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Greek History

The Athena was home to a colorful cast of characters.

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My friend Bob can't walk past the elegant Capital Grille at 4740 Jefferson without growing nostalgic about the 15 years he spent working in the same building, back when it was Gilbert and Robinson's flagship Bristol Restaurant from 1980 to 1995. In the past 9 years, the venue has undergone a couple of major renovations, first for the ill-fated Jules and then, in 2000, for the Capital Grille, where former Bristol bartender Mary Simpson is now general manager.

Schlepping plates is a noble profession, but not always so memorable. I can identify with the old actress who once said, "I only remember the parts where I wore sequins." I don't care to think about my old restaurant jobs unless I actually had a good time, which is why I have basically forced myself to forget some of my shorter-lived, more grueling culinary jobs (such as the ones at the Original Pancake House and the Parkway Market). I do, however, retain a certain fondness for the ground-floor space at 3535 Broadway, site of the former Athena (and the new Café Trio, see review on page 41).

The ambience at the old Athena was always festive, probably because of all the artistic and media types who worked there. Current Kansas City Jewish Chronicle editor Rick Hellman did a turn as a bartender; ditto one-time Theatre League publicist Robin Pearce and former Sun Publications advertising manager Chash Wilson. A previous Chronicle editor, Chris Goldman (now a marketing specialist for Cerner), was a waiter, along with composer Christopher Lacy and the late painter Tony Naponic.

The most famous waiter in the joint was surely historian Ray Starzmann, who, as the senior server, usually grabbed any celebs who came into the Athena -- although I was the one who waited on actor Noel Harrison one night when he came in for dinner. I suggested he visit the Grand Emporium later. He did and fell in love with Lori Chapman, a chain-smoking blonde who had briefly been an Athena bartender. They're still married and occasionally pop up at Starzmann's famous Election Night parties. As for Ray, he now earns his bread at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art bookstore -- that is, when he isn't impersonating President Harry Truman around the country.

And on the subject of impersonators: Long-retired drag chanteuse Tommy Temple, star of the legendary Jewel Box Theatre, was one of the original Athena bartenders at the original 31st Street location.

But never in sequins, darling.

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