By Kathryn Greene
Kansas City bartenders, managers and owners find inspiration in their travels around the world—and sometimes from within the city itself, using fresh produce and locally distilled spirits to create craft cocktails of all kinds, from modern takes on old school drinks to entirely original creations.
It’s no secret that Kansas City loves barbecue and whiskey. So Mike Strauss, one of The W’s original bartenders, decided to distill that love into cocktail form. Head bartender Taylor Dumsky calls the speakeasy’s Smoked Vanilla the “comfort food of cocktails.”
Made with vanilla bean and burnt sugar syrup, it’s balanced with bourbon and house-made walnut bitters to create a flavor profile that isn’t cloying. Smoked Vanilla is one of The W’s signature cocktails and should be any first-timer’s first order.
- 2.5 oz Four Roses Yellow Label Bourbon
- .75 oz burnt sugar syrup
- 2 dashes house walnut bitters
- 1 vanilla bean stalk
It makes sense that a restaurant named for one of the South’s most famous cocktails could craft a damn good version (single-barrel Buffalo Trace bourbon, sugar, fresh mint and crushed ice). But, it’s not the only drink worth trying at Julep in Westport. The Garden & Gun is a simple yet delicious revival of the Bee’s Knees, a Prohibition-era cocktail that fell out of popularity post-WWII but has seen a resurgence in recent years.
Named after a Southern lifestyle magazine—a favorite of co-owners Keely Edgington and Beau Williams—the drink is a refreshing option to enjoy any time of year. That said, it shines brightest in spring thanks to its floral qualities from a modern twist of added orange bitters and lavender.
Garden & Gun
- 1.5 oz Hendricks Gin
- 1 oz honey lavender syrup
- .75 oz lemon juice
- 3 dashes Regan's Orange Bitters
Combine ingredients in a cheater tin and fill with ice. Cap with a shaker tin and shake vigorously until cold. Strain into a cocktail glass and garnish with a thin slice of cucumber or an edible flower.
Honey lavender syrup recipe
- 1 cup honey
- 1 cup water
- 2 tbsp dried lavender
Combine water and honey in a saucepan on med heat. Stir occasionally until combined. Season lightly with salt and transfer to a mason jar. Allow to cool to room temp and add the lavender. Place in the refrigerator overnight and strain the next day.
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge
During a vacation in Mexico, The Monarch’s bar manager, Brock Schulte, noticed a recurring ingredient in his drinks, tamarind, and quickly decided he wanted to use it.
Schulte returned to Kansas City prepared to create a drink that incorporated the tropical fruit. The result? A smoked daiquiri that balances apple-smoked rum with bright citruses.
TAMANDAQUIRI Black Coupe
- 2 oz Applewood-smoked J. Wray Silver Rum
- .75 oz Tamarind-vanilla syrup
- .5 oz Pineapple juice
- .5 oz Lime juice
Combine all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice and hard shake. Double strain into a coupe glass. Garnish with a lime wheel and pineapple wedge sprinkled with tajin.
It’s easy to assume that a drink as outlandishly named as the Main Street Exorcism exists solely to grab your attention, but owner Jill Cockson’s recipe has interesting religious ties, making it a conversation starter in more ways than one.
The drink is given heat with a hibiscus and cubeb pepper syrup. Cubeb peppers are notable for their use as a tool in exorcism rituals in different parts of the world. Before the drink is poured, the glass is swirled with Green Chartreuse, a liqueur that has been produced by Carthusian Monks since the 1700s.
A sleeper hit, the drink proved to be so popular with guests that it was promoted from Swordfish Tom’s seasonal menu to the permanent roster.
Main Street Exorcism
- 1.5 oz Tom’s Town Gin
- .25 oz Violet liqueur
- .75 oz Hibiscus and cubeb pepper syrup
- 1 oz Lemon
Shake and double strain into glass lined with flamed Green Chartreuse. Garnish with candied hibiscus flower.
Self-taught bartender Daniel Purdue has been at Story since 2014, often incorporating cooking techniques into his cocktails, such as using a sous vide to make turbinado syrup for the spring cocktail list.
Local produce and seasonal ingredients are often the catalysts he uses in creating a new drink like the Strawberry Breeze, which contains a homemade strawberry shrub. One of the area’s more lighthearted cocktails, the drink leans on fresh fruits and is tied together with elderflower liqueur.
- 1 oz Tito's Vodka
- .5 oz St Germaine
- .5 oz Cointreau
- .75 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
- .5 oz house made strawberry shrub
- 3 dash Fee Brother's Peach Bitters
Shake all ingredients and strain into a chilled cocktail shell. Garnish with some fresh mint. To make the strawberry shrub, heat up 1 cup of water and 1 cup of white sugar on the stove until the sugar is dissolved, then add 2 cups of sliced strawberries and let simmer over low heat for about 15 minutes and strain out the strawberries.
Purdue likes to add 1/4 cup of a mild white wine vinegar, but it can be left out. Store it in the fridge and it will stay fresh for a couple of weeks. It also makes a great strawberry lemonade: just mix 1.75 oz strawberry syrup and 1 oz lemon juice with 4 oz of water.
When it comes to Mexican cocktails, margaritas get most of the attention in the U.S., but Palomas are actually the country’s national drink. Upon learning this, Port Fonda made the decision to develop menus of seasonal Palomas rather than margaritas as they had offered in the past.
Bar manager Milissa Crawford found inspiration in Jalisco for Port Fonda’s Prickly Pear Paloma. Just four ingredients are used as the base of the cocktail, including fresh juices and a house-made syrup.
Prickly Pear Paloma
- 1.5 oz Olmeca Altos Blanco Tequila
- .5 oz fresh lime juice
- .5 oz prickly pear juice
- .5 oz house-made blackberry-cucumber syrup
Shake all ingredients in a cocktail shaker. Strain over new ice into a new glass (salt is optional). Top with Jarritos Lime Mexican Soda. Garnish with a blackberry and a cucumber slice on a skewer.