In the years leading up to World War I, there were few midtown streets in Kansas City as busy as 31st, the fast-moving artery going from the eastside to the west with crowded streetcars taking patrons to movie theaters, shopping districts, restaurants and neighborhood drugstores.
One of those neighborhood pharmacies, at the corner of 31st and Cherry, was the Wirthman-Hill Drug Store, owned by Joe and George Wirthman and their partner B.S Hill. Located in a narrow storefront, the drug store had a compact soda fountain, but wasn’t nearly as a grand as the one inside the glamorous Isis Theater, located in the Wirthman’s namesake building at 31st Street and Troost (where a young cartoonist named Walt Disney had his first offices); that iconic structure lasted until 1997.
The more modest two-story building at 600 East 31st Street that housed the Wirthman-Hill Drug Store is still standing – the tile stoop that still boasts the word “Drugs” after a century lingers on – although the drug store barely outlasted the first World War. In later years, it served as a men’s clothing store, a hat-cleaning shop, a flower shop and, for most of the second half of the 20th century, a tire supply store.
Since last April, this storefront has had a long-overdue revival by local restaurateurs Patti Allen and Greg Kormanik who turned the long-vacant space into a charming, cozy bruncheonette called Attitude – open Tuesday through Sunday – that sells hearty breakfasts, lunches, baked goods and antiques.
It was antiques and collectibles that brought Allen and Kormanik together (they’re inveterate collectors); they saw each other at an estate sale several years ago. They petite Allen took one look at the tall, lanky Kormanik and had an epiphany: “I liked his sense of humor. I thought he was funny,” Allen says. “So I walked up and gave him my card.”
Kormanik liked her no-nonsense attitude and it wasn’t long before they were dating. Patti Allen had already created an antique business of her own, Bella Patina, in the historic West Bottoms. The multi-level warehouse housing their vintage business needed a place where customers could eat, so together, Allen and Kormanik opened a lunch room on the top floor of Bella Patina that they called Vintage Eats & Sweets. It quickly developed a following, but was open only during the shop’s hours: one weekend a month during First Friday shopping weekends.
“We wanted to create a restaurant,” says Allen, “with more consistent hours. “
The old Wirthman-Hill space seemed perfectly suited to their collection of recipes (sandwiches, breakfasts with freshly-baked biscuits, desserts) and artful displays of unique vintage items (antique silver, plates, decorative items), but just in case the long-neglected storefront was inhabited by spirits, Allen burned sage in the rooms.
“I think there’s still a ghost on the first floor,” Allen says. “Sometimes when I’m washing dishes, I can sense there’s someone or something standing next to me.”
Instead of being open one weekend a month, Attitude is now serving food from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Tuesdays through Sundays.
The 35-seat dining area at Attitude is, unsurprisingly, busiest on Sunday mornings – the most popular breakfast dish is a platter heaped with freshly-baked biscuits and Kormanik’s sausage gravy, and layered with fried potatoes, bacon, a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, and grilled sweet peppers.
The signature Italian Beef sandwich (made with spicy Italian Giardiniera and grilled peppers) and a crusty Cubano sandwich top the list most most-requested sandwich fare.
“This neighborhood is changing a lot,” Allen says, noting that the popular Urban Mining vintage venue is moving from the basement of the historic Warwick Theater near 39th Street to just across the street from Attitude into the old Bitterman’s Chocolate building. The former El Torreon roller rink, located across the street, and dating back to 1927, is being rented frequently as a special events venue.
There’s plenty of street parking for patrons, Allen assures me. The traffic along 31st Street isn’t quite what it was when the stretch of 31st and Troost was as popular a shopping area as the Country Club Plaza – there was even a busy Jones Store in those days – but who knows what’s coming? ^