But is the evolving neighborhood, which couldn't support the jazz venue/restaurant Club 427, ready for something as trend-setting as Oldham (501 Walnut Street)?
"Yes," says the forty-year-old McNeil, who says the neighborhood is finally "poised to become a very hip little enclave of shops, restaurants and clubs."
Decades ago, the area was just that, but then a few unpleasant mob bombings and lots of bad publicity chased the retail and nightclub business back to Westport and into the suburbs. Now McNeil sees that the downtown demographics have changed in a big way. "This area is filled with loft apartments, and 80 percent of them are rented by young, single, college-educated men and women with good jobs," he says. "They've moved here from other metropolitan areas."
The space will be one-part restaurant, one-part bar, and McNeil plans to open a lower-level lounge on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and make it available for parties during the week. Overseeing the kitchen will be chef Kevin Smith, the partner (and executive chef) of the former Elbow Room Restaurant in Lenexa.
"Kevin will be focusing on flavors," says McNeil, who winces slightly when asked if the food will be as minimalist as the decor. "We're going to use locally grown produce -- organic whenever we can -- and free-range chicken, grain-fed meats. Yes, the dishes will be simple in presentation. But no one will leave here hungry."
He says Oldham won't be "a hip fine-dining destination" but rather an "entertainment destination," a combination of sexy dining area, bustling lounge and a bar set above all the action, where those who want to be seen making the scene can strike poses for the diners supping one level below. McNeil plans to hire photographers on weekends to stroll around taking digital photos of customers, which he'll post on the restaurant's Web site. Calling up the same Web site, diners can make reservations or purchase bottles of wine that will already be opened, decanted and waiting at the table when they arrive for dinner.
McNeil envisions a lively clientele of "adults, age 25 and up," eating, drinking and making merry in the massive space (2,151 square feet on the ground floor alone) while "world house beat" music plays on the sound system. All of that might come as a shock to the ghosts still lingering around the 84-year-old building, which opened as a working-class hotel not far from the city's better bordellos, including the legendary Annie Chambers' place.
But if McNeil has his way, everything old won't be just new -- everything new will be Oldham.