Ink’s spring bar guide is overflowing with info on 528 bars in the Kansas City area.
Hopefully, it inspires you to bust out of your bar rut and go somewhere new. The question is, what do you order once you’re there?
We asked local bartenders, brewers and drinkers about what they’ve been sipping lately. What they said surprised us. Cocktails sweetened with carrot, scented with basil or spiked with hot sauce. Craft beer from up-and-coming regional breweries. Wine that comes out of a tap instead of a bottle.
You’ll find all that and more here, in our thirst-quenching guide to Kansas City’s freshest spring drinks.
Spring’s coolest crop of cocktails incorporates fresh produce, and not just lemons and limes.
If you’re used to fruity drinks, it probably seems strange to sip a drink flavored with bell peppers, butternut squash, carrots, beets or basil.
But bartenders are moving away from super-sweet drinks, says Van Zarr, bar manager at Bluestem, 900 Westport Road. Zarr adds tomato and cucumber to his martinis in summer and is always looking for ways to make fruity cocktails more interesting. One of his latest creations is the Paloma Shrub ($9), a mix of tequila and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice with a pink salt and peppercorn rim. A splash of champagne vinegar gives the drink its refreshing tang.
On the savory side, Manifesto, 1924 Main St., combines the slightly sweet, summery flavor of red bell pepper with mint in its staff-recommended gin drink, the Beautiful Red Bell ($11). Another staple on Manifesto’s menu, the Winter in Buenos Aires ($11), blends roasted butternut squash with honey, cinnamon and cachaca, a Brazilian spirit made from sugarcane. The flavor is closer to pumpkin pie than butternut squash soup.
Cucumber garnishes the ultra-refreshing classic Pimm’s Cup ($8) at Westport Cafe & Bar at 419 Westport Road, and is muddled into the Derby Day cocktail at Providence New American Kitchen, 1329 Baltimore Ave. inside the President Hotel. The Derby Day ($8.50) is made with Uncle Val’s Botanical Gin, which already tastes like lemon, cucumber and lavender.
In Lawrence, root vegetables are the rage: Star Bar, 800 New Hampshire St., uses carrot juice to give bold color and earthy sweetness to its Agent Orange vodka cocktail ($9). A block away at Tellers, 746 Massachusetts St., bartenders are infusing beets into simple syrup, then using the syrup and pomegranate juice to sweeten the Field Favour, a gin cocktail with a fuchsia glow ($9).
Sunlit beer gardens
The Zagat-rated Austrian restaurant at 101 W. 22nd St. has a south-facing patio populated with lush potted plants and chic wooden tables with a clear view of Union Station. A slatted pergola filters sunlight on warm days. The menu overflows with Austrian and German beer, plus warm pretzels and an assortment of sausages.
But Grunauer’s isn’t the only beer garden in town: About a mile away, leafy vines lend shade to the secluded patio at Westside Local, 1663 Summit St., where locally brewed beer accompanies cheese and charcuterie plates.
Farther south, a wall of bamboo secludes the drinking patio at Haus, 3044 Gillham Road, where you can wash down poutine and handmade sausages from the Local Pig with a wide assortment of European beer. With its wooden picnic tables, Haus feels like it’s on Beer Corner, not Martini Corner.
If you crave a beer garden setting on a rainy day, head to Bier Station’s indoor beer garden at 120 E. Gregory Blvd., which has sliding glass windows that roll up on nice days. When the sun comes out, hop over to McCoy’s Public House, 4057 Pennsylvania Ave., for a Ginger Shandy. The thirst-quenching drink blends beer, fresh ginger and real lemonade.
Grab a cold glass of water — you’ll need it after one sip of the spicy cocktails that are burning up local bar menus.
MiniBar, 3810 Broadway, heats up its cool cucumber and lime vodka cocktail, the Angkor Watt ($6.50), with a dash of Sriracha, or rooster sauce.
Bartenders at Kill Devil Club, 31 E. 14th St., infuse tequila with five kinds of peppers, then mix the spicy spirit with Gosling’s Black Seal Rum, lime and ginger. The resulting drink, the Tempest ($11), is like a stormier Dark ‘N’ Stormy. Manager Scott Tipton’s new tequila drink, the Topolobampo ($9), has tart grapefruit soda spiked with hot jalapeno.
“The spice comes through on the back end,” he says. “I like drinks with different layers.”
Guajillo chili peppers lend sweet, smoky and spicy layers to the Blood & Smoke ($9), a bloody mary at Tellers that comes garnished with a pickled pepper and asparagus spear.
