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Nighthawk opens at Hotel Kansas City on Nov. 26, featuring a relaxed vibe, live music and late-night bar snacks
KANSAS CITY

Nighthawk opens at Hotel Kansas City on Nov. 26, featuring a relaxed vibe, live music and late-night bar snacks

This Fri., Nov. 26, basement bar Nighthawk will swoop into the completely refurbished lower level of Hotel Kansas City, which is also home to The Town Company.

The music-centric bar features pub food from executive chef Johnny Leach (The Town Company, Del Posto, Momofuku) with a focus on quick service. General manager Dominic Petrucci (Monarch Bar, Julep, The Mercury Room) helms the beverage program and front-of-house operations at the new late-night hangout, which director of restaurant, bar and events Scott Tipton (Julep, Stock Hill, The Savoy at 21c) also helped develop.

Hotel guests can take an elevator from the 6th to 14th floors and arrive at the doorstep of Nighthawk. Additional access is available via two stairwells in the hotel and an entryway from 13th Street, where guests can use valet parking and sidestep using the hotel’s front entrance.

The one-of-a-kind space was designed by John O’Brien, and visual cues signal that music performs a starring role here. Posters throughout the space promote notable recording artists and performances from yesteryear, and playbills pay homage to Kansas City’s rich music culture. A rotation of punk, rock and soul artists will perform on a low-rise stage on weekends, alternating nights with a featured DJ.

A pool table, moody lighting and vast selection of vinyl records evoke the laidback atmosphere of a friend’s basement party meets underground dive bar. Equipped with customized turntables and vintage speakers at one end of the room, the DJ booth underscores the focus on music. Sound absorption panels ensure that the experience is still conversation-friendly.

Nighthawk’s 150-seat capacity offers spots for groups to gather at leather banquettes, and smaller parties can nestle at tables, cozy nooks and along a drink ledge opposite the bar. A private room with a TV and banquette seating is available by reservation, but otherwise, Nighthawk doesn’t require reservations. “Everyone is welcome. There’s no clunky reservation system. It’s first come, first served,” Petrucci says.

The bar program is built for speed of service. Offerings include two house beers brewed by Strange Days Brewing Co., classic mixed drinks, batch cocktails, “bright, bubbly” canned hard seltzers made in-house and wine on tap. Frozen drink machines dispense a boozy coffee cocktail and other chilled selections, while a Japanese highball machine offers the “perfect carbonated whiskey highball.”

Nighthawk doesn't feature detailed drink menus. Guests may order “a good glass of juice” without needing to decipher wine terminology, and Petrucci refers to cocktail service as classic “one-and-one” – think whiskey and Coke or gin and tonic. 

“The biggest thing is to not get in our own way. We want a comfortable bar experience that’s not about presentation,” he says. “The menu is easy to understand. Guests know what things are. Bartenders aren’t shaking and stirring.”

In contrast to the fancier fare at The Town Company, Leach crafted a food menu also designed for speed of service. No-frills bar snacks are served in plastic baskets and designed to satisfy late-night hunger. “It’s cozy bar food made with amazing local products: buttermilk fried chicken wings, fried catfish, pickled eggs, spiced nuts, beef jerky,” he says. “It’s a basket of deliciousness.”

Food here plays a supporting role in establishing ambiance. Leach is shooting to evoke fond experiences like hanging with pals at the Reel M Inn, a beloved dive bar in Portland, Oregon, known for fried chicken and jojos. “Sharing food and drink with friends, where you sit at the bar and have some wings,” Leach says. “It’s great unexpected things you eat that take you back to a certain point in life.”

Small groups can share a large platter of braised chile ribs with cornbread that intentionally bears no resemblance to Kansas City-style barbecue. “It’s more Texas-style, fall-off-the-bone pork ribs made with guajillo chile, coriander, dark chile powder and fried shallots for a crunchy topping,” Leach says.

Guests not wanting to split a dish or share snacks can choose from “Fancy Plates,” which include a rotation of dishes such as spaghetti and meatballs, meatloaf with mashers and trout. Side dishes include red cabbage slaw and “funny onies,” a Funions-inspired dish featuring fried onion seasoned with ranch dressing flavor and cracked black pepper.

Late-night food and drinks will be available until close. “Consistency is important, to always be here for you. We want to be that place to go get ‘that one dish,’” says Petrucci. “It’s late-night food for hotel guests and people in the neighborhood.”

Nighthawk’s team wants to conjure a sense of nostalgia for guests. Like Leach’s evocation of Reel M Inn, Tipton tapped into food and drink memories that were seeds for inspiration, such as ordering a fried bologna sandwich from Robert’s Western World in Nashville. “We want guests from across the country to feel like Nighthawk is familiar,” he says.

Nighthawk (located on the lower level of Hotel Kansas City), 1228 Baltimore Ave., Kansas City, Missouri, hotelkc.com/dine/nighthawk

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Writer Pete Dulin is the author of Kansas City Beer: A History of Brewing in the Heartland, KC Ale Trail, and Expedition of Thirst: Exploring Breweries, Wineries and Distilleries Across Central Kansas and Missouri.

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