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Plush Life

At Segofredo Zanetti Espresso, the devil wears a backless halter.

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The Night Ranger beat requires constant contemplation of the word scene, an overused term that makes us break out in hives. With so many diverse subcultures and urban tribes in Kansas City, what constitutes a scene? Whenever we hear the word, we can't help but think of the bar crowds we so dearly love to mock -- i.e., the tanorexics in backless halters and black fuck-me pants, and the guys with gelled, spiky hair and tight-ribbed sweaters. To others, scene means the indie-rock crowd targeted by cool hunters (another term that makes us shudder). We know what type of scene exists at established venues, but when a place is new, we just have to do some investigating.

Such was the case with Segofredo Zanetti Espresso, the two-month-old enigma in a three-story red building just west of the Plaza (919 West 47th Street). We had heard it was a bar and restaurant. We had also heard there was beaucoup scene going on in the bar, though the word espresso on the sign out front confused a few of our friends, who thought it was a massive coffeehouse. It's all of the above. The top floor is a cigar bar and martini lounge, the middle floor is primarily for dining, and the bottom floor is a jazz club that also accommodates diners. General manager Kevin Rodewald describes Segofredo Zanetti Espresso as equivalent to Starbucks in Europe and Asia; there are others in Miami and San Francisco, but the Kansas City installment is the only one with a full-service restaurant and bar. Sadly, though, one is unable to stop there for a morning coffee, because it opens at 4 p.m.

We arrived considerably later than that on both of our visits. Upon entering on 47th Street, we ascended some stairs to the middle floor, where the hostess was dolled up in a black, strapless dress with a poofy skirt and a huge pearl necklace. (Hee hee! Pearl necklace! See, it's funny because it's also dirty ... oh, nevermind.) We then went up another flight of stairs to the movie-setlike martini lounge, which apparently was the mise-en-scène -- the lights were low, the walls were red, the floor was zebra-striped and the techno was on. To our delight, the room was also populated with the Stepford bargoer. Even the waitresses were skanked out in skimpy halters and fuck-me pants, though we felt only pity for them because they looked cold. As we pushed through a phalanx of guys, we were assaulted by a cloud of cologne. "Oh. My. God," we reflexively choked.

Plush sofas were scattered about in the bar and in a couple of quieter rooms off to the side. One room was red and had Chiefs paintings on the wall, along with a big-screen TV. (One guy was trying unsuccessfully to turn it on; we jokingly told him it was a prop. To our amusement, he believed us, saying only, "Awww, maaan!" before he left the room.) The other room was blue, with Rat Pack pictures.

Our friendly waitress recommended that we try the peach martini, made with a peach bellini base (a peach-flavored spritzer) and vodka. It was light and delicious. RA Tony grumbled, though, because whenever he tried to order a regular martini, the waitress tried to foist a dirty martini on him, which he attributed to the place's trendoidalness. Also disturbing was the fact that, on both visits, the martinis were about two-thirds full.

At the beginning of the night, the crowd seemed to be made up of college kids or recent grads (the kind who overdress to go out just because they can). They talked on their cell phones incessantly -- one woman even settled down on a chair in the Chiefs room and put up her feet, telling the person on the other end: "I got her a popular book: The Devil Wears Prada." Um, maybe we're weird, but when we go out with our friends, we like to hang out with them, not have long phone conversations with those who aren't present.

As the night went on, though, the mix of people grew more interesting. "It's a struggle to see which scene will dominate," said RA Casey. "It'll be Kabal or Plaza bar or the swinger presence," he predicted. "It could be multiple makeout sessions with nonmultiple people." We thought we caught a glimpse of this when a Barbie woman in white go-go boots got handsy with a Mark Cuban look-alike in an orange mock turtleneck. According to other RAs, it looked as if another woman wanted in on the action, but unfortunately, that moment was fleeting and our view was blocked by a gaggle of plaid-shirt-and-pleated-Dockers guys. "Orange mock turtleneck and a harem? I look at him and I think, GWC," Casey said. "Guy with coke."

Shannon, 25, confirmed our observation about the crowd. "It's not really a club scene. It's a preclub, starting joint," she said. "It has great potential, but it'll die down, like every other place in Kansas City."

"Honestly, I hate Kansas City," added her friend Jeff, 32. "Nothing new happens here."

"It'll go downhill," Shannon said. "Everyone's bored. What's there to do here but drink and get drunk? You can't dance here."

Ah, but the drinking part, in combination with the people-watching, suited our purposes. Though everyone was trying too hard -- the bar and its patrons were trying to be NYC chic -- therein lies the interesting part of the night. "There's a considerable random element," Casey said. "But the degree of failure makes it great." -- Jen Chen

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