For another romantic view, Kansas City also has a brand-new downtown Ferris wheel that is set to open soon and run even through the winter.

On the southeast end of the city, the Kansas City Zoo just opened a massive new aquarium featuring Tortellini, a green sea turtle who suffers from some "buoyance problems" but is an absolute champ about it.

Considering that the Eras Tour is picking up again in February, with Taylor Swift headed to Japan and Australia, we can't possibly expect her to check off every item on this to-do list — which only scratches the surface of KCUR's recommendations.

But two months is certainly more than enough time to start exploring what Kansas City has to offer, even beyond "the guy on the Chiefs." Plus, you never know: This city has a way of convincing visitors to stick around a while.

Welcome to Kansas City, Taylor. It's been waiting for you.

P.S. Taylor, if you really want to get to know Kansas City, you'll absolutely love KCUR's Adventure newsletter.We bring you new ways to explore KC every single week.

Copyright 2023 KCUR 89.3

Gabe Rosenberg