“Saturday Night Live” star Heidi Gardner calls herself Kansas City’s “biggest cheerleader.”
She enthusiastically said yes when asked to become an official host of this year’s Big Slick Celebrity Weekend fundraiser for Children’s Mercy alongside other homegrown celebs, including Paul Rudd and Jason Sudeikis.
She pushed to get Kansas City Chief star Travis Kelce to host “SNL” after the Super Bowl earlier this year. In interviews, the Notre Dame de Sion alum often mentions how much she loves her hometown and its sports teams.
So it’s really no surprise that the big, bad 40th birthday bash she threw for herself here had a strong Kansas City theme that celebrated her town at every turn, from the food to the entertainment.
To mark the July milestone, the Kansas City native designed a three-day party for 25 friends and family members, half of whom traveled to Kansas City from both coasts.
She broke down all the party details, in her own words, for last week’s “The Strategist” column in New York magazine.
She basically created a template for a party that screams Kansas City.
Check out, for instance, what she tucked inside the welcome bags for out-of-town guests: the cheese-caramel-cinnamon mix from Topsy’s, sustainably made pajamas from MADI Apparel (1659 Summit St.) and rings for the women from Sierra Winter Jewelry in Brookside.
“Once people agreed to fly in, I was like, it’s going to have to be more than just a one-night affair,” Gardner told the magazine. “So I basically planned a three-day birthday tour of Kansas City. It felt kind of like a wedding.”
Here are a few of the businesses she called out under the label “Steal My Vacation.”
Hotel No Vacancy
For out-of-town guests she booked this boutique hotel at 1717 Wyandotte St. in the Crossroads, on the second floor of the newly restored Monogram building.
“No Vacancy has eight suites, and I don’t want to oversell this, but I will say that this hotel is perfect,” Gardner told the magazine. “Just impeccably designed, warm, and approachable. It’s that type of spot where you walk in and everything is aspirational — like, Oh, someone had the competency to hang that tapestry in exactly the right way to pull it off.”
Buffalo State Pizza Co.
Her guests ate well over those three days. She served ribs, brisket and pulled pork from Joe’s Kansas City for a barbecue themed after the old TV show “Dallas,” where the dress code was denim, boots, belts and buckles. (Party host tip: She watched YouTube videos of line dancing so she could lead her guests.)
Though she’s “not a fan of Hawaiian pizza,” she praised the Hawaiian Five-O from Buffalo State Pizza Co. “that has just a little bit of blue cheese, Canadian bacon, and jalapenos.” (1815 Wyandotte St. and 7901 Santa Fe Drive, Overland Park).
“It’s a Palestinian restaurant in town, and the owner, Omar, came over and made us a huge, traditional meal,” Gardner said. “There was traditional Turkish-style coffee, baba ganoush, labneh, falafel for days, pita. It was the most beautiful spread ever.” (1019 E. 63rd St.)
Curiously, the restaurant was recently named one of “The South’s Best New Restaurants of 2023” by Southern Living magazine. Owner Yahia Kamal opened it with his children in 2021. It was also named one of the 50 best new restaurants in the country last year by Bon Appetit magazine.
Fox and Pearl
She described this restaurant at 2143 Summit St. as “elevated comfort food like fried green tomatoes, some interesting twists on pickles, good chicken wings, some sort of succotash, and a good pork chop.”
“Fox and Pearl was a new restaurant on my radar,” she said. “When I was a kid, nothing was going on downtown. In the past 10 or 15 years, it’s really come alive, and now there’s so many amazing restaurants, bars, breweries, shops, artists. This is definitely one of the new places that’s a part of that.”
Wild Way Coffee
She hired The Wild Way Coffee to bring their mobile camper to set up in the hotel lounge, “and one after the other, people would slowly make their way out of their rooms to get a coffee,” she said. “This was one of my dreams for the weekend, just being curled up and having coffee with friends.”
The location of the camper each week is posted on its website, thewildwaycoffee.com.
Gardner took her guests to this “wacky ’70s-themed dance club with black lights, little cages you can dance in, and a full-on car-wash machine that comes down and turns the place into a foam party.” Friday and Saturday nights; cash only. 8300 Blue Parkway.
“Turns out Fountain Haus also had a drag show going on when we got there, and a couple of my friends then ended up hiring a drag queen to come on the bus to surprise me with a show, so the whole thing was really fun,” she said.
“I planned all of our stops to make sure there was enough time to be on the bus because that’s the most fun part. But I also planned Fountain Haus because it’s across the street from a Taco Bell Cantina. We sent a couple volunteers in to get everyone food; my friend Teddi ordered, no joke, 100 tacos.” 401 Westport Road.
Green Lady Lounge
She called it an “old-school jazz club” that stays open until 3 a.m., sort of Kansas City’s version of the Nines, a famous New York City supper club and piano bar. “There’s red lighting, it’s kind of sexy, there are some lantern moments,” she said. 1809 Grand Blvd.
Her simple declaration: “The best DJ in Kansas City is Sheppa. I worked with him before, and when I told him I was throwing this party, he was like, Absolutely, I’m there. And really, he’s a star. Anyone that leaves a dance party with Sheppa is like, ‘that’s the best DJ I’ve ever heard in my life — he’s a star, he’s a star.’
“He does a show called the Love Boat every month at this place in town called The Ship (1221 Union Ave.) and he crafted his playlist a little bit off that show and a little bit off what he knows about me.”