Was I surprised by today's announcement that the 28-year-old Kabuki Japanese Restaurant in the Crown Center complex had finally shuttered its rice paper screens for the last time?
Kabuki, which The Pitch last reviewed 12 years ago, was barely relevant then, attracting more tourists than local diners, who could be lured by a wide swath of better, more interesting sushi restaurants, Japanese steakhouses and "fusion Asian" joints all over the metro. Kabuki never had the panache of Jun's Authentic Japanese Restaurant, which opened in South Kansas City in 1978 and moved to its current location at 7660 State Line Road over two decades ago.
What the closing of Kabuki really represents is the continued decline of the 41-year-old Crown Center entertainment complex as a popular dining destination. In the 1980s, with downtown Kansas City in sharp decline as a serious place for upscale or even budget dining (all the cafeterias had closed by the 1970s), the brand-new Crown Center complex was a serious contender against the Country Club Plaza.
In its heyday, Crown Center boasted a romantic revolving dining room (Skies in the former Hyatt Regency); a well-respected steakhouse (Benton's, at the top of the Westin Crown Center); the snazzy Peppercorn Duck Club; and even a Trader Vic's, the sexy Polynesian-style chain founded by Victor Bergeron in California.
All of those restaurants are gone now. Sure, there are still some restaurants left in the complex. There's the legendary American, of course. And Milano, an Italian restaurant now managed by Sheraton Hotel, isn't too bad. The Brasserie, in the lobby of the Westin Crown Center, is a fancy name for a second-rate coffee shop. And inside the shopping and entertainment facility, there is still the saloon with mediocre food known as Streetcar Named Desire, as well as an outpost of the Kansas City, Kansas-based Fritz's Railroad Restaurant, which is great fun...if you're 7 years old.
The former Terrace restaurant, which had a very glamorous Sunday brunch 28 years ago in the hotel that used to be the Hyatt (now the Sheraton Crown Center), is under construction to "become something else," according to a manager who told me that the hotel is serving breakfast, lunch and dinner in the space that was formerly occupied by the Peppercorn Duck Club and the Spectators Sports Bar.
I doubt that Crown Center will ever return to its former glory as a serious dining destination. There's too much competition from the Crossroads, the Power & Light District, and Westport.
I'm not saying the the American is going to become a Hooters. But would I be surprised to see that gorgeous Warren Plattner interior someday occupied by, say, an Urban Table or a Grand Street Café? Not one bit.