Drinks are also sweating at Remedy, 500 W. 75th St. The Feisty Irishman ($8) mixes Tullamore Dew Irish Whiskey with jalapeno-honey syrup. Another Remedy concoction, the Malaysian Mule ($9) kicks up the traditional Moscow Mule recipe (vodka, lime and ginger beer in a copper mug) with Thai chili and basil-infused vodka. Feel the burn.
Bartenders: ‘We can pickle that’
Sour beer and cocktails made with vinegar-spiked fruit syrups called shrubs are edging out sweeter drinks at local bars.
A surprising offshoot of the sour trend: pickles in cocktails.
Pig & Finch, a new gastropub at 11570 Ash St. in Leawood, puts house-made pickles and brine in its Pickled Up cocktail ($11), which isn’t on the menu but can be requested. We tried it with rye whiskey: The spicy spirit stood up nicely to the slightly sweet-and-sour pickle brine.
At Port Fonda, 4141 Pennsylvania Ave., bar manager Travis Stewart adds a spoonful of pickling brine to one of his signature cocktails, the $11 Johnny Ringo. The drink — named after the bad guy in “Tombstone” — balances smoky mezcal with fresh-tasting celery bitters and Hendrick’s gin, flavored with cucumber and rose.
But the mother of all pickled cocktails has to be Der Schmutzige at Grunauer.
“It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing,” owner Nick Grunauer says. The ruby-colored drink ($8) might look like a Cosmo, but make no mistake: This is the dirtiest of the dirty martinis, with black pepper and mustard-infused vodka from Darkhorse Distillery in Lenexa, plus beet brine, pickle water and kraut juice.
Grunauer says customers either love or hate Der Schmutzige, and it’s easy to see why: The salty pickle juice is the first thing you taste, followed by the crisp heat of the vodka and a punch of pepper. It’s intense, but in a good way. Grunauer bartender Emily Schoeb sums it up nicely: “It’s a meal in a glass.”
Small breweries go big
Tallgrass, founded in 2006, comes on draft and in aluminum cans, not glass bottles. According to the brewery’s “canifesto,” that’s because aluminum blocks beer-harming light, is easily recyclable and weighs less, which drives down fuel costs. Plus, it’s safer poolside.
Tallgrass is known for its Halcyon Unfiltered Wheat, a summery beer with a tropical fruit aroma, and Buffalo Sweat, a creamy stout. Look for the recently released Pub Ale, a rich brown ale in a retro can.
The 2-year-old Mother’s Brewing Co. also is spilling over into the KC market. Towhead, a cross between wheat beer and German golden ale, and Lil’ Helper, a super-hoppy India Pale Ale, are two of the brewery’s best-sellers.
Mother’s taps into firkins, or small casks, of experimental brews every First Friday at Lew’s Grill & Bar, 7539 Wornall Road, and Rusty Horse Tavern, 6325 Lewis St. in Parkville. Brewery rep Jeremy Wicks says Mother’s brewers usually add offbeat ingredients, like bacon, pomegranate or kumquat, to the firkins to flavor the beer.
If you want to sample beer from Mother’s, Tallgrass and other regional breweries, belly up to the bar at Rye, which opened late last year at 10551 Mission Road in Leawood. Rye stocks an impressive selection of beer from Boulevard and Free State as well as Manhattan’s Little Apple and Lawrence’s 23rd Street Brewery. So there’s no need to drive halfway into the next state for a sip.
Lots of local microbrews are also on tap at Brewbakers, a new bar and grill at 9482 Renner Road in Lenexa. On a recent Wednesday evening — the bar’s craft beer night — people packed the bar for $2 draws, smothered waffle fries and Boulevard Wheat-battered fried pickles.
Wine on tap
At first, wine on tap might not sound like a good idea. Blame boxed wine’s bad rap.
But vino poured directly from the keg has its benefits. Among them: Less landfill waste, spoilage and sulfites, or preservatives.
Wine on tap is also exposed to less oxygen, says Aaron Shields, general manager at Louie’s Wine Dive, 7100 Wornall Road, so it’s as fresh as the day it was kegged. Louie’s has two wines on tap: a Cabernet Sauvignon ($10) and Chardonnay ($9). The bar also has a special blend of Bourbon Trace bourbon on tap.
Anton’s Taproom, 1610 Main St., is known for its extensive selection of beer (67 on draft and about 90 in bottles, to be exact), but the bar also has six wines on tap. One is from Missouri’s own Amigoni Urban Winery, which serves wine on tap in its beautiful tasting room at 1505 Genessee St. in the West Bottoms. There, $5 gets you samples of five wines.
