The eight-year-old cigar bar and restaurant lost a great deal of joie de vivre when its founding triumvirate -- veteran bartender Harry Murphy, chef Trey May and advertising maven Loy Edge -- left the business after a five-year-long soap opera that included internal disagreements, a bankruptcy and lawsuits, not to mention lots of menu changes. Nowadays the menu continues to morph, as do the kitchen's hours. When Harry's opened in the autumn of 1994, it offered formal meals at lunch and a selection of hot and cold tapas in the evening. But the current chef, Joe May (no relation to the aforementioned Trey), cooked his last lunch on December 13, and Harry's now limits itself to dinner, plus a late-night menu served from 10 p.m. until 2 a.m.
That seems a savvy choice, given Westport's reputation as a nightclub mecca. Once an interesting blend of shopping, dining and drinking establishments, Westport has lost much of its retail presence; this year, even longtime Harry's neighbor Perfect Scents fled for the Country Club Plaza. "I got tired of looking out my window and seeing all the 'For Lease' signs," explains the shop's owner, Nancy McAnany.
Harry Murphy, the musically motivated mixologist (he hosts a weekly country-rock show on 90.1 KKFI), moved even farther south, out to Leawood's Hereford House restaurant, where he once again pours drink as a hired hand. He hasn't set foot in his old namesake restaurant since he left in 1996. (Edge eventually bought out his interest.) "It was a vibrant and exciting place, and I may have been a small part of that," is all Murphy will say about his departure.
Actually, Murphy was a very big part of what was, in its first few years, a distinctly untraditional venue -- raucous, smoky and sexy, with delicious food served on linen-draped tables. That vibrancy is what's missing now. Joe May's food is rightfully a drawing card, but a lot of the old Harry's sex appeal is gone.
One night I came in for a late dinner -- late by Kansas City standards, anyway: after 8 p.m. -- with my friend Claudine, who'd been a Harry's regular and had glorious memories. "I remember those wild nights drinking Moscow Mules out of copper mugs and seeing guys at the bar that I either wanted to have sex with or I had already had sex with," she said. Alas, only a handful of people were sitting at the bar as we walked past it to one of the dozen black-lacquered tables at the front of the narrow, tiled room. "I wouldn't fuck any of them," sniffed Claudine, though she did brighten considerably when apron-clad General Manager Jeremy Roth, doing double duty as waiter and bartender, brought our menus. The clean-cut, amiable Roth was at least as interesting to look at as May's menu, a collection of dishes that are easy to share, like tapas, flatbread pizzas or uncomplicated pastas.
We ordered two big bowls of soup, a mahogany-colored beef consommé perfumed with rosemary and a creamy, pale-pink bisque of sun-dried tomatoes and puréed artichoke. "People used to come here for the food, too," commented Claudine, noticing that we were the only diners in the place. (The other two parties were drinkers.) She took a spoonful of the bisque and smiled. It was a lovely, elegant concoction, soothing and flavorful, and it would have been substantial enough to pass as a meal had it been accompanied by some bread. It wasn't, though -- inexplicably, bread is brought out only with certain appetizers.