Food Critics: The Best Cocktails And Happy Hours In Kansas City In 2019
In February, The Monarch Bar in Kansas City was nominated as a 2019 James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program. That same month, the cocktail bar and lounge received an award from Cheers Magazine's Beverage Excellence Awards for Most Innovative Beverage Program.
The Monarch Bar isn't the only place in Kansas City where bartenders are getting creative with alcohol. On KCUR's Central Standard, the show's food critics came prepared with their favorite cocktails and happy hours across Kansas City.
Mary Bloch, Around the Block
- SoT — Bartender’s Workshop. Put yourself in the bartender's hands let them create a drink based on your tastes. Tell them if you want bourbon, gin, sweet or bitter, spicy, smokey, fruity, etc., and they’ll make you something fun.
- Manifesto — Beautiful Red Bell comes with gin, bell pepper, lime and mint. I love that the menu here changes seasonally, just like a restaurant, to take advantage of whatever fruits and vegetables are fresh and to move from heavier to lighter depending on the time of year.
- Tom’s Town — Crossroads Cosmopolitan is made with Tom's Town Vodka, orange liqueur and cranberry.
- Gram & Dun — Ginger Rogers comes with Lifted Spirits Gin with mint, lime and ginger beer.
- Port Fonda — Prickly Pear Paloma. I like all of the ingredients in a traditional Paloma except for grapefruit, and this one uses prickly pear instead — along with blanco tequila, blackberry, cucumber, lime jarritos and citrus salt.
- Bluestem — Bloody Mary. It’s one of the best in town.
- XR Cafe — Matcha Rickey is made with Tito’s, matcha, cucumber, lime and soda. It’s a play on the traditional Gin Rickey and has a touch of bitterness because of the matcha.
Pete Dulin, food and beverage writer and author of KC Ale Trail
- Waldo Thai — Shisho Tasty complements the citrus, sage and lavender notes of Uncle Val’s botanical gin with a balanced array of citrusy yuzu, sweet honey and herbal minty shiso leaves, an aromatic relative of mint. I’m Not Sweet infuses Roku gin with kaffir lime leaves and rounds out the drink with Dolin vermouth blanc, Dolin vermouth dry and Regan’s orange bitters to heighten the citrus notes.
- The Restaurant at 1900 — East Bottom Down. Kansas City whiskey is enhanced with cocchi torino, nonino and pimento bitters. Cocchi torino is a rich, sweet Italian vermouth with layered herbal notes and aromatized spices that accentuate the sweet-bitter notes of nonino (an Italian distilled herbal spirit) and the cocktail’s whiskey base. Less adventurous palates will find a solid rendition of a Manhattan and Martini as well.
- Julep — The Windmill combines Champagne, Lillet Blanc, lemon and pomegranate seeds for a lively effervescent refresher. Garden & Gun fortifies Hendrick’s Gin with honey, lavender, lemon and Regan’s Orange Bitters for a sweet-citrusy sipper.
- La Bodega — Honey Rose Lemon Daiquiri is made with Cruzan light aged rum, Giffard black rose liqueur, honey syrup, lemon juice and rose petals. The Jamaica (Hibiscus) uses locally distilled Lifted Spirits Bright gin with house hibiscus grapefruit tonic, cardamom bitters, orange peel and dried hibiscus.
- Webster House — The Horsefeather is made with whiskey, Somerset Ridge Citron, ginger liqueur, candied beets, Fever Tree ginger beer, Peychaud’s and lemon oil.
- The Campground — Barman Christopher Ciesiel serves the first sips of his martini in a chilled cordial glass on a tray, with the rest of it on ice in a small glass carafe along with a series of accompaniments like olives, a lemon twist and salted potato chips. It is a classic martini made with a 3 to 1 ratio of vermouth to gin, and one of the classiest set-ups in town.
- Swordfish Tom’s — Tom Yum, a creation by owner Jill Cockson, was inspired by Thai Tom Yum soup and is made with coconut water, coconut milk and Mizu shochu, a Japanese beverage distilled from rice (it's weaker than vodka but stronger than sake). All of that is infused with chili pepper, lemongrass, basil and ginger. It is milky white, served in a coupe with a dried orange peel and a sprig of fresh basil on top. It will be hitting her spring menu any day now.
