Raoul’s Velvet Room — and 18th and Vine — try to recapture a little of Kansas City’s past glamour.

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Raoul’s Velvet Room — and 18th and Vine — try to recapture a little of Kansas City’s past glamour.

Movies of the late 1940s and '50s, such as The Stork Room and The Joker Is Wild, did for supper clubs what Saturday Night Fever did for disco in the 1970s: They made going out to eat, dance and hear music seem glamorous and sexy. When Shawn McClenny, the owner of Raoul's Velvet Room (see Cafe,), took over that venue in 1999, he hoped the swing craze might bring that style of dance fever to his restaurant/nightclub.

"But we have more luck offering different music on different nights," says McClenny, noting that his club is eclectic on a culinary level too: "It's not supposed to be a fine-dining experience."

There's historical precedence to this. Veteran radio personality Walt Bodine recalls the old Casbah Club inside the Bellerive Hotel as serving food that "was just okay. People went there for the shows. It's where you saw Liberace on his way up and Rudy Vallee on his way down."

The food was far better, Bodine says, at the old Eddy's at 13th and Baltimore, where diners could sup on a strip sirloin or lobster while listening to the biggest pop acts of the 1950s: The Crew Cuts, The Four Lads and Bill Haley and the Comets.

"We had everybody except Sinatra," says Jim Eddy, the second-generation head of one of Kansas City's best-known restaurant dynasties. "But we did have Jerry Vale, Don Cornell and the movie star Janis Paige, who came here right after doing Pajama Game on Broadway."

There was one Broadway actress whom Jim's uncle George Eddy turned down: Barbra Streisand.

"Our booking agent sent George a picture of Streisand just as she was starting out. He took one look and said, 'No, I'd never book anyone that ugly.'"

Supper clubs were fancy joints after World War II: "Women dressed up," Jim Eddy says. "And the men wore jackets. It was an era where people wanted to go out for a night of dinner, dancing and a show. And you know what killed it? Las Vegas and TV. Because the same acts we booked for $5,000 a week could make $20,000 a week at the casinos. And by doing The Ed Sullivan Show on TV, nightclub acts earned more doing three minutes than they did doing two weeks on the road."

By the late 1960s, the supper club circuit -- which Eddy says included the Copacabana in New York, Chez Paul's in Chicago and the Chase Club in St. Louis -- was as passe as dinner jackets and crew cuts. The Eddy brothers closed their club in 1965.

"And downtown Kansas City," Eddy sighs, "went to hell about the same time."

But at least part of Kansas City's downtown is due for a restaurant renaissance: LaVelle and Vera Willis, owners of the east side's popular Peach Tree Buffet (6800 Eastwood Trafficway) will open a sit-down soul food restaurant -- with a piano -- called the Peach Tree Restaurant in the building that's under construction at 18th and Paseo. Tentatively opening in September, the Peach Tree will be the first of six restaurants scheduled for the district. There's been plenty of talk about restaurants opening around 18th and Vine for years, but only the Willises have signed a lease. Still in the discussion phase: a steakhouse, a chili parlor, a coffeehouse and a Cajun-style restaurant.

"The owners of a steakhouse are still reviewing their lease," says Al Fleming, president of the Jazz District Redevelopment Corporation. "So they're hesitant to start talking about the project yet."

But if no one's talking, how will they lure customers to the district to sing for their supper?

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