When I took my first restaurant management position, my boss explained to me that each restaurant has a soul, a metaphorical one, and to be a successful manager, you have to listen to that soul, tap into its secrets. From the first moment you enter a building you can feel the soul, know if it’s happy and successful or depressed and dying. Sometimes the soul could be fixed, healed, other times it is best to provide the restaurant equivalent of restaurant hospice care and gently let the soul pass away as painless as possible. With this in mind, anyone who had been in the door of UNO’s on the Plaza during the past three years, know it had a dead soul. Killed by a climate of fuck-you-get-it-yourself-doldrums and a poisonous air of I-don’t-care-itus.
A few people from my place of employment would go over after work out of sympathy to see Jess our favorite UNO’s employee. We’d make sure to keep our tab with her; even if we were in the back playing free pool in the area we affectionately called Sam’s Club. Our big buddy Sam before he was fired, would go over there on Friday and Saturday nights and hold court and he’d duck under the pool table, put his finger up into the bowels of the machine and 15 balls of fun would plop out. But our minor contributions weren’t enough to keep the place alive.
The lights were always too bright and the music was too low and besides Jess, no one gave a shit. The service was AWFUL. Every once in a while they’d get a good server and we’d warm to them and then they’d be gone the following week, breaking our collective hearts. The food was below sub-par, beer prices and sizes were inconsistent and they were always out of something that you wanted: “Sorry, no Granma…sorry no Miller Highlife, sorry we just ran out of Guinness.”
For a brief moment, last year, a glimmer of light sparked in the place when they installed a Konami bowling video game (don’t get this confused with the inferior Silver Strike). The game was so much fun, you could choose everything from a basketball or soccer ball to a disco ball or 8 ball styled bowling ball. Four players could join in and the sound effects were hilarious, especially in instant replay. Our staff loved it and we went over all the time, not just on Friday and Saturdays. But the extra business was getting in the way of the staff at UNO’s hanging out with their friends and bitching. They got rid of the machine and I swear to god it was to spite us. They replaced it with some other shit game and it mysteriously broke a week later (TR know anything about that?).
Then rumors starting to circle like sharks about their impending closure. First, among Plaza employees, then in the business section of the KC Star…they were thousands behind in rent…their holding company was going into foreclosure…whatever the real story, the reality was “It’s over for UNO’s.” The chalkboard where they put their specials had a countdown going and someone had written a nice little rhyming poem about all the fun, drinks and people they’d enjoyed on the Plaza over the past decade. However, the reality was: nobody really cared. Sunday was their last day and they were going to extinguish without much fanfare.
After work on Saturday night a bunch of us decided to visit Jess one last time, and leave her a little extra to say “thank you, even though the place you worked in sucked, you still kept a good attitude and took care of us.” We rolled over there about eleven-thirtyish, close to midnight and surprisingly the place was packed, it looked like New Year’s Eve. Management had lost control, guests were going behind the bar serving themselves, Jess was in the weeds, people were smoking in defiance of the KC smoking ban and everyone was super drunk.
We managed to snag a table outside on the patio. But ordering a round of drinks was an ordeal in itself and getting close to the bar without getting burned by one of the many waving cigarettes was a major challenge. My friend JD paid for the first round…but then I was charged again for it later in all the confusion and pure cluster fuckage. Not a single manager was even bothered to lift a hand to help out, probably how the company got into such bother in the first place. (And I later learned that one of those useless managers was the owner of the franchise! Totally useless).
So we’re all sitting down with our hard earned beers and we hear the sound of a Harley Davidson growling and we all look around in unison and sure enough a big-fat-drunk-dude is attempting to wheel his Harley down the side walk and onto the patio. After lots of heaving back and forth and almost falling over, the biker squeezed into the bar area and commenced to burn rubber. People were scattering like flies in the cloud of burnt rubber smoke and the sensible moms among our group lifted their beers and walked away saying things like “this is how it starts, next thing you know someone gets killed.”
Two things came to mind watching the meltdown of UNO’s. Firstly, UNO’s had become a speakeasy for smokers (a smokeasy?) and secondly, how dangerous and fun UNO’s was in its last moments, like it was granted one last wish to be fun before it died. Also, where the hell have all these people been the last few years? UNO’s turned all these people away, turned them off the idea of UNO’s over the years, they had catered to the lowest common denominator, gambled and lost.
People were walking out with souvenirs, like the clocks from the walls that said “your pizza ordered at this time will be ready at this time”, photos of Marlon Brando , Babe Ruth and George Brett and tons of other fake sports memorabilia. I might have taken a few pieces of choice glass wear to match a certain rug and a certain door, but I’m not saying that I did. It had become a complete free for all, like a Russian bread line in the 1990’s.
Saturday night closing time came for us and for UNO’s for the last time, and in more ways than one it was time to go. In this not too tragic closing you could see that they forgot about the guest and in this industry the guest is your lifeblood; they are what feed the soul. RIP UNO’s on the Plaza, you won’t be missed or mourned.