The Spirited Traveller: Why Kansas City should join the cocktail big league

Mon Dec 12, 2011 7:22am EST

1 of 2. Westport Cafe and Bar, a small bistro in Kansas City, Missouri, is shown in this undated publicity image.

Credit: Reuters/Handout

(Reuters.com) - What do mean, you haven't been to Kansas City? Haven't you heard that it's one of the next great cocktail cities?

It's okay; this New York cocktail snob didn't believe it either at first. Yet here in Missouri there exists a broad range of bartending excellence, delivered sans attitude.

"The drinking culture here is relatively laid back," says Ryan Maybee, owner of craft bar Manifesto (1924, Main), which reopened in March within the Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange (<www.theriegerkc.com/>), which Maybee also co-owns. (Technically, Manifesto is housed within the Rieger, but has a separate address and back-alley entrance.)

Although the growing community of bartenders certainly takes pride in, say, brewing up grenadine from scratch for high-end cocktails, they don't look down on anyone ordering a shot of whiskey or a beer either. Indeed, bar-hoppers laud KC for its friendly, approachable vibe.

In addition to his own bar, Maybee also recommends that visitors try out Westport Cafe and Bar (<www.westportcafeandbar.com/>), a small bistro with streamlined signatures like the Whiskey Smash (bourbon, peaches and honey-lavender syrup).

Meanwhile at Viennese restaurant Grunhauer (<grunauerkc.com/>), look to its "Wunderbar" for offbeat drinks such as a dark rum flip made with "strudel juice."

Elsewhere, Extra Virgin (<extravirginkc.com/>), a colourful Spanish spot run by James Beard award-winning chef Michael Smith, is prime real estate for long business lunches and tapas-fuelled happy hours.

In terms of what to drink, whiskey - preferably bourbon or rye - is the tipple of choice. It's not a coincidence that either pairs beautifully with Kansas City's renowned barbecue.

In particular, Maybee recommends ordering The Pendergast, a riff on the classic whiskey-based Bobby Burns cocktail. Named for Thomas Pendergast, a Kansas City politician famed for his populist touch and Mafia connections during the Prohibition speakeasy years. Among other things, his policies are credited with giving rise to the golden era of Kansas City Jazz.

"Kansas City was the wildest in the country back then," Maybee explains. Surely, a legacy like that is worth a drink or two.

RECIPE: The Pendergast

(Courtesy of Ryan Maybee, Manifesto)

1½ ounces Buffalo Trace Bourbon

¾ ounce sweet vermouth

½ oz Benedictine

3-4 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir together all ingredients, and strain into a rocks glass with no ice. Garnish with lemon twist.

(Kara Newman is the author of "Spice & Ice: 60 tongue-tingling cocktails", available <here>. The opinions expressed are her own.) (Editing by Peter Myers)

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