A New York State of Mind

ince it was dedicated in October 1886, the Statue of Liberty has been officially greeting immigrants (and tourists) in New York’s harbor. Starting this October, a much smaller version of Auguste Bartholdi‘s 151-foot monument — one molded in plastic — will be greeting visitors at Café New Yorker, a new nightspot in Overland Park.

The real Statue of Liberty was a symbol of America’s role as a cultural melting pot, opening its arms to people fleeing poverty, persecution and famine. They brought their culinary traditions with them: Would Kansas City have its own heritage of Irish food, for instance — from the 112-year-old Browne’s Market and Deli to the 2-year-old W.J. McBride’s Irish Pub (see review) — if this country hadn’t reached out to those “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”?

Last week, Lady Liberty‘s face and crown were peeking out of a cardboard crate in the middle of the Rosana Square space once occupied by Shooters, a sports bar. Louis Ribaste, the owner-manager of the Cigar Box nightclub and restaurant in downtown Kansas City, sat at a table near a wall of windows looking out at the shopping center’s expanse of parking lot. On an adjoining table next to him were a big glass ashtray and a copy of His Way, Kitty Kelley‘s biography of Frank Sinatra. Ribaste, the co-owner of the Café New Yorker, likes Sinatra. A lot. Ribaste plans to have local Sinatra-impersonator Al Latta — a regular performer at the Cigar Box — do his tribute to Ol’ Blue Eyes when the Café New Yorker opens its doors; he seemed surprised to learn that the music for Sinatra’s signature “New York, New York” was written by a Kansas City native, John Kander.

“He lives in New York now, doesn’t he?” Ribaste said, lighting a cigarette. “Well, we’re bringing the essence of New York to Kansas City. The Big Apple comes to the heartland.”

Rosana Square seems an unlikely place for a Manhattan-style nightclub — one complete with silver-leaf ceilings, stainless steel columns, a glossy black bar and an honest-to-goodness dance floor — but Ribaste only shrugged. “I’m going to liven this place up,” he said. “I’m a trendsetter.”

Ribaste said Café New Yorker will specialize in upscale Italian cuisine and offer nightly live entertainment. He’s marketing the place to the over-thirty crowd — the generation that grew up between the Vietnam War and the Gulf War. That’s a distinctly different scene from the sexy twentysomethings who pile into his nearest neighbor, Raoul’s Velvet Room.

“Café New Yorker is going to be a place for people who want a certain level of sophistication,” said Ribaste. “The music will encompass everything from the big-band sound to the music of the 1980s. It’s a place where people can come and have dinner and dance.”

They’ll also be able to lounge in comfortable sofas or sit outside on a patio. A depiction of New York City’s skyline is set to rest atop windows draped in black-and-silver fabric and Austrian sheers. And the human-sized version of the Statue of Liberty is ready to anchor herself somewhere in the restaurant. But visitors to this glossy new port of call won’t have to be huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The combination restaurant and nightclub will be spacious and, Ribaste said, the ventilation system is excellent.

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