But I'm not sure that what I experienced on a recent Friday night at the three-month-old Kokopelli Mexican Cantina was a miracle. It was probably just a very weird coincidence. I was eating dinner with my friends Bob and Gia and Gia's 9-year-old kid, Johnny, when Evelyn "Champagne" King's 1978 disco hit "Shame" started playing over the sound system. I suddenly remembered the first time I heard that song: I was working as a newly minted waiter at a Mexican restaurant in my hometown, and the shrill horns on the record surprised me so much that I nearly dropped a bowl of hot chili con queso in the lap of my middle-aged customer, who yelled at me. I felt "Shame" all right.
Back in the present, at the very moment "Shame" started playing at Kokopelli, our not-so-young waitress brought out a bubbling order of the restaurant's cheesy Santa Fe dip, served in a fluted tortilla bowl.
"Who sings this song?" Gia asked as she dipped a warm tortilla into the gooey, spinach-flecked sauce. "Gloria Gaynor?"
Before I could correct her, the next song started playing -- and it was Gloria Gaynor, singing "I Will Survive." That was immediately followed by another diva hit from 1978, Alicia Bridges' "I Love the Nightlife."
We all agreed it was an odd music mix for a Mexican restaurant in squaresville Prairie Village, particularly in a place where the average age is considerably older than the disco generation. But little Johnny started jumping up and down in his seat when the Bee Gees' "Night Fever" boomed through the dining room.
"Johnny just loves disco," Gia announced as the kid waved his arms around.
"I did, too -- when I was his age," I said, pointing to a lithe young waiter in a black T-shirt passing our table.
"It's coming back," Gia said.
Well, everything does. Music, fashion ... even restaurants. Six months ago, this very dining room had been the second incarnation of the Michael Forbes Grill, modeled loosely on the dark and clubby restaurant of the same name once located at 75th Street and Wornall Road. But the concept tanked for numerous reasons. "Part of it was the economy after the war in Iraq started," says owner Kevin Lyman. "Part of it was a menu that was too big. The kitchen could be inconsistent with so many items. Part of it was the neighborhood. It's an older clientele out here, a tough crowd."
On August 7, Lyman and his wife, Tammy, closed Michael Forbes Grill. Out went the 55-item menu, the little framed vintage photographs of pre-disco Kansas City, the fried catfish dinners and, for the most part, the influence of former partner Forbes Cross.
Three days later, the Lymans reopened the restaurant as the freshly redecorated Kokopelli, which serves many of the Mexican dishes that the young couple had offered when they owned the popular Lee's Summit cantina known as Habanero's Mexican Restaurant. Kevin Lyman signed a two-year noncompete contract when he sold Habanero's in 2001, but he'd always planned on opening another Mexican restaurant.
"And when we started losing money at Michael Forbes, I knew it was time for a change," he said.
That included a provocative new name, inspired by the silhouetted figure of the Native American Kokopelli -- "fertility god, prankster, healer and storyteller," according to Lyman's menu. Lyman worried that the name might turn off some of his conservative customers. But, he said, "From the minute we opened the doors, female patrons showed me their Kokopelli earrings, their necklaces, their bracelets. It's a lot more recognized as a positive symbol than I had imagined."