The concept behind Raoul's Velvet Room obviously isn't new. Some memorable upscale supper clubs lurk in Kansas City's past (see Mouthing Off,). But Raoul's, which former Kansas City bon vivant Loy Edge created in 1998, isn't a supper club in every traditional sense. Yes, there's a stage in the main dining room, but the entertainers -- such as Disco Dick and the Mirror Balls (who do their cover of "Superfreak" on Friday nights) -- usually don't start performing until the kitchen shuts down for the night. And although the place is swanky by Johnson County standards, the service is free-form at best. On two visits, my companions and I hung around the dining room, hoping that someone might usher us to one of the white-draped tables.
With its stark white walls, haunting Mike Regnier paintings and dark velvet curtains, this dimly lit 21st-century version of a supper club at least needs a hostess to direct traffic, since the place is quite large. The lax ambience made me especially nervous on the first visit because I'd brought along my high-strung friend Bob, who hadn't liked Raoul's in any of its earlier incarnations. He was also suspicious of the new and reportedly improved club, under the direction of new owner Shawn McClenny and chef John Breitenstein, a veteran of Hallbrook Country Club.
When I finally asked if the club was still serving food, one of the bartenders just shrugged and said, "You can seat yourself." It was 6:15 p.m., and not a soul was sitting in the dining room. There was, however, a man in a white T-shirt tinkering with some sound equipment on the bite-sized "stage." Just as Bob and I sat down, a screech of head-splitting music erupted from one of the machines, ricocheting off the tile floors and the black-lacquered woodwork.
"That's it," said Bob, standing up. "We're leaving! This place is too disorganized."
But like a miracle, a willowy waitress dressed in black stepped out of the shadows and calmed him down. "Don't worry," she said in dulcet tones. "They're just doing a sound check. They won't be playing music for hours. You look like you need a drink. And an appetizer, maybe? Our calamari is wonderful!"
A few minutes later, we were dipping crunchy bits of golden fried squid into two excellent sauces, one a lemony cilantro pesto, the other a fiery chipotle aïoli.
"That's a talented waitress," sighed Bob, a former server himself. "She knew exactly how to save the day."
It certainly doesn't hurt that the Raoul's servers are all young and beautiful. (On my second visit, I witnessed a local talent agent circulating among the staff, passing around her business cards as if they were after-dinner mints.) Sure, they could use a little polish when it comes to timing and picking up customer cues, but they're all so adorable and full of energy, you forgive them for everything. And some of their wide-eyed comments are priceless. On one busy Friday night, my quartet of friends looked around and realized that as we had been having dinner, the room had filled with dozens of single, twenty-something women who weren't eating but drinking and chattering. It was as if we had stepped into an episode of Sex and the City.
"Is this girls' night out?" asked one of my friends.