OK, fair enough. We decide to stick to our standard Dewar's and water. But then we spot someone holding a glass of thick, peach-colored liquid. "It's a Kingfish," the woman says. "I'm devoting my life to it!"
Um, this is clearly a specialty concoction. So we ask another waitress about it, and she tells us there is a drink menu. We'd just asked for the wrong thing. The place calls it a "libations page."
Arrgh. The Night Ranger felt like tossing her cocktail in the faces of the guys who didn't hand over the booze chart the first time she asked for it.
However, we hated to be harsh on a place as cool as Red Vine Cajun Restaurant & Jazz House the first night it was open. In fact, we crashed the Red Vine March 6, five days before its official opening, at its Mardi Gras masquerade benefit for the Niles Home for Children.
New place. Good cause. Wait staff still learning the ropes. So the NR got over her momentary annoyance.
Research Assistants Laura and Nadia pored over the libations page and happily noted that the list included not only a plethora of martinis named after jazz icons but also such unusual drinks as mint juleps and a Ramos gin fizz. First, though, we ordered a Kingfish, and we decided to devote our lives to it as well.
Made from 151-proof spiced rum, light crème de cacao, orange juice, piña colada mix, lime juice and grenadine, it was shaken and served in a martini glass and tasted of coconut and the tropics. We then moved on to the fancier-schmancier shit and watched as the gin fizz was concocted. It was the most labor-intensive drink on the "page," involving the separation of an egg. The white was dropped in a glass, followed by gin, vanilla extract, cream, club soda, a "secret ingredient" and squeezes of lime and lemon juice. "Now, this is when you really shake it," the bartender said. "The egg white gets all stiffy." It became our next favorite drink behind the Kingfish. With the froth on top, it tasted of lime and was reminiscent of green Jell-O with whipped cream on top. "It tastes like it smells," RA Nadia said. "Kind of perfumey." The mint julep -- something we've been intrigued by ever since reading The Great Gatsby as a young Night Rangerette -- was a bit disappointing. The bar had no mint and had to substitute mint schnapps. It was cloyingly minty, though, and we would have preferred the real thing.
But on a pre-opening night, such minor lapses were forgivable, especially because we were having an awesome time watching the people and listening to the bands.
The newest addition to the 18th and Vine District looked lovely that night. Artwork by local artists adorned the walls, and gauzy gold-and-red curtains added to the plush, warm feeling of the dining room. A stage was at one end, and off to the side was the Rouge Bar.
Everyone was dressed in fancy clothes, and some had donned elaborate masks. Heat Index, a jazz-funk-blues band, ended its set by handing out maracas and playing Lionel Richie's "All Night Long." Then the tuxedo-clad Dave Stephens Swing Orchestra took the stage, and as it performed, a number of professional swing dancers hit the floor. Watching them flip each other around was mesmerizing. When the band played "Red House," a slow blues number, couples of varying ages and races slow-danced. It was one of those happy Kansas City moments: Here we were, dressed up in a club at 18th and Vine, old-school drinks in hand and a kick-ass band onstage, the air redolent with that wonderful damp springtime smell.
According to owner Sebrina McCrainey, the Red Vine will have beaucoup entertainment going. She says she hopes to have someone perform every other day. "I don't care if it's country -- we want to be a place that's not defined by one thing or another," she says. "We want to be a part of the soul of Vine, with the local music and the art." She says the bar eventually will apply for a 3 a.m. liquor license. We're eagerly awaiting that day, for what could be more KC than hanging out there, then going to the Mutual Musicians Foundation after hours? We'll raise our libation of choice to that.