But, like magic, a genie out of Memphis, Wright Investment Properties, purchased the historic hostelry last year and has spent a pretty penny renovating the 16-story property to become the Aladdin Holiday Inn. That included breathing new life into the decrepit Zebra Room, which will be an equus of a different color when it opens next month. With the boarded-up palladium windows finally uncovered and restored, the new 74-seat Zebra Room will not only look damned snazzy but will boast the culinary talents of three hot young chefs: Sam Cross, Zach Churchill and Brandon Crain.
Cross, who left the Peppercorn Duck Club to move to the Aladdin, grew up in the restaurant business. (His parents, Sam and Carol Cross, owned Ivy's for many years.) Churchill, who was Cross' sous chef at the Duck Club, has a résumé that includes stints at New York's Museum of Modern Art and Cross' short-lived Pacific Grill restaurant. And chef de cuisine Brandon Crain won raves as the executive chef at Pierpont's before he took a sabbatical from the kitchen to play Mr. Mom to his kids for a while.
This powerhouse trio has already created some impressively creative menus for the restaurant, which will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner when it opens in mid-May. They laughed when I told them that Holiday Inns aren't exactly famous for inspired dining — and they promise the reborn Zebra Room will knock my socks off. Yes, they'll offer the standard Holiday Inn breakfast buffet, but they'll be selling Kobe steak with their eggs.
The one notorious Zebra Room fixture that hasn't been restored: the door that led from the alley to the saloon in the 1920s and '30s. According to Walt Bodine, Kansas City bigwigs would use that entrance to sneak their mistresses into the hotel. Now they'll just have to use the front door like everyone else.