Because of all the hype surrounding the Power & Light District, it's hard for some people to remember that "downtown" extends north of 12th Street! That's why it's important not to forget one of the survivors of downtown Kansas City's less glamorous days: Anthony's Restaurant and Lounge at 701 Grand. In 1978, when Anthony "Butch" Spino Jr. expanded the Soup Kitchen (a 13-stool café operated by his parents) into a full-service restaurant, his friends told him that he was crazy.
The 1970s were not stellar years for downtown. Many of the big department stores and movie palaces had been shuttered or razed, several iconic restaurants (Bretton's, the Forum Cafeteria) had closed, and the River Quay bombings of 1977 weren't helping public relations.
But Butch and Theresa Spino were determined to make a success of their Italian restaurant. They spent so much time working in their brand-new building that their sons, Anthony III and Vito, literally grew up there.
"We have customers who still remember us as toddlers, curled up, asleep in one of the back booths," remembers Vito, now 27, who runs the restaurant with his brother, 30-year-old Anthony.
Anthony's Restaurant and Lounge officially turns 30 on November 13, and the family has arranged performances by several of their longtime lounge singers, including Frank Cherrito. "We'll be serving food until 10 p.m.," Anthony III says, "but if there's a lot of drinking, we'll stay open at least until 3 a.m."
Anthony's dining room evokes an era much earlier than the 1970s — think of the films Big Night or even Lady and the Tramp — and that's why the regulars love it.
Although her sons have asked her to cut back on her hours, Theresa Spino still makes the lasagna, the cheesecake, a gorgeous four-layer cake and the house salad dressing. Most of the waitstaff has been there for a decade or more.
Anthony III and Vito have seen a lot of new faces since loft dwellers started moving downtown, but they're fiercely loyal to the regulars. "They kept coming back, in good times and bad, first as newlyweds, then bringing their kids, and later their children brought in their kids."
And that's the secret of the Spinos' success.