JJ's restaurant had special meaning to Brett
FEB 21, 2013 10:21a ET
It is the place where he met his wife, Leslie, almost 23 years ago.
And it is the place where Brett and numerous other sports figures, politicians and celebrities in Kansas City frequented often.
"I've been going there since the early 1980s," Brett old FOXSportsKanasCity.com. "It was just a great neighborhood place. It was a lot like a New York City neighborhood bar. It was upscale but you always felt at home there.
"And you always, no matter what time of the night, could run into someone you know."
But now, JJ's is gone. The restaurant was leveled by a horrific natural-gas explosion on Tuesday night. The subsequent fireball reduced the restaurant to rubble in a matter of hours.
One JJ's waitress, trapped inside the restaurant after the initial explosion, is believed dead. Searchers discovered a body in the rubble Wednesday morning but have not confirmed the person's identity.
Fifteen others were injured in the fire, some critically.
"It's just so, so sad," Brett said by phone from the Royals' spring-training site in Arizona. "My heart goes out to the victim and to the others who were hurt. I am still stunned.
"I know that if I was back in Kansas City, I would have driven by it today, just to see it out of respect. There were so many great memories. I am really going to miss it."
Numerous Kansas City sports figures hung out regularly at JJ's, including former Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil, former Chiefs general manager Carl Peterson, legendary golfer Tom Watson, Hall of Famer Len Dawson and former Kansas City Attack/Comets owner Don Kincaid.
Former Royal Zack Greinke, who lived on the Country Club Plaza, was often spotted there. So was former Royal Johnny Damon. Detroit superstar Miguel Cabrera always made it a point to stop by JJ's whenever the Tigers were in town.
And during the All-Star week in Kansas City last summer, actor Charlie Sheen partied at JJ's for several hours into the morning light.
"It was a place where a lot of athletes from past and present went," Brett said. "You just felt so comfortable there. It wasn't a chain – it was a place that felt like it was truly Kansas City. It wasn't Houston's or Ruth's Steak House or Capital Grille. It was ours.
"It was totally unique. And I think a lot of people liked it because it was off the beaten path. It was on the Plaza but not really. It was sort of off to the side."
One of the reasons JJ's became so popular with sports figures is that owner Jimmy Frantze, who ran the restaurant for 27 years, was a huge sports fan who greeted almost everyone at the door.
"Jimmy was a big, big Royals fan," Brett said. "He always had season tickets. And I know he loved the Chiefs, too. He was just a big sports fan and he knew baseball. He cared. It made it a pleasure for sports guys to go there, even though it wasn't a sports bar. It was an elegant place with great food."
JJ's also was legendary for its wine list, with bottles ranging from $18 to $3,500. In fact, JJ's may have had one of the best wine lists in the Midwest – it was just one of 84 restaurants in the world to have been awarded the coveted Grand Award from Wine Spectator magazine.
"I'm like a lot of people in that I'm a creature of habit," Brett said. "You find a place you like, with good wine and good steaks and good seafood, you keep coming back. That's why people in Kansas City, not just sports figures, went there.
"Kansas City has really lost a local institution."
Frantze and his brother, David, have indicated they plan on rebuilding on the spot someday.
"I sure hope they do," Brett said.
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