“The Most Talked About Nite-Club in the Midwest” survived three address changes and over four decades before the doors closed and the stage went dark.
The Jewel Box Lounge opened at 3223 Troost during a period in Kansas City when nearly every business block boasted at least one tavern, bar or lounge. For the first 10 years, after opening around 1948, the Jewel Box was no different, with the usual offering of beers, cocktails and live entertainment.
After several owners, by 1958 John N. Tucillo purchased the lounge. As he described in an interview after the lounge closed permanently, business was typical until one evening, two male patrons dressed in drag took to the small stage and performed an impromptu set, much to the delight of the lounge audience. He realized the idea to showcase these “femme-mimics” had great potential and began to book impersonators on a regular basis.
Despite changing his lounge’s entertainment offerings, his marketing was aimed at those looking for a fun evening, namely straight couples who might stop in for a show after dinner before heading back home to the kids.
A brochure that advertised the nightly shows states, “The show itself has not a serious moment. It’s just plain entertainment, built with a cast whose only desire is to please the audience. What is a Femme-mimic? Well, stop by the JEWEL BOX LOUNGE and see for yourself. Better still, bring your friends and have a relaxed evening of laughs and music.”
The cast was featured on all the lounge’s advertising, from matchbooks, souvenir drink menus, postcards and folding fans. While some used exotic stage names, most are listed under a male name, such as “Butch” or “Skip.”
Comic Skip Arnold was a regular performer at the Jewel Box, and is pictured on this matchcover on the far right. Most performers were members of the American Guild of Performance Artists, and would perform at other venues across the country.
The lounge had a one drink minimum per person per show Monday through Thursday and a $1.00 cover charge on Friday and Saturday. Four shows were offered on Saturday, with the final show beginning at 12:15 a.m. Drink prices started at 60 cents for a beer or cola and cocktails ranged 90 cents to $1.25.
In 1964, the Jewel Box moved down to 3219 Troost and Tucillo opened a new club at 3223, the Yum Yum Club, and Cat Balleau at 3229, to offer a complete block of entertainment. But the proximity to a burlesque show at Cat Balleau and strip shows at the Yum Yum eventually changed the crowds flocking to the Jewel Box. Moving to 3110 Main, the Jewel Box continued another 10 years, but on March 6, 1982, Tucillo locked the entry doors and the neon sign above went dark.