The Velvet Dog, Martini Corner's flagship establishment, will celebrate its crystal anniversary this weekend. I sat down with Chris Seferyn, owner of the VD (400 East 31st St.) and Mint Ultra Lounge (334 East 31st St.), to discuss what it takes to keep things rollin' in Midtown for 5,475 days.
The Pitch: So what's been your secret to keeping the business going for 15 years?
Chris Seferyn: I believe that a good bar is a community service and every town needs good bars. And it's up to people like myself to pay attention to what's going on, listen to people and figure out how to design something that people will enjoy so when they go out, they have places to go.
I noticed you don't book any bands or have any regularly scheduled entertainment. Is there a reason for that?
The Velvet Dog is a lounge. A lounge could be a lot of things. It could be a torch singer. It could be a jazz band. It could be a DJ. Anything. The Dog was never really about live music, per se. The first five to seven years we were open, all the other people that played music at all the other places, hung out here when they weren't performing. It's just a chill spot with really good music, eclectic vibe, retro feel. It's not necessarily about entertainment, although we do have some DJs, and I'm going to start expanding the flow and make the Dog more of a DJ lounge. Part of this anniversary party is kind of the end of the old Dog and the beginning of the new Dog.
Tell me more about that.
The Velvet Dog has become kind of a Kansas City institution. I mean,
everybody who goes out at all has probably been here at one time or
another, had a few too many martinis here at one time or another.
Everyone has a pretty good opinion or recollection of the Velvet Dog. I
mean, it's part of Kansas City. When your friends come in from other
bigger cities, you take them to a place like Velvet Dog and say, "Hey,
we're cool here in Kansas City. We got cool stuff." The Dog is part of
Kansas City, but it's been here 15 years, and you have to reinvent
yourself. You have to put money and effort back into the place and
change things around and keep it fresh somehow or you'll just be one of
those places that's been there forever that no one ever goes to.
Eventually those close and everyone goes, "Dang, what happened to that
place?" So we work really hard to not have the Velvet Dog just
disappear one day.
You also own Mint. How is that going?
Mint's kind of up and down. The nightclub business has been a little bizarre for the last couple of years with the Power & Light District,
a $500 million dollar explosion of entertainment money where they pay a
band $20,000 to play a free show. Local people can't really compete
with that. The P&L is starting to slow down and settle into where
it needs to be which is sort of a special event thing, like going to
see Kings of Leon [at the Sprint Center] then hanging out for a few
drinks afterward. I think it's better that the stuff is down there, but
eventually everybody goes back and hangs out at the places where they
like and they feel comfortable with the vibe and they know the people.
That's what makes Kansas City (or any other town), Kansas City.
But we're fine over here. All the Martini Corner spots are doing OK. I
mean, business isn't what is was a couple of years ago, but the economy
has a little something to do with that as well and people aren't
feeling as excited about spending their money. It will all cycle back
Do you have plans to open anything else up in the future?
I don't have any plans right now. What I want to do is focus on Velvet
Dog. We are going to adjust some décor after the first of the year. We
have our big New Year's Eve thing coming up at Martini Corner, and
after that we are going to keep changing with the times as we do, but I
don't have any particular plans. I am doing a consulting job with
Hamburger Mary's that's opening up in the Crossroads district, so
that's something new that I've been working on.
Is there a certain group this place caters to or that you hope to
attract here? How do you maintain the crowd that comes in here?
Normally, places do have some sort of a crowd. It's either a live music
crowd or a sports crowd. It's a Mizzou bar; it's a KU bar, you know,
this or that. Thankfully, from the very beginning, the Velvet Dog has
always been maybe a little more urban or downtown like that or more
eclectic. I think the real essence of the Dog is that everybody feels
I've always said that it's one of the few bars that has 22-year-olds
hanging out with 42-year-olds, lawyers or suits are hangin' out with
rockers. This isn't a really racially diverse town, yet we get a good
mix of people, all age groups and you know, points of view. I don't
think the Velvet Dog really says, "Hey, you gotta be this one thing."
We take pride in that. We take all comers as long as you act right ...
and you are 21.
Saturday night, celebrate the Velvet Dog's 15th anniversary upstairs, downstairs and outside with DJ Shaun Duval, glam metal tribute rockers Bone Jovi and experimental, nerd-core rappers Bacon Shoe from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m.