Kansas City’s Streetcar Named Desire is nearing the end of the line.
The current owners, the daughters of founder George Kapsemalis, plan to close the restaurant and bar when their lease expires Dec. 31.
Mary Kapsemalis said her late father, George, was probably returning from a fishing trip out near Lone Jack when he glimpsed an old streetcar in a farm field. He made a deal with the farmer and brought the streetcar to Kansas City, attaching it to the front of a house at 4922 Main St., just south of the Country Club Plaza. He opened Streetcar Named Desire in the space with a partner in 1964.
And there it remained for two decades.
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But the former J.C. Nichols Co. owned the parcel and in March 1984, the restaurant had to pack up and move to make way for the expansion of the Kansas City Board of Trade building and parking lot.
At the time, George Kapsemalis, who by then was the only owner, said: “I feel like I’ve been put to the guillotine.”
The streetcar — actually a retired interurban car that ranged as far north as St. Joseph in its heyday — was disassembled and moved north to the first floor of the Crown Center Shops. It opened there in late 1984, fronting a large dark and clubby dining room and bar with patio seating on the side. It seats 160 people, but perhaps the best seats are still in the streetcar, which offers a view of Crown Center shoppers passing by.
There’s a painting of the original Main Street restaurant and another of the poster from the 1951 movie “A Streetcar Named Desire” featuring Marlon Brando in a passionate embrace with Kim Hunter as Stella.
A 1986 Star review of the restaurant said: “Diners are likely to find no surprises and no serious disappointments. There’s not much in the way of subtlety — just good ingredients in the hands of a fry cook who knows what he’s doing.”
It is perhaps best known for its charbroiled hamburgers, including the Big George, a double hamburger named after the founder. Kapsemalis passed away in 2003 and left the business to his three daughters, Martha, Mary and Alexandra. Mary and Alexandra handle day-to-day operations.
When their lease expires, they don’t want to sign up for another 10 years.
“We work all the time. I don’t think we would have made it otherwise,” said Mary Kapsemalis. “But it’s been a good 51-year run.”
Crown Center officials said they are evaluating options for the space.
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