Danaldson converted the space into Chicken-N-Blues last year and now specializes in hefty pan-fried chicken dinners and slabs of meatloaf glazed with tomato sauce five nights a week, Wednesday through Sunday. The former hardware-store space still boasts a giant pulley-cranked elevator platform in the back. ("It's big because they used it to lower caskets down from upstairs," the waitress told us as she delivered our platters of crispy chicken.) Posters of jazz and blues legends hang on the walls, along with a blown-up vintage photograph of Harlem's legendary Cotton Club up front, right across from the stuffed scarecrow and the rubber chickens.
Closer to the heart of Kansas City, the $3 million City Tavern will combine the new and the old in a space once used as a railroad freight building. The antique wood flooring comes out of a building razed by former restaurateur Adam Jones, who owns several downtown buildings; Jones sold the floor to the City Tavern's owners. But the restaurant's original goal -- to be the first franchise of New York City's venerable Grand Central Oyster Bar -- is history. That concept won't be installed in the renovated space after all. Instead, the City Tavern, which will seat 140 diners when it opens in August, is slated to be an independent restaurant with a fiercely independent chef: 47-year-old Dennis Kaniger, who owned the two incarnations of the stylish Venue (with his wife, Gabrielle) from 1989 to 1994.
After the second Venue (the bigger, snazzier, less-popular one) closed, Kaniger took jobs as a restaurant consultant. But he grew tired of traveling and pondered a complete career change. "I studied printing and graphic design but couldn't get a job in the field," he says. "I offered to start at the bottom, but no one believed me. I would apply for graphic arts jobs, and people would say, 'Don't you want to open another restaurant?'"
Not wanting to "cook for the corporate drummer," Kaniger took a variety of low-profile cooking and catering jobs until 2000, when he was hired to be the chef for the proposed Oyster Bar. He spent the next two years working in the construction trailer outside of the uncompleted facility -- and bringing his lunch from home.
"I worked on the restaurant's kitchen design and the menus," says Kaniger, who admits he's ready to get behind the kitchen line again after such a long sabbatical. And what about those stories of his volatile nature?
"Completely false," says the former musician. "Someone wrote that I threw a pot of hot spaghetti at an employee. Wrong! I broke a stack of plates, but that's it. And I never hit anyone, either!"