Kansas City has long standing history with prohibition and alcohol; adult beverages are simply in our hereditary makeup.
Kansas City, as many know, was made famous by the likes of Tom Pendergast and the number of ‘speakeasies’ throughout our city. Tom was the city’s political mob boss, our original gangsta’, shrewd businessman, best friend of Harry Truman & owner of many other titles who, through whatever means possible, brought to Kansas City excitement, life and a darn good time during Prohibition. Tom’s political power and fortune were built upon three things: absolute control of his democratic party’s political machine; ownership of the Ready-Mixed Concrete Company, and personal links with organized crime that had helped to make the city he had been running since 1926 the wildest place in America — filled with bars, brothels, and gambling dens in which, one reporter wrote, “the operators doctor the dice in such a manner as to make a loss to them a gravitational impossibility.”
On January 17, 1920 Prohibition went into effect and though they may have appeared to close down for a short period, saloons simply went “underground” in basements, attics, upper floors, and disguised as other businesses, such as cafes, soda shops, and entertainment venues. Given its name because of the need to whisper or “speak easy,” these many illegal drinking venues quickly became established institutions and quite simply Prohibition never existed in Kansas City under the control of Mr. Pendergast. Gone were the open, swinging doors of saloons as speakeasies disguised themselves in numerous creative ways. Generally before a thirsty patron could cross the illegal threshold, a password, specific handshake or secret knock was required. Gone also were the vibrant sounds of the player piano and entertainment provided by the dancing girls, as Prohibition ushered in the age of Jazz. With stiff competition from numerous establishments, many Kansas City speakeasies provided music for their patrons and hundreds of jazz musicians easily found work.
With a corrupt police force and the booze flowing freely, the wide-open party town attracted both criminals and musicians. “If you want to see some sin, forget Paris and head to Kansas City,” journalist Edward Morrow once wrote and Kansas City quickly became known as the “Paris of the Plains.”
Kansas City is truly a craft cocktail destination and offers up more than a few virtuoso cocktail joints – Manifesto, Julep and Ca’ Va among them – but there are must-taste handmade drinks being served up all across the city that it would be impossible to name all of them, so in honor of days gone by I offer to you my top 5 favorite “under-the-radar” cocktail destinations that can mix, stir, and shake things into a glass full of tasty liquidness.
- Manifesto– 1924 Main St., KCMO: Located in the semi-secret basement of the Rieger Restaurant, Manifesto is a cocktail-lovers wet dream. The menu features a fantastic variety, but if you really want to have fun, tell the bartender what you enjoy and let him come up with just the right thing. Call or text message 816.536.1325 to reserve a table for 4 or more, or for groups of 2, seats at the bar. Once full, they run a wait list on a first come, first served basis and by taking a cell phone number and calling when your table is ready.
- Justus Drugstore– 106 W. Main St., Smithville, MO: A leisurely 40 minute drive from Downtown, Kansas City this small bistro was once a small-town pharmacy run by the parents of the current tenant, chef Jonathan Justus. Known for its innovative farm-to-table cuisine, this off-the-beaten path culinary gem will take you to another dimension with their signature cocktails. My personal fave: Gray Elder Cocktail. It is Key Lime Pie in a glass and just as sinful.
- Voltaire– 1617 GENESSEE, KCMO: Volatire is located in the West Bottoms which is the former home to the Kansas City Stockyards. The space here is extremely cozy and open with lots of warm dark wood & vintage lighting which makes this the perfect place to bring a date. Voltaire’s website very simply describes the setting as a ‘GLOBAL EATERY & PURVEYOR OF LIBATIONS’ and I could not agree more. Support local is our theme here and with that in mind my go-to cocktail here is the Stockyard Fix.
- Grunauer KC– 101 West 22nd Street, KCMO: I LOVE THE WUNDERBAR HERE!!! Seriously, the name itself makes me love it; Wunderbar. First of all I love sauerkraut. I just do. I also love roasted beets and alcohol. Not necessarily together, UNTIL I met the Der Schmutzige (aka ‘the dirty one’) . The ingredients in this amazing cocktail include black pepper/mustard vodka with pickle, beet, and kraut juice all served up in the traditional martini glass rimmed with a slice of pickle. RUN don’t walk to Grunauer for your next cocktail.
- Kill Devil Club – 31 East 14th Street, KCMO: Kansas City’s adult playground for live, smooth music and one of the innovative & creative cocktail menu’s located in the heart of Kansas City, Missouri. In keeping with local tradition my favorite on the menu here is the Smoke on Smoke which features Ancient Age 10 YR Bourbon, Rothman & Winter Cherry, lemon, Wray & Nephew Flamed Rosemary, hickory smoked ice. *Pair this drink with their signature rum cake and say good-bye to your friends; you are on your way to Heaven.. :)))