"You won't recognize the place when you see it," said John Koop, telling me about his new namesake nightclub, Flo's Cabaret at 1911 Main Street -- located in the space formerly occupied by Bar Natasha, which had been Missy Koonce's cabaret for several years.
He was so right.
Koop -- better known by his drag de plume, Flo -- and his business partner, Chad Waldrop (the entrepreneur who operates the Tootsie's lounge down the street) have expanded the old Bar Natasha space into a significant part of the adjoining building, creating enough room for a real stage. "We've got dressing rooms, lighting, everything," said Koop, who wants the club to be more like a dinner theater than a gay nightclub. "More like the old Jewel Box Lounge," Koop added, referring to the once-famous club on Troost that didn't serve food, but did attract a mostly heterosexual clientele who loved sipping cocktails and watching the outrageous "femme mimics" in that venue's heyday in the 1950s and '60s.
Flo's Nightclub, which opened last month, is newly-carpeted in a leopard print pattern, features oversized banquettes (you want bottle service? A party of ten costs $175, including champagne), tables draped in black linens and -- starting last Monday -- a real chef in the kitchen. Koop hired Sean Leventhal, formerly of One80 in Westport, to oversee the kitchen. Koop's boyfriend is best friends with Leventhal's girlfriend.
"They came to game night at our house," said Koop, "and I told him I was looking for a real chef for the club. We were not going to do ordinary bar food. No fried mushrooms and cheese sticks."
Leventhal's current menu -- served from 3 to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday -- has a handful of sexy-sounding starters (sauteed mussels, baked brie, tuna tartare), sandwiches (American Kobe beef sliders, mini French Dips) and six entrees, including paella and wild mushroom pan-seared halibut.
Flo's shows don't start until 10 p.m., but diners who come in for dinner and stick around don't have to pay the $5 weekend cover charge (there's no cover during the week); Koop would also like to offer dinner shows at some point. In this economy, he figures, the chance to see live entertainment and eat a meal at the same time would be an alluring proposition.
This isn't Flo's first time at the restaurant rodeo: I met Koop back in 1990, when he opened a restaurant called The Bridge in midtown. He was so young, he still had braces on his teeth. The restaurant wasn't a success, but his after-bar breakfasts were and that's where he created his drag persona, Flo: a sassy, sharp-tongued waitress. The character outlasted the restaurant and gave Koop a whole new career.
Flo performs on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night. Another headliner, Desiree Love, hosts on Monday nights; Bryce Lane hosts "Lesbian Night" on Tuesdays and Wednesdays are "Latin Night."
"You wouldn't believe how many gay Latinos are in Kansas City," Koop said. "We pack the place."
And starting this week, there's chef Leventhal's spicy paella to accompany all that hot salsa dancing.
"And absinthe too! We sell a lot of absinthe," Koop said.
(@DustiCunningham_0920; Image via Flickr: DiabloDivine)