Barbecue, fountains, baseball and jazz. All of these are touchstones that people associate with Kansas City. But there’s another that serves as a bridge between the city’s historic past, present, and future: cocktails.
Kansas City is, after all, the city where Tom Pendergast, the infamous political mob boss, used his nefarious connections to spit in the eye of the U.S. government by defying the laws of Prohibition – which banned the manufacture, transportation and sale of alcohol from 1920 to 1933 – brashly declaring his beloved city “wide open” to imbibe, dance and enjoy all forms of illicit indulgences without fear of prosecution.
Fast-forward to the present day and Kansas City is leading the renaissance of a decidedly sophisticated yet unpretentious cocktail landscape in The Heartland. Here you will find a wealth of incredible bars and restaurants mixing up cocktail history, creativity, passion and distinctive elements that speak volumes well beyond the last drop. Here are a few of our favourite cocktail bars in Kansas City to try next time you’re in town.
Kansas City’s cocktail landscape
Several noteworthy bars can be found in the city’s Crossroads Art District. Set in an intimate, 48-seat, subterranean locale, Manifesto is a throwback to the popular Prohibition-era speakeasies, with a focus on classically inspired cocktails using fresh, homemade ingredients. Just above it (literally) is The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange.
At both – owned and co-owned respectively by Ryan Maybee, cocktail master and Bartender of the Year in 2013 by Imbibe magazine – you will find classic spirits like Citadelle Gin, St. George Absinthe, Ron Zacapa Rum, Tequila Ocho, and Dark Horse Reunion Rye, just to name a few, as the base elements for their multidimensional cocktails.
Extra Virgin, owned by nationally renowned and James Beard Award winning chef Michael Smith, is not only known for its excellent handcrafted cocktails, but also for pairing them with a full tapas menu highlighting the aromas and flavours of the Mediterranean.
The Westport neighbourhood has grown immensely over the years from student scene into a mature, refined food and drink neighbourhood with great cross-generational and cultural appeal. Here you will find some of the best bars in Kansas City, like Harry’s Bar & Tables which serves drinks like the Ginger Oaxaca – Del Maguey Vida Mezcal, Canton, lemon juice, and topped with soda.
Julep features five different kinds of Julep cocktails, including The Deep, Deep South made with Novo Fogo Barrel Aged Cachaça, Kansas City Canning Co. Blood Orange and ginger shrub, plus an array of whisky flights, while noteworthy selections of straight and small-batch bourbons and ryes, wheated, Tennessee, single-barrel and flavoured whiskys, and what they call Coupe Cocktails are the rage at the Char Bar.
If tequila is your spirit of choice, then head on over to El Patron Cocina & Bar in the Westside/Southwest Blvd neighbourhood, where you’ll find close to 60 kinds of tequila and a few specialty cocktails like Estela’s Favorite Gala Cocktail – Stoli Gala Apple vodka, sweet and sour, and a splash of sprite.
At the Wunderbar, the Klarer Glühwein with Grüner Veltliner, cucumber liqueur, sparkling water, lemon and cucumber wheels is the perfect acompniament to the authentic Viennese Gasthaus fare served in its home restaurant, The Grünauer.
Friendly, knowledgeable bartenders serving everything from one shot throw backs to sophisticated, multi-layered cocktails and spirits in a relaxed ambiance is what sets Harry’s Country Club apart. Located in the River Market, they offer hundreds of Blanco-Silver and Reposado tequilas; Highland, Island, Isley, Speyside, Lowland, and Cambeltown scotch, and Canadian, specialty and artisan, rye, and Irish whiskey selections, just to name a few.
At Voltaire in the West Bottoms, try their Kansas City Sour – Evan Williams bonded bourbon, smoked lemon, Demerara and red wine – or the Yeeeah Rye’t, a combination of Rittenhouse bonded rye, coffee, sherry syrup, Aztec chocolate bitters and cream.
To experience the best cocktail bars in Kansas City at the same time, visit during the annual Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival (POP Fest), held each summer.
POP Fest, which was co-founded by Ryan Maybee, Doug Frost, and Brandon Cummins, is a delightfully intoxicating, multi-day celebration of the art of the cocktail, food and music history and culture.
Here, everyone from passing sippers to staunch imbibers with refined tastes can mix and mingle alongside Kansas City’s best bartenders, as well as distinguished food and beverage writers, cocktail connoisseurs, chefs, and others from across the country.
The festival takes place at a number of cocktail bars in Kansas City, as well as restaurants, distilleries and microbreweries, each offering unique food and drink experiences through exciting spirits tastings, educational seminars, and cocktail and music parties.
The crowning POP Fest event is the Paris of the Plains Bartending Competition; a head-to-head cocktail creation and industry knowledge quiz performed before the public, the winner chosen by votes from a panel of judges.
With such an eclectic and exceptional cocktail scene to discover, it’s no wonder Kansas City was named “America’s Next Great Cocktail City” by Saveur magazine.
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Have you visited any of these fantastic cocktail bars in Kansas City? Which were your favourites? Let us know in the comments section below.