Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Oriental Club

The building's brick facade still wore its "Oriental Club" sign in 1940, a year after closing.
Had such a great time at the 2012 Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival, talking about nightclubs of the Pendergast era, that we ran out of time before we got to some of the good stuff. So this week, with the help of the 1940 tax photos, I'll be posting the best of what's on the cutting room floor. 

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Not all Kansas City's nightclubs of the 1930s hugged 12th Street. Clubs were clustered all over town and beyond:  around 18th and Vine, along Southwest Boulevard, in the West Bottoms, in the North End and "out in the county" – outside the city limits – among other places.

The North End was the Italian part of town, the area most closely associated today with the City Market. Night spots there could be found along 5th Street and on Independence Avenue, among them the original Bar Le Duc (at 5th and Main before moving later to 12th and Charlotte), the original Dante's Inferno (at Independence and Troost before moving to 12th and Locust) and the Oriental Club, 414 E. 5th Street. 

Both the Bar Le Duc and Dante's Inferno offered floor shows that specialized in female impersonators, in addition to jazz. Not much is known about the Oriental Club, other than it was owned by a man named Tony Bengimina and was among several clubs that were shut in the 1939 crackdown on illegal night life. The Oriental had its liquor license revoked after being cited for "sales after hours and being a disorderly house."

The former Oriental Club in 2012.

 Today the building that housed the club – it appears to be serving as a warehouse – is owned by Joseph P. Mandacina, a cinematographer whose body of work includes, appropriately, Robert Altman's 1996 movie Kansas City. It stands on the north side of 5th Street between Oak and Locust, just east of Le Fou Frog, perhaps waiting to be returned to full-time nightclub duty by some enterprising soul with a strong sense of what once was.

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Watch a clip based on the music from Robert Altman's Kansas City:

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