Top top-shelf margaritas
At Mestizo, the Leawood restaurant owned by celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez, the long list of margaritas reads like the menu at a juice bar.
Ingredients like agave nectar, hibiscus flowers and juice from fresh lime, cucumber and watermelon stands in for sweet and sour mix. Sanchez says he doesn’t like the “nuclear” green color or artificial taste of margarita mix.
Sanchez, who will be at Mestizo, 5270 W. 116th St., to host a five-course tequila dinner on May 2, says he prefers using premium ingredients in his food and drinks.
“We use Cointreau, high-end reposado tequila, freshly squeezed lime juice and a nice mezcal floater,” the chef says of Mestizo’s top-shelf margaritas. The most expensive, the Big Papi, costs $25 (yep, you read that right) and comes with premium Don Julio 1942 Anejo (aged) tequila, Cointreau and fresh lime. If that busts your budget, try the classic Mestizo Margarita ($7) or the Electric margarita ($9), which gets its turquoise hue from Blue Curacao.
The Big Papi isn’t the most expensive margarita we found in Kansas City. Zocalo Mexican Cuisine & Tequileria, 620 W. 48th St., makes its $30 Cadillac margarita with Don Julio 1942 tequila and Gran Marnier 100 year, made with fine cognacs and aged up to 25 years. Zocalo also makes frozen fresh fruit margaritas ($7.50) with peach, blood orange and prickly pear puree.
That curvy tulip glass you drink Tank 7 from isn’t just for looks. The proper beer or cocktail glass can maximize the flavor and aroma of your desired drink.
Tulip glasses, for example, flare out so there’s enough room for a foamy head, which enhances aromas and gives the beer a creamy mouthfeel. Yep, mouthfeel.
Beer nerds who obsess over the perfect pour commune at Bier Station, where each beer style has a corresponding glass.
“The beer dictates what glass it goes in,” beer manager Brad Isch explains. “Some highlight aroma; others, color.”
He holds up a dimpled glass mug with a chunky handle that looks like something you’d slam on the table at a German beer garden.
“People smile when you hand them this one,” Isch says.
Another bar that takes its barware seriously is Haus, where European beer is the specialty and a warning at the top of a menu reads “Don’t steal the glassware.”
And at Manifesto, every cocktail on the menu is shown next to an outline of the glass it’s served in. So you know immediately that the Zombie Apocalypse ($11) is served in a tall, narrow glass that’s (fittingly) known as a zombie glass.
There’s good news for noncommittal types who find it difficult to commit to a full pint of a beer they’ve never tried: Beer tastings are becoming more common in Kansas City.
Beer flights — that’s a bunch of sample-size beer glasses you can taste side-by-side — are available at Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, 101 E. 13th St., and the Burg & Barrel, a new bar at 7042 W. 76th St. in Overland Park.
Flights are also for sale at Bier Station, where a staff of beer enthusiasts (not to be confused with beer snobs) can talk you through tastings. Did you know Goose Island’s Sofie beer is aged in white wine barrels, or what American lagers tasted like before Prohibition? You will after tasting beers with manager Isch.
The best part: If you find your new favorite beer at Bier Station, you can buy it to go in a six-pack.
A new brewery in North Kansas City, Big Rip Brewing Co., is working on opening its tasting room by late May. The brewery, at 216 E. Ninth Ave., is the brainchild of Josh Collins and Kipp Feldt.
The friends are already brewing batches of Banana Cream Ale, Sweet Brown Ale and a gluten-free beer. They’re also building a beer garden and putting finishing touches on the 50-person tasting room, where customers can try Big Rip brews and then order them to go in stainless steel growlers.
Used to be, if you drank from a flask at a bar, you were kicked out.
That’s not the case at The Jacobson, 2050 Central St., where five cocktails on the menu can be ordered in iced glass flasks that hold two to four servings.
Bartender Jason Graham says customers get a discount when they order their drink in a flask. Say you want to try the Syrup & Honey, a $9 bourbon drink swimming with red pepper, basil and lemon flavor. A two-serving flask costs $16. Split it with a friend and you both save $1.
Alternatively, you can order a single flask and top your glass off at a whim, “so you can go at your own rate,” Graham says.
At The Farmhouse, 300 Delaware St., cocktails aren’t served in flasks, but they are available in bottles. Try the gin and tonic ($8) or the Spring Fizz ($9), a sparkly vodka lemonade with hints of rose and lavender.