Shaken, Stirred or On the Rocks - A Kansas City Cocktail Tour
It’s no surprise that, when it comes to the premier cocktail scenes in the country, Kansas City has made a name for itself as one of the best. From speakeasies to music bars, patio pubs to neighborhood dives, numerous establishments have a stake in KC’s cocktail claim to fame. With so many greats to choose from, why not make a weekend long cocktail crawl out of the best bars KC has to offer? Here are a few of my favorites, by neighborhood:
The Monarch Bar | 4808 Roanoke Pkwy
When it comes to high-quality cocktails served with a side of decadence, Monarch is Kansas City’s gold standard. The folks at Monarch spare no expense when it comes to experience- the custom cocktails are served in a rich and luxurious atmosphere, dripping with stunning marble and beautiful art. The glass monarch butterflies floating above the center bar pale only in comparison to the VIP-style “Parlour”, which boasts all the makings of an exclusive, invite-only lounge plucked from the heart of Manhattan (New York, not Kansas).
As someone who truly appreciates attention to detail, one of my favorite aspects of visiting Monarch is thumbing through each page of the menu- it is truly extensive, and beautifully designed. New cocktails are developed seasonally, so there are always new drinks to try– but the “Monarch Favorites” are etched permanently in place within its pages. Fortunately, my personal go-to, the Kansas City Ice Water, is found here, so it’s always available regardless of when I’m ordering.
The terrace patio is also one of the best in Kansas City, and it seems like everyone knows it. Trying to find a seat on a nice summer night can be tricky, so get there early, enjoy your company, make some new friends and bask in the decadence that is Monarch. Because regardless of when you visit or what you order, the experience will make you want to come back again- I guess we can call that the “butterfly effect."
Julep | 4141 Pennsylvania Ave #104
Admittedly, as someone who loves whiskey and scotch, Julep holds a special place in my heart. As the light reflects off the mirrored chandeliers suspended above, I’ve found myself sitting at the bar, entranced by the rolling ladder carefully traversing the shelves of bottles, curious about what concoctions could be crafted with each. Julep sets the stage for an enjoyable experience with even better libations.
Speaking of stages, Julep’s mixologists are truly performers when it comes to crafting cocktails. Alongside incredible knowledge and attention to detail, the theatrics they display while crafting your drink makes the experience that much more engaging. Much like any good cocktail bar worth its salt, they create boozy beverages personalized for you and based on favorite spirts and preferred tastes- and they do this incredibly well.
Browse the menu and enjoy your drink. No matter what you get, you won’t go wrong. But if decision-making isn’t your strong suit, might I suggest the London Calling. With the summer months in full effect, it’s refreshing, invigorating and far too easy to drink. Or, if you prefer to go a bit more traditional, their Mint Julep is second-to-none. Regardless, this Westport gem has everything you need for a wonderful experience enjoying the tastiest cocktails.
Afterword Tavern & Shelves | 1834 Grand Blvd
You’re on Jeopardy and select “Kansas City Bars” for $600. The answer: “This is where Weston sat down and wrote his ‘Best Cocktails in Kansas City’ article for MIKC”. You respond, “What is Afterword Tavern & Shelves?” *Ding ding* - nicely done.
Suffice it to say, I’m a big fan of Afterword. The aesthetic, the diversity of literature to peruse, the board games available for friendly competition and, most importantly, the cocktail selection- everything here is fantastic. As you meander over the menu, I’d recommend the Balrog or the Tyrannosaurus Tex - the former is created by fire (presumably the same flame used to forge the One Ring- shout out to J.R.R. Tolkien) and the latter is accompanied by a bite-sized dinosaur, the likes of which could even make the bravest man shake in his own skin (see: Goldblum, Jeff).
Each time I visit, there are always new cocktails on the menu to choose from, and I rarely know where to begin because each is drastically different and unique. I’ve yet to come across a drink that I didn’t enjoy. Their happy hour offers a wide selection with discounted prices, making it very easy to lose track of time and drink count. And truly, what could make you leave? As the evening fades into darker shades, the chandelier flickers and candles create a subtle and seductive setting. After hours, the backlit brightness of a laptop screen is scarcely seen because, if not nose-deep in their latest literary liking, most patrons are enjoying the company of friends and family.
Whether it’s day drinking or evening cocktails, don’t let Afterword be an afterthought.
Tom’s Town | 1701 Main St
Let’s talk about Tom’s Town. Named after one of this country’s most corrupt political bosses, Tom’s Town has its roots based in the complete disregard of prohibition. Keeping the spirits flowing during this dry time in American history is how their famous mantra was born: The People Are Thirsty. Today, the people are still thirsty, especially for the premium craft spirits they produce. So when it comes to staples in the Kansas City cocktail community, Tom’s Town is near the top for me.
I’m a huge proponent of ambiance enhancing your drinking experience, and Tom’s Town checks this box and then some. While sipping your cocktail, overlook the distillery or watch the bystanders on Main as the streetcar whizzes by. If you’re fortunate enough to attend an event held in the back room, AKA “The Vault”, you’ll be immediately transported to the 1920’s. Sink into the plush, leather sofa by the fireplace or have conversations with your friends as the painted figures on the wall stare off into oblivion.
The menu is extensive, but if you’re looking for a good starting point, my favorite drink is the Tom Pendergast (named after the aforementioned corrupt boss). Consisting of bourbon, vermouth, smoked cinnamon agave, lemon and a cinnamon stick for show, it’s delicious and far too easy to drink. Regardless of what you order, you can’t go wrong- they know what they’re doing here. And if you want some insights into their wealth of boozy knowledge, sign up for a tour & tasting to take a deep dive into the history of their spirits.
The people will always be thirsty, but after you visit, I bet you’ll leave satisfied. Kansas City is definitely Tom’s town.
Manifesto | 1924 Main St
Manifesto was my first real introduction to speakeasy-style bars, and it undoubtedly set my expectations for the genre. It’s one of those places you’re eager to brag to your friends about. Located below the Rieger Hotel, there’s significant history that surrounds Manifesto- from its operation during prohibition to the famous gangsters who used to frequent it (see: Capone, Al).
While you can head to the back of the restaurant to gain entry, I personally prefer the alleyway entrance. It makes you feel like you’re making your way into a secret hotspot that only few know about. But when it comes to Manifesto, hotspot- yes; secret- not so much. Reservations are highly recommended, and be sure to watch your step as you make your way down the stairs. Once inside, let your eyes adjust to the dimly-lit bar and the flickering candles that adorn the room.
I’ve visited on numerous occasions, and many of those times my friends and I have had our own table. Don’t get me wrong- a table is great- but there’s something about sitting at the bar that really makes the experience special. The attention to detail, education and accompanying theatrics that go into crafting your drinks make them taste even better- I’m not sure how, but they do. Trust me.
The menu is extensive, and seeing as we’re highlighting Kansas City’s best cocktails, that’s pretty important. There’s a drink for everyone, regardless of what flavors your tastebuds prefer. Spicy or sweet, mellow or bold- the mixologists have got you covered, and they’re constantly innovating and overhauling their boozy offerings. There’s always something new to try and an exciting adventure to be had.
Manifesto is a James Beard semi-finalist and was named one of America’s Best Bars by Esquire Magazine. Accolades aside, it’s a great spot. Open until the wee hours (1:30 am every day but Sunday) pull a Capone and make Manifesto your nightcap to a weekend of craft cocktail crawlin’.