Recently, an African-American friend of mine called in a tizzy because he felt he'd been treated less than graciously at one of the restaurants in the Power & Light District. I had a news flash for him: I've endured some seriously uppity attitude from several employees in the same haute bourgeois entertainment district — and I'm a honky.
Just try, I told him, getting one of those young valet parking attendants to park your car at 5:55 p.m. "Sorry," one of them told me, almost laughing in my face after I pulled in front of Maker's Mark Bourbon House & Lounge. "I can't park cars until 6 p.m. It's policy."
So I parked the car myself in that dreaded, dimly lighted facility underneath the H&R Block Building. The garage is typically an Alice in Wonderland maze of orange cones blocking access routes and cars veering at you from all angles. Then there's the Bataan Death March up all those stairs — four flights! I was gasping for oxygen before I reached the Grand Street exit. All this to eat one damn meal?
After climbing even more stairs to reach the hostess desk at Maker's Mark, my friends and I were welcomed with a withering look from one of the beautiful but frosty fembots who work the seating chart. I smiled half-heartedly at the head hostess, but I could practically see the wheels turning in her pretty little head: "Which horrible table can I take this group to?"
She didn't get a chance because I suddenly came to my senses and took control of the situation. "We'll sit here," I said, standing in front of a four-top. It's a lesson I'd learned from many years in the restaurant business: Once a hostess starts walking toward the kitchen, the bathroom or the section also known as Siberia, I stop her and make one thing perfectly clear. She's not in charge of the seating arrangements — I am. If we have to negotiate, I won't think twice about going somewhere else to eat.
And don't give me that "one bad apple" theory. A few days later, I returned for Sunday brunch and walked up to the hostess lectern as that shift's fembot was in the middle of a personal phone call. She kept me standing there for a few minutes and finally lowered the phone to her chin and said, curtly, "Is there something I can help you with?"
Hello? Is that the way that any customer deserves to be treated? White, black or Martian? I flashed my best Joan Crawford glare, and she had that phone down faster than you can say scrambled eggs and bacon. Miss Fembot got real friendly, real fast. And the dining room was nearly empty, so we picked the table.
"Joe Gilbert is turning in his grave," my friend Bob said, referring to Kansas City's most legendary and gracious restaurateur of the 20th century.
If there isn't some attitude adjustment at Maker's Mark, this extremely pretty dining room — all blond wood and shiny leatherette upholstery — may turn into a morgue. Despite a promising concept, the Sunday brunch was deadly dull. When this restaurant started serving brunch more than a month ago, it was from a limited but appealing menu of seven dishes. I never got to taste any of those original dishes because the brunch soon became a buffet set up in the private-dining Ambassador Room, where a chef makes omelets and thick waffles or slices ham. The pastries were third-rate, the sausage gravy served with the lukewarm biscuits was disturbingly watery and the cupcake-sized salmon croquettes were so dry that I could have used one for a cleaning sponge. And it was expensive!