Friday, June 8, 2012

The Reserve at the new Ambassador Hotel: a boutique dining room in a boutique hotel

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 7:34 AM

The former Gate City Bank at 11th and Grand will become a boutique hotel with a stylish restaurant.
  • The former Gate City Bank at 11th and Grand will become a boutique hotel with a stylish restaurant.

A tastefully-appointed bank in 1920, a comfortable hotel in 2012.
  • Missouri Valley Collection, Kansas City Public Library
  • A tastefully appointed bank in 1920, a comfortable hotel in 2012.
Kansas City is getting a new Ambassador Hotel. Just don't confuse the stylish boutique hotel being constructed out of the skeleton of the 92-year-old Gate City National Bank Building with the old Ambassador Hotel that's still standing at 36th and Broadway. The old hotel, built four years after the Gate City National Bank, has long served as a modestly priced apartment building; it's noteworthy for being designed by Kansas City architect Nelle Peters and for being home to the Colony Steakhouse in the 1950s and '60s. When it was constructed in 1924, the sophisticated midtown Ambassador was proof that the hotel trade was moving south from downtown: Broadway and Armour Boulevard were the popular locations for swanky lodging houses like the Bellerive, the Hyde Park Hotel (where sheltered debutantes were permitted to live on their own) and the Belleclaire.

Nearly a century later, the pendulum is shifting. When the 43-room Ambassador Hotel opens at 1111 Grand later this summer, it will be the first new hotel property on this stretch of Grand Boulevard in many decades. And the Reserve Restaurant - located in the lobby of the new hotel - is planned to be a showstopper, too. Tulsa native Geoffrey Van Glabbeek is the executive chef of the 70-seat restaurant, which will serve breakfast and lunch during the day and a collection of small plates during the evening. (Yes, there will be 24-hour room service offered by the hotel, as well as for patrons who simply must have a club sandwich at 3 a.m.)

The plan, thus far, is for the Reserve to serve continuously during the hours it is open to the public. "Possibly 6 a.m. to 10 p.m." Van Glabbeek says.

Glabbeek, 30, has an impressive resume for such a young chef. A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Glabbeek has served as chef de cuisine for Tulsa's Palace Cafe restaurant and was named "Most Exuberantly Inventive Chef" by Tulsa People Magazine. In Oklahoma City, Van Glabbeek served as chef de cuisine for the vegan restaurant, 105degrees, before moving back to Tulsa to open a new restaurant at the Gilcrease Museum.

The Reserve chef Geoffrey Van Glabbeek and the hotels marketing director Jill Davis in the unfinished ballroom.
  • The Reserve chef Geoffrey Van Glabbeek and the hotel's marketing director Jill Davis in the unfinished ballroom.
"I wanted the opportunity to come to Kansas City, particularly for this project," says Van Glabbeek, who has only been in the city for a few months, but says his three favorite restaurants in town are Extra Virgin, Bluestem and Lulu's Noodle Shop. "Lulu's is across the street from my loft," he says. "I get a lot of carryout from there."

Jill Davis, the hotel's director of sales and marketing, has already introduced Van Glabbeek to her favorite barbecue joint, Rosedale Bar-B-Q, and he's hoping to make it to all the iconic barbecue locations before the hotel opens and he's working all the time.

The only area of the hotel that's currently completed (outside of two model guest rooms) is Van Glabbeek's kitchen. And he's ready to get to work, although it doesn't seem possible that the project will be completed by the projected July completion date. The first floor of the old bank building is currently chaos. Construction crews have covered the original marble floors with wood while they install new elevators, reconstruct the 1920s plasterwork dating back to the roaring '20s bank lobby, replace all of the electric and plumbing works, and build out the bar-and-dining room for the Reserve. It's a long, narrow space with remarkably high ceilings; the last occupant of the street-level space was a nightclub with a notorious reputation: Club Chemical, which operated here from 2000 to 2006.

There will be 24-hour room service at the new Ambassador Hotel.
  • There will be 24-hour room service at the new Ambassador Hotel.
Van Glabbeek and Jill Davis prefer not to discuss the building's past. It's the future they're passionate about: the intimate lower-level ballroom (down a sweeping terrazzo-and-marble staircase), which will seat 80-100 guests for small receptions and meetings, the penthouse-level loft suites, the mezzanine-level "library" where guests have access to computers, the comfortable guest rooms, the hotel's signature blend of Roasterie coffee. Van Glabbeek went to the tastings and chose the final blend himself.

Van Glabbeek had one culinary connection to Kansas City prior to moving here: the city's best-known professional "foodie," Test Kitchen creator, blogger and Vagabond pop-up restaurant co-founder Jenny Vergara. "I did a couple of Test Kitchen dinners in Tulsa for Jenny," Van Glabbeek says.

"I think Geoff's enthusiasm and youth will play very well with the kind of menu that the owners of the hotel want to implement at the Reserve," Vergara says. He has the talent to take the small-plate concept to the next level. His focus isn't on pretty or novel but on fresh, flavorful food."

Because the new Ambassador Hotel will be an easy walk to the Sprint Center, the boutique hotel is positioned to be a destination spot for preconcert diners and premier overnight lodging for the concert venue's touring acts. (The top-floor penthouse loft suites are the most luxurious rooms in the hotel and will run about $350 a night.) Will it become a celebrity hangout? Why not, the original Ambassador Hotel on Broadway was in its heyday, including a long-term stay in the 1950s by the son of El Jefe, Rafael Leonidas Trujillo Molina, the legendary military strongman who ruled the Dominican Republic for 30 years. "The son who lived here was a playboy," Walt Bodine says.

I suppose there will always be room for another playboy - sleeping or dining - at the new Ambassador Hotel and the Reserve Restaurant.

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