A new venue in the 18th and Vine Jazz District is bringing some musical variety to the area and at the same time filling a need for more dining options.
Since the 1930s, the district has been the place for people to quench their appetite for the sweet sounds of jazz. That still holds true today.
But now it also is the place where people can start quenching their appetite for some down-home blues and good food in the same venue.
Two brothers, well known in Kansas City’s urban core for running quality urban nightspots, are bringing their managerial expertise and their loyal following to the area.
In fact, with just a soft opening in early April, Benny and Calvin Shelby, two longtime entrepreneurs, launched the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Juke House Bar and Restaurant at 1700 E. 18th St.
Situated right next to the American Jazz Museum, the Blues and Jazz Juke House seats 215 people and features live blues on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. Beginning Thursday, the venue will be open for lunch starting at 11 a.m., six days a week.
Even without publicity, the new establishment is drawing well on weekends. The decor, accented by shiny, brown tile floors and seating right in front of the stage, creates a warm and inviting atmosphere. Different blues bands are booked each week. And a blues jam session is held on Monday and Thursday nights.
The Shelbys have decades of experience running similar establishments in Kansas City. They own the Epicurean Restaurant and Lounge at 7502 Troost Ave., a spot popular with the 30-and-older crowd, as well as Bodyworks Phase II Nightclub, 8625 Troost Ave., which has a younger clientele.
Expanding their operation to the 18th and Vine Jazz District is the fulfillment of a lifelong goal for the brothers.
“It’s something they’ve always desired to do,” said Andrea Shelby-Bartee, the general manager of the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Juke House and the daughter of Benny Shelby.
“Now they finally have the opportunity to do it. It was on their list. Even though they’re up in age, they were able to accomplish it.
“There was a need and interest in having a place for blues people to go on a weekly basis to hear some good blues music,” Shelby-Bartee said. “And 18th and Vine was already an established area for jazz. We said, ‘Why not have your blues and your jazz there too?”
While the Shelbys have run other establishments, this is their first entree into a full-service restaurant. The menu now features items such as fried shrimp, burgers, catfish and baby-back ribs. Their chicken wings are legendary.
Probably no one is more pleased with the new business in the area than officials with the Jazz District Redevelopment Corp.
“Not only are we happy, we’re ecstatic,” said Denise Gilmore, president and CEO of the redevelopment corporation. “Their place is gorgeous. Its addition represents an extraordinary entertainment venue. It’s reminiscent of the Vine in its heyday. And it gives the district a music and dining facility unmatched by anyplace else in the city.”
The city really needs the 18th and Vine Jazz District to succeed just like it needs the Kansas City Power & Light District to succeed.
In the past, the district has taken a couple of steps forward only to take a step back. But the area is on a roll lately. And signing up two established entrepreneurs such as the Shelbys who will probably be there for a long time can only be considered a good move.
By STEVE PENN
The Kansas City Star