- The Monarch Bar — Kutta. Craft cocktail bar manager Brock Schulte and his talented team have rolled out a savory Japanese highball that features Suntory Whiskey Toki, curried tomato water, fizzy coconut water and charred pineapple. It's a perfect patio drink.
BEST HAPPY HOURS
Mary Bloch, Around the Block
- Extra Virgin, Monday to Friday, 4–6 p.m. — Starred items on the menu are half price. My favorite snacks include the Extra Virgin chips and Potatoes Bravas. You can also get hanger steak or poblano mac and cheese at a great price.
- Bluestem, Tuesday to Friday, 4–6 p.m. — Customers can get 9-ounce glasses of wine for the price of a 6-ounce glass. Bluestem also offers $3 beers and $6 cocktails, snacks such as pomme frites and bacon popcorn, and discounted shrimp and grits, cheese and charcuterie boards.
- Fox and Pearl, Tuesday to Friday, 5–6 p.m. — Besides discounted drinks, go for a beautiful cheese board or charcuterie.
- Brady’s Public House, daily, 3–6 p.m. — Curry spiced fries, loaded potato chips, flatbread, deviled eggs and crabcakes all work well with drink specials.
- Room 39, Monday to Friday, 5–6:30 p.m. — After closing their location at Mission Farms, the owners of Room 39 have started happy hour on 39th St. with some ambitious dishes: Foie gras torchon with black waffle, thai chicken meatballs, fettuccine bolognese, goat cheese gnocchi, Brussels sprouts with bacon, deviled eggs, French fries, calamari and $6 cocktails.
- Hogshead, daily, 3:03–6:06 p.m. — There's a good list of beers and an extensive small plates list. Favorites include the everything pretzel with hummus, beer mustard, and smoked cheddar-poblano cheese sauce; blistered shishito peppers; and thick-cut bacon with jalapeno pepper jelly.
- Afterword Tavern & Shelves, Wednesday to Friday, 3–6 p.m. and Sunday, all day — Have a $6 Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Sazerac, Moscow Mule or mimosa and curl up with a good book.
- Jax Fish House, Tuesday to Sunday, 3–6 p.m. and Monday, all night — Discounted oysters are among the plentiful food options, along with tuna nachos, gumbo, ceviche, mussels, fried calamari or even a wedge salad.
- Black Dirt, daily, 3–6 p.m. and 9 p.m. to close — Happy hour here means 20% off all bar snacks, cocktails, beer, and wine by the glass. Snacks include mushroom pate, the Black Dirt burger and the veggie burger, Asian drumsticks, grilled cheese and homemade tater tots.
- Blvd Tavern, Tuesday to Friday, 4–6 p.m. — Wines, beers, Moscow mules, gin and tonics, and sangria are $3, and there are great deals on poutine, fried cheese curds and French fries, among other snacks.
- Stockhill, daily, 3:30–6 p.m. — This place has a beautiful list of cocktails for $8 as well as oysters, sliders and triple-cooked fries.
- The Oliver, daily, 4–6:30 p.m. — Besides $5 cocktails, there are Hot Korean Sliders
(chicken, pickled vegetables, Napa cabbage, hot sauce, Kewpie mayo, sesame and sourdough buns) as well as queso and guacamole.
- Charisse, Monday to Friday, 4–6 p.m. — Lamb sliders, escargot, cheese bread, cheese board or grilled shrimp accompany the discounted drinks.
Pete Dulin, food and beverage writer and author of KC Ale Trail
- Julep, Monday to Friday, 3–6 p.m. — This place is classy but casual, with bites ranging from bacon-laced bar nuts to deviled eggs to charcuterie. Drinks include classic and updated juleps and Old Fashioned cocktails (see the above recommendations for The Windmill and Garden & Gun).
