“Take care of your regulars.” Even the briefest conversation with restaurateur Jeffrey Schmitz of Bistro 303 makes clear his and partner Gene Switzer’s philosophy. It was advice from someone who knows – Michael Burnes, owner of Missie B’s and the unofficial godfather of the Kansas City gay club scene.
Schmitz and Switzer know the value of their regular crowd. Certainly, as any business person understands, a firm’s loyalists are its most profitable clientele and, of course, the source of ongoing revenue. The regulars at Bistro 303 are more than that. They are as much a part of the 303 experience as are the rich, dark caramel walls and elegant sconces. It’s the regulars who breathe energy into 303 and complete its compelling scene.

Bistro 303, or simply “303,” as most know it, is situated like a solitaire in a simple setting along an otherwise nondescript stretch of Westport Road, between Broadway and Main. It’s a bit reminiscent of a Prohibition-era speakeasy in that you have to know it’s there to find it. Like so much about 303, there is thoughtfulness in the name 303 – 303 Westport Rd. So wise to call a tucked-away place by its street number.

However you find 303, it’s a most rewarding discovery. When the front door opens, it often heralds the arrival of a newcomer or at least a “non-regular,” because the regulars are inclined to come and go through the back door. Like family. Or, perhaps, like the stealthy patrons of the aforementioned speakeasy.

In their other life, Schmitz and Switzer run an antique business – something Switzer has done for many years. It’s clear these guys have brought to bear their design sense in 303. The almost Zen-like, less-is-more interior bespeaks an aesthetic and operational execution so well-done that it feels casual, intimate and serendipitous. Wall-size mirrors reflect high, granite-top bistro tables encircling the center helm of a bar.

From this command center, members of the staff — attentive, warm and polite — discharge their duties like a choreographed performance. They move quickly and purposefully without seeming rushed or harried. Like so much about 303, there seems to be no wasted motion. Popular music often plays in the background, but at just the right level to offer a chorus to the many conversations around the bar rather than compete with them.

The menu strikes the same balance as the décor — sophisticated and upscale without being pretentious or fussy. Fancy-sounding offerings like beef and artichoke roulades and asparagus tart are balanced by simpler statements like steak sandwiches and beer-battered fish and chips. The drink menu sports nearly a dozen dessert-delicious martinis, many of which can be had for $5 on Wednesday nights.

The menu, the hours – including the addition of Friday lunch – and certainly the surroundings at 303 conspire beautifully and congruently to one purpose – take care of the regulars and make regulars out of newcomers. Bistro 303, with its understated elegance, is yours to complete. It can be your quiet and comfortable neighborhood place, a relaxing on-your-way-home watering hole, or the beginning (or ending) of a night on the town.

Schmitz and Switzer have created in 303 a canvas upon which their patrons – regulars and newcomers – can paint their own experience. And when you go, feel free to use the back door.

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Photo by Alonso Reyes on Unsplash

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