By Jerry Fisher
Even though today’s cigar and cocktail culture evokes the classic sophistication of the Mad Men era, or the exclusivity of the Speakeasy experience, it is becoming increasingly rare to walk into a nicely appointed indoor lounge where comfortable seating, fine cigars, dry aged steaks and top shelf liquor are permanent fixtures. What is even rarer is finding all of those elements in a historic building that dates back to the Prohibition era political machine of “Boss” Tom Pendergast. On the third floor of the building at 931 Broadway in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the Pendergast Club has all of those things for cigar and spirit lovers on a nightly basis.
Sitting above one of Kansas City’s most popular steakhouses, The Majestic Restaurant, the Pendergast Club has been a private cigar lounge since the late 90’s. The building itself dates back to at least 1911 when it was The Fitzpatrick Building, opened by James A. Fitzpatrick with the support of “Big Jim” and “Boss Tom” Pendergast. The first floor was initially Fitzpatrick’s Saloon, with a brothel on the second floor. Fitzpatrick’s residence, which also served as a second office for Boss Tom, was on the top floor where the Pendergast Club is now. During Prohibition, the saloon moved from the main floor and became a basement speakeasy, and that space is now the Majestic’s popular Jazz Club.
These days, the infamous third floor now opens around 4pm for its members and usually closes around midnight, depending on how business is going on any given evening. The speakeasy turned Jazz Club in the basement has live jazz five nights per week, and there is a pianist on the main floor in The Majestic. In the Pendergast Club, the vibe is relaxed and congenial, and the focus is a balance between famous Kansas City hospitality and keeping enough of the historic exclusivity to make sure that members “always have a seat waiting for them”. The entire third floor is decorated with historic photos, paintings and advertisements. The exposed brick wall and hardwood floored Pendergast is a private cigar club, but that is more about keeping it comfortable with a smaller-than-capacity crowd at all times than anything else. While admission is at the discretion of management, any guest downstairs at The Majestic can inquire about an after-dinner visit, which is easily granted as long as space is available. Once inside, you’ll be greeted at the bar or settle into a large leather sofa alongside longtime members, out of town visitors, service industry professionals, local politicians and athletes.
In addition to the cigar lounge, there is a game room and a dining room; both overlooking what was once the thriving garment district of downtown Kansas City. The game room is decorated with historic sports memorabilia and has several tables that are perfect for a game of cards. The dining room is modestly decorated, with the emphasis on the long wooden table and wall of windows overlooking Broadway Boulevard. The minimalist setting makes it easy to imagine that the room looks exactly as it did when Fitzpatrick and Pendergast held their private business meetings and poker parties. Both of those spaces are now available for hosting private events. If you are in town with a group for a local convention, entertaining clients, or just a local cigar lover wanting a place where you and your friends can enjoy a steak with your stogie, arrangements can be made through the restaurant to host your dinner upstairs in The Pendergast Club. Cigar smoking is welcome, and encouraged throughout the third floor, which has had 21st century smoke ventilation and filtration added to the space. There is always a cutter and lighter available at the bar, but if you need an upgrade or an extra of your own there is a large selection of Kansas City’s own Xikar, Inc. lighters and cutters available for sale.
When it comes to cigars, members and visitors are welcome to bring in their own favorites, and members enjoy the benefit of storing any surplus in the Pendergast’s walk-in humidor. The selection for sale is not huge, but it covers all of the bases from classic favorites to newer production sticks. They have several offerings from the Fuente family, including 858’s and Hemingway Short Story’s. There are also cigars from Avo, Casa Magna, the Liga Privada Series from Drew Estate, Davidoff, Romeo y Julieta, Oliva, Tatuaje and Aroma de Cuba. The range of strength, body and flavor in the Pendergast Club’s humidor is a great fit for their selection of spirits.
Upon entering the club, after passing a painting of the notorious Boss Tom, much of the time you will be greeted by local bartender Kenny Cohrs, who is there to help guide your decision on the huge variety of premium spirits. While they are selling more and more beer these days, as it becomes increasingly popular, the majority of sales at the Pendergast’s bar are still made up of Scotch, Rye and Bourbon whiskeys. For Scotch enthusiasts, The Pendergast stocks the entire Balvenie and Laphroaig lines. All of the usual top shelf bourbon and rye offerings are available, and they are particularly proud to serve history in a glass by stocking spirits from Kansas City’s own J. Rieger & Co. The brand was a casualty of prohibition, and was revived in late 2014 when the original recipe was used to produce their whiskey. Since then, both vodka and gin have been added to production. Any visitor to The Pendergast Club would do well to enjoy a locally produced pre-Prohibition spirit in a building where Prohibition was effectively ignored. Even though the classic cigar-friendly spirits take center stage, the bar staff has an array of fresh fruits for juicing and mixers to make just about anything a guest might request. Whether a guest is a novice or a long time aficionado, the staff is invested in suggesting a cigar to match your drink or vice versa. One benefit to membership is the calendar of special events, including cigar and whiskey or cigar and agave pairings, as well as visits from brand ambassadors.
A colorful history and the very best tobacco and alcohol are generally enough to keep any enthusiast happy, but it wouldn’t be Kansas City without offering the next level of quality and hospitality. In short, having one of the most popular Kansas City steakhouses right downstairs has its advantages. Whether relaxing at the bar or reclining into leather cushions, the entire Majestic Steakhouse menu is available in the Pendergast Club during regular kitchen hours and can be delivered up the two long flights of steps right to you. For a steakhouse, there is a great variety to choose from, but some popular highlights are crab cakes, beer battered pork chops, New Zealand lamb chops, and of course a wide variety of dry aged steaks; from an 8oz pepper encrusted filet to a huge 24oz porterhouse. Fresh, local and seasonal ingredients are important components of fine dining in Kansas City, and to that end The Majestic sources produce and meat from local producers at Thane Palmberg Farm, Goode Acres Farm, KC Buffalo Co. and Arrowhead Specialty Meats.
Kansas City is subject to the same tightening tobacco laws, food and drink trends, fads, fears and marketing as any other town in America. Some clubs and restaurants change with the times either by choice or necessity. What makes the club truly unique is a timeless hospitality combined with the creature comforts and ease of an earlier era. The goal isn’t for it to be the most popular destination in town, and it isn’t an option to rest on its laurels as the only place like it in town. The Pendergast Club is there to consistently deliver the highest level of what Jordan Carver, General Manager of The Majestic, describes as “Quintessential Kansas City…steaks, whiskey, cigars and jazz”.
Jerry Fisher is an avid cigar smoker and reviewer. His love of premium cigars is matched only by his affinity for great food and strong coffee. You can follow him on Instagram @Zeemanb