Arts News: Jazz Age Lives on at Lonnie’s Reno Club

Lonnie McFadden (© 2018 Lonnie McFadden)

Sometimes, it seems that history is made when ingenuity, adversity and art intersect.

At the beginning of the 1930s, during the early years of the Great Depression, Kansas City continued to work. Thomas Pendergast, the legendary mayor/mobster, allowed jazz clubs to openly sell alcohol despite prohibition. Kansas City became known as “Paris of the Plains.”

While the COVID-19 pandemic is much different from the Great Depression, and flouting federal law is nothing like executing a solid business plan, the opening of “Lonnie’s Reno Club” is likewise an impressive intersection of ingenuity, adversity and art.

The very name draws a connection to Kansas City’s jazz age. In an interview with “Feast” magazine, the club namesake and accomplished musician, Lonnie McFadden, said, “I decided to name it after the Reno Club, a place in Kansas City where Count Basie made a name for himself and a place where my father used to perform only a few blocks from here at 13th and Cherry Street.”

Now a police station parking lot, the original Reno Club was indeed where Count Basie formed the Count Basie Orchestra in 1935. The next year, it was the site of some of the earliest radio broadcasts of live jazz. In fact, there can be no serious discussion of Kansas City jazz or Count Basie without mentioning the Reno Club.

Like Kansas City’s golden age of jazz, Lonnie’s Reno Club was also born of adversity. With indoor clubs shuttered by the pandemic, McFadden found himself this summer at the Ambassador Hotel performing outside on weekends. He was just happy to have work. However, as fate would have it, the outdoor performances led to a new opportunity.

Paul Coury, CEO of Coury Hospitality, saw McFadden perform one evening. He was impressed and had an idea. Soon the two toured the vacant hotel basement, created a 1,450-square-foot eating and entertainment space with rich colors, a ceiling with blacks and silvers, a wall lined with photos of Kansas City’s jazz greats and a floor specifically designed by and for McFadden to tap dance on. The club opened Nov. 5.

In addition to some of Kansas City’s best entertainment, Lonnie’s Reno Club also boasts an alluring food menu designed by the American Reserve’s executive chef, Bryant Wigger.

Reservations are required; the dinner-and-a-show package, priced at $85, includes a complimentary champagne toast and three-course dinner.

If someone is going for the music and not the dinner, $25 walk-ins are available on a first-come, first-served basis after 9 p.m.

Lonnie’s Reno Club bears a very personal connection to one of Kansas City’s most well-known artistic figures, James “Pops” McFadden. “It is a tribute to the man who raised me to be a performer, just like him.” McFadden says.

Lonnie’s Reno Club, 1111 Grand Blvd., is open from 6:30 to 11 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. For more information, 816.298.7700 or www.lonniesrenoclub.com.

About The Author: Harold Smith

Harold Smith

Harold Smith is an educator and multimedia artist who lives and works in the Kansas City area. Most of his work is focused on his experience within the American black experience.

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