- Grünauer, daily, 3–6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close —Try the Stadttaube, which has mango habanero vodka and Stiegl Radler Grapefruit over ice with a Pimm’s blackberry/elderflower float and lime garnish. There are also traditional Austrian and German eaux de vie, liqueurs and spirits (classic after dinner drinks include apricot schnapps or Underberg, the German digestif). Bar food includes highly recommended Hungarian-style pulled pork sliders served on a pretzel bun, while the late night bar menu has Würstl, sausage with horseradish and mustard.
- Le Fou Frog, Tuesday to Friday, 4:30–6:30 p.m. —They have deals on champagne and Kir Royale, wines and aperitifs. Mussels steamed with white wine, mustard, bay leaf and cream is a sophisticated start, or opt for market price oysters; for simpler fare, there's pomme frites.
- La Bodega, daily, 2–6 p.m. —Sangria is half-price by the glass; perfect for spring and sweltering summer. They also have deals on select hot and chilled tapas.
- Westport Cafe and Bar, daily, 4–6 p.m. and 10 p.m.–12:45 a.m. —Food specials include hearty steak frites with Béarnaise sauce, Maitre D' Butter and pommes frites. Other options: grilled oysters, shrimp beignets, or savory lamb skewers. Creative drinks are the Charlie Sour (Earl Grey Infused Four Roses Bourbon, St. Germain, Orange Oleo Saccharum and lemon) or the bracing Supersonic Rocket Ship (Reposado tequila, cold brew coffee, tamarind, ancho chile, orange and bitters). Timeless cocktails include Pimm’s Cup, Old Fashioned and a Champagne cocktail with lemon zest.
- Trezo Mare, Monday to Friday, 3–6 p.m. and all night Mondays —Happy hour is only in the bar and on the patio, which is a good place to sip on a spicy Pepé Margarita. The bar menu is an uncommonly upscale selection of dishes like short rib sliders, fish tacos, braised duck sliders, fried calamari, and flatbread with arugula, ricotta and mushroom.
- Webster House, Wednesday to Saturday, 8 p.m. to close — From 8-10 p.m., the After Hours menu offers $8 potstickers, $16 charcuterie, $12 fried chicken sandwich, a $10 Black Garlic Burger and $8 poutine. From 10 p.m. to close, the Late Night menu is snacks only, like smoked trout dip with Ruby Trout, tarragon, duck fat, herb flatbread, pickled onion, caper honey, chips and dip, beef jerky and a seed bar.
- Waldo Thai, Tuesday to Sunday, 3–6 p.m. and Tuesday to Saturday, 9:30–11 p.m. — Chef Pam Liberda makes delicious happy hour food specials (soft veggie spring rolls or ones stuffed with pork and peanuts for $4, Thai chicken wings for $6, pineapple fried rice for $10 and chicken Pad Thai for $10) and barman Darrell Loo serves trippy cocktails. Craft cocktails like a Manhattan, Old Fashioned, Moscow mule and daiquiri are $6, wine is $7, beer and whiskey are 25% off.
- Third Street Social, daily, 3–6 p.m. — Choose from meatball sliders, mussels, Korean steak tacos, pork al pastor tacos, Creole barbecue shrimp, Rotel dip and a housemade pimiento cheese trio. Drinks on special include a rotating selection of draft and domestic bottles, well drinks, wine and cocktails.
- North Italia, Monday to Friday, 3–6 p.m. and all day Sunday — North Italia offers $5 glass and $16 bottle prices on a single red or white wine or sangria. Beers are $4 for glass and $16 for a pitcher. Happy hour food specials include their popular zucca chips for $3, bruschetta with prosciutto or just tomato for $5, pizza (the daily special or margherita) for $8 and the chef’s meat and cheese board for $10. A $20 bottle and board special allows you to select one pizza, bruschetta or chef’s board and a bottle of red or white wine.
- Rye, Monday to Friday, 3–6 p.m. — Bar snacks like barbecue-dusted pork rinds, deviled eggs and pickled vegetables are only $2. But, more importantly, pies go for $4 a slice at happy hour — right now they have coconut cream, strawberry rhubarb, key lime, banana cream and lemon meringue. They also have 8-ounce wine pours for $9, and a specialty seasonal cocktail for $8 along with other drink specials.
Celisa Calacal is an intern at KCUR 89.3. You can reach her at @celisa_mia.