|The twilight of The Corner Restaurant|
Did I shed a tear when a friend called to tell me that The Corner Restaurant had finally closed its doors for good after a remarkable 30-year run in Westport? In a word, no. But I do confess that I felt a twinge of nostalgia for what the place had once been in its heyday. But that was back in the 1980s, when people would stand outside for as long as an hour to get a table in what had been the hippest morning gathering spot during those wild and crazy Reagan years.
The food was pretty good, back then, when the original owner Stephen Friedman was still running the operation; Friedman, who passed away in the 1990s, was a charming and vivacious restaurant owner and set the tone for those early, vibrant years.
The Corner Restaurant would have turned 30 years old this month: Friedman opened the restaurant on a cold February day in 1980. While doing research on the building for a review of The Corner Restaurant back in 2001, I learned that Friedman's restaurant wasn't the first restaurant of that name in this space. In the years after World War II, the Meltis family ran a soda fountain and snack shop in this building called The Corner Grill. In the 1970s it was one of the city's first vegetarian venues: The Golden Temple Conscious Cookery.
Since the last incarnation of The Corner had gotten so dowdy and dull, it's hard to imagine that in the early 1980s, this same location was one of the most popular places to eat in midtown.
"Westport, in the 1970s, was the hippie capital of Kansas City. It was the coolest place to be. I can remember when it was The Golden Temple and everyone wore bell-bottoms. But the Corner Restaurant was much more popular. Steve Friedman was an absolute icon," said novelist Lou Jane Temple. "I loved the fried potatoes with the special dipping sauce."
"It was the place in those days," recalled restaurant critic Gloria Gale. "When you ate there, you felt you part of the Westport scene. In fact, that's why people went."
Warren Maus, development director at KKFI-FM, said that the place was too popular, which is why he rarely ate there. "I was too impatient to wait 20 minutes for a table. But no one else seemed to mind. In fact, it was a real little party out in front of the place with all those people waiting to get in."
My friend Lori, a local hairstylist, loved the food at the old Corner Restaurant. "But that could be because I was so hung over from being up all night. Most of the people on weekend mornings had been up all night, I think. But the corned beef hash and eggs were delicious. I really liked going until I discovered Cascone's Grill, then I decided it was more fun to go there."
Over the last decade, The Corner not only had lots of competition from other breakfast spots with more flair and style (Room 39, You Say Tomato, Succotash), but even fans of the place started complaining that the food quality had slipped -- and then there were those scathing health report violations, including last December's violations which temporarily shut down the restaurant.
It's still a terrific location and I'm eager to see if another restaurant will open in the building. It would be nice to see a new generation of diners standing in line, waiting to get in after being up all night.