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An SF Boozehound in Kansas City

aal00 | May 15, 201601:05 AM

I was attending a conference in Kansas City earlier this month, without much of a plan for what I'd do with my evenings. For want of ideas, and being an increasingly shameless cocktail geek, I decided to look into the local cocktail bars. A quick search pointed very, very clearly to an obvious starting point, one that would set the course for the rest of my week...


Speakeasy decor is common enough in the bay area- and usually a sign of dedication in my limited experience- so the dim, stylized basement space housing Manifesto was a welcome familiarity. Actually finding the entrance to said basement was somewhat less so- for the record, you're looking for a glass back door in the alley, on a raised platform resembling a loading dock around the corner from the parking lot- but that misadventure was soon forgotten once I sat behind the bar to begin looking over the menu.

Round one was the "Queen B", an unusual take on the Bee's Knees. Ransom Old Tom Gin is the base, and I've been meaning to try that for a while, so seeing it listed in a drink next to "dandelion liqueur" and "chipotle mead" made this too interesting to ignore. The gin ended up playing a background role for my palate, but the other elements in play did not disappoint. The dandelion liqueur (Lion's Tooth, a local concoction) gave the drink an incredible scent of fresh flowers, with none of the heavy perfumey-ness I'm used to in floral liqueurs. It was very sweet- almost exclusively from the liqueur, I was surprised to hear- but not cloying. The mild, dry heat from the spiced mead hit at the end of each sip and rounded out the other flavors nicely.

I followed with "In The Pines", an amazing layer of herbal flavors over a rye base. I've played with Chartreuse quite a bit but Genepi not at all, so I was very pleased to learn what the latter could do in a drink. There's a ton of interesting things going on here; all the better that it's a long drink, as I had plenty of time to mull over it all.

To wind down the evening I finished with the rotating shrub, currently a pumpkin spice in apple cider vinegar. The combination actually proved to be remarkably light and refreshing, not overly rich nor sweet as I worried it might be.

Over the course of the night, my barkeep (head bartender Jonathan Bush, as I would later learn) offered two other local recommendations: Voltaire, and Julep. Having only done cursory last-second research, and having ample cause to trust this man's judgement at this point, I now had a plan for the rest of the trip.


Arriving at Voltaire just before dusk added a lot to the ambiance of the place, with a great sunset lighting up the front window as I perused the menu. I am sadly unable to find their current cocktail menu online in its entirety, so I apologize in advance for some vagaries that follow...

My first drink, named something like "The Captain's Wife", was a mix of mezcal and two fortified wines. It was sweeter than I'd been hoping for- I always underestimate how much sweetness the wines can add- but the mild smokiness of the mezcal cut through, as did the various bitter herbs in the wines. Some might find this one a little medicinal, but I quite enjoyed it.

I fear I've entirely lost the name and ingredients of the second drink; its base spirit, China China Amer, was new to me and sounded interesting enough to order at a glance. I'm glad I did- the blend of citrus and spices in the Amer was novel and delicious. As a big fan of tiki flavor profiles, I can see some interesting uses for this stuff if I can find a bottle!


Before I even arrived at Julep, I knew from glancing over menus online that I wanted to try "Everything is Real", a tiki-influenced drink with a turmeric-infused gin base. I also knew that, after the absurdly rich dinner I'd had prior, I was not going to start on a drink with coconut cream in it. I instead went with the bar's namesake and ordered the Quintessential, their rotating julep. As with several other details, I fear I've lost track of what bourbon was used, beyond it having been something distilled locally.

I've tried making juleps at home- emphasis on "tried"- and I've had a mediocre julep from one bar or another, but in comparison this may as well have been my first. The drink was unsurprisingly sweet, but in a way that complimented the richness of the bourbon and the crisp note of mint. I don't know how much of the latter was from muddling and how much was from the enormous mint sprig that garnished the drink, but whatever they're doing, it works splendidly.

Prior to tasting the "Everything is Real", I'd assumed that turmeric was used in cooking more for color than flavor. I have since learned the error of my ways, as it's impact on this drink was very simple to pick out. Rich and fragrant, with a well balanced flavor profile, it was a killer way to end the night.


I returned to Manifesto on my last night, both to thank the bartender for his suggestions and to try just a few more highlights from the sprawling menu.

I lead with the Niall, a Manhattan with several additional modifiers, including a bit of Absinthe. The name was part of an extended joke (which I'll admit for what little brevity I can still claim), but the punchline is that the ingredients were locally produced as much as possible- the absinthe and whiskey for sure, I forget what else. The drink itself was spirit-forward but not overpowering, with some fun aftertastes from the absinthe and other modifiers.

The Oaxaca Verde, my second course, was a much milder sipper; the various fruits and herbs used make for a bright, refreshing drink, with a mild smokiness from the mezcal base to counter the sweetness. It's a pity this was a winter menu seasonal, because this would be an amazing drink on a hot day.

My last cocktail of the trip (and last forgotten name) was a daiquiri variant, with tepache and sea salt. The modifiers added some complexity to the base drink that I quite enjoyed; I'll have to figure out how hard it is to get my hands on some Tepache back in the bay.


In all, having gone in with zero plan and zero expectations, I'm delighted by how my trip played out. The craft cocktail scene in Kansas City has legitimately impressed me, and added a great deal of enjoyment to what would otherwise have been a fairly dry business trip. This was a great experience, and I look forward to repeating it in other cities in the future!

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