“Half a thousand” dinner guests took in the Phillips hotel when it debuted on Feb. 23, 1931, The Kansas City Star’s front-page story declared.
They speculated whether the black ceiling of the lobby and lounge was made of glass, Bakelite or terra cotta. The architect, who was a dinner guest of the hotel’s builder, Charles Phillips, assured them it was glass. Elevators were repeatedly called upon to demonstrate their speed: 600 feet a minute with an automatic control to stop them at the 20th floor.
And the visitors took in such “luxurious appointments” as velour and velvet upholstered furniture, the wrought iron balustrades on the double stairway, the terra cotta paneling and Vermont granite.
The hotel’s current owners, Chicago-based Arbor Lodging Partners, just completed a $20 million renovation designed to return the hotel, at 106 W. 12th St., to its “golden era” — but for the 21st-century customer. The renovation, completed in four months, includes new food and beverage offerings:
▪ Tavernonna Italian Kitchen. Arbor teamed up with Chicago-based hospitality company DMK Restaurants for Tavernonna to celebrate “the rich, varied history of Italian food, wine and cocktails.” DMK Restaurants was formed in 2009 by industry veteran David Morton and five-time James Beard award nominee Michael Kornick.
Executive chef Bryant Wigger, a native of Clarksdale, Mo. (about 60 miles north of Kansas City), spent nearly 15 years working in hotel kitchens and restaurants in California, including stints at the Ritz-Carlton in Dana Point and the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. Wigger and his wife have a 1-year-old son, Easton, and wanted to be closer to family.
“We’ve done a lot of looking around — Austin, San Diego — but the (Hotel Phillips) is beautiful with a lot of good history around it,” Wigger said. “It’s tough to make that move from sunny California, but they have been really supportive, letting me show what I can do.”
Wigger and DMK collaborated on the menu, incorporating fresh ingredients sourced from local farms and vendors for both traditional and contemporary dishes.
It makes its own focaccia but uses local Farm to Market Bread for burger buns and a bread plate with ciabatta, sourdough and raisin walnut breads and a selection of spreads — ricotta and honey, butter and sea salt, and house-made jam. It turns to Hatfield Signature Beef in Maryville for steak, and salad greens are from Missing Ingredient, an urban farm in the Crossroads Arts District.
Menu items also include baked Ziti al Forno (spicy lamb sausage, Pecorino Romano and rapini pesto), Ora King Salmon Livornese (New Zealand salmon with a light white wine, tomato, Taggiasca olives and olive oil sauce), omelets, organic polenta, and the already popular Nonna’s meatballs with house ricotta.
A glossary at the bottom of the menu — burrata (cow’s milk cheese, similar to mozzarella), vincotto (sweet Italian vinegar) and guanciate (cured pork jowl) — helps guide diners in their selections.
Tavernonna also offers beer, premium spirits and about 100 different mostly Italian and American wines (about 20 offered by the glass), along with specialty cocktails such as the Blood & Sand with scotch, Cherry Heering, fresh orange and Dolin Rouge vermouth.
▪ P.S. Speakeasy. Hotel employees will lead customers through a secret door and down some steps to this underground tavern with velvet sofas that harkens back to the hotel’s 1931 debut.
The former storage space, off a private event room, features framed letters from the 1920s and Prohibition photos. It offers hand-crafted cocktails, a late-night menu and local jazz musicians on the weekends.
▪ Kilo Charlie coffee bar. Arbor partnered with Philadelphia-based La Colombe Coffee Roasters in the new coffee shop with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on 12th Street. Menu items include draft lattes, cold-pressed black coffee served straight from the tap and over ice, drip coffee, espresso, French press, macchiatos and cappuccinos, along with pastries.
On Tuesday, the hotel joined Curio — A Collection by Hilton, a global portfolio of upscale hotels. Hotel Phillips, which has 216 rooms, is on the National Register of Historic Places. NVN Hotels manages the hotel.