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Food recs: Kansas City’s best bars and restaurants for cocktails

A yellow cocktail sits on a wood table
Drastic Measures
Drastic Measures
Drastic Measures in Shawnee was one of five bars in the country to be named a James Beard Award finalist this year for Outstanding Bar.

The garnishes in these mixed drinks are bigger, and the flavors are bolder — they might even be 'fat-washed' or clarified with Hidden Valley Ranch. Whether they include alcohol or are making mocktails, bars and bartenders are becoming more creative than ever.

What makes a cocktail amazing is up for debate, but one thing’s for certain: The experience is paramount.

“I want my bar to feel like your friend's basement or your friend's house because, at the end of the day, that's what we're doing; we're throwing a house party every night,” Jay Sanders, co-owner of Drastic Measures, tells KCUR.

Sanders should know. His cocktail bar in Shawnee, Kansas, was a 2023 finalist in the James Beard Award category for Outstanding Bar.

Tyler Shane, food editor and critic for Kansas City Magazine, says she’s excited by how experimental and playful cocktails have become.

“You know, crazy ingredients that make you think: ‘How am I going to enjoy that?’” she said. “And they just somehow make it work.”

Local restaurant Barbacoa, for instance, serves a cocktail with tequila that’s fat-washed with smoked pork confit.

For IN Kansas City Magazine food columnist Jenny Vergara, “this is the season to drink an ice-cold frozen drink."

Shane, Vergara, and writer Natalie Torres Gallagher joined KCUR’s Up To Date Friday to share their recommendations for the most interesting — and tasty — cocktails in town.

Natalie Torres Gallagher, Kansas City Magazine and Missouri Life:

  • The Primrose – Theatrical Gentleman. I’m not normally a Scotch drinker, but this cocktail with Scotch, walnut liqueur, and an amaro-vermouth blend was enough to make me reconsider.
  • The Savoy at 21c – mocktails. There’s a nonalcoholic banana daiquiri with a banana aperitif made in-house, and hibiscus tepache (a fermented beverage similar to kombucha), plus a lovely Phony Negroni.
  • The Monarch Bar, with its bible of next-level cocktails, is a special occasion kind of place. Ingredients are elaborate and each drink is meant to be an experience, something savored slowly while you pay homage to the cocktail gods.
  • Swordfish Tom’s is a perennial favorite. What I love best about this place is you can walk up to the bar and have a conversation with the bartender, and they’ll create something on the spot based on what you’re feeling.
  • Second Best Coffee – Grin & Tonic. It’s not actually a cocktail but, for anyone looking for a different kind of vice, swap the booze for caffeine with an espresso tonic. Second Best’s has espresso, tonic and their housemade blueberry juniper syrup.
  • Bacaro Primo's Aperol spritz is the standby, but go for one of their creative alternatives: the sgroppino, which is a spritz made with vodka and lemon sorbet, then topped with prosecco.
  • Harry’s Bar and Tables – martinis. All things -tini are trending upward right now, and Harry’s has a full list of them, including a chocolate martini and a flirtini with a chambord float.

Jenny Vergara, IN Kansas City Magazine:

  • Mean Mule Distilling Co.’s tasting room always has a selection of curiously creative cocktails. The Ranch Wrangler is refreshing and made with Mean Mule Gold agave, dill, cucumber, citrus and clarified with Hidden Valley Ranch. (Yes, you read that right.)
  • Tribe Street Kitchen – "Frankie" Espresso Martini. This martini has Ketel One vodka, Mr. Black cold brew liqueur, cold brew concentrate and demerara sugar. Add shaved chocolate for an extra buck.
  • Percheron at the Crossroads Hotel’s pretty rooftop pairs well with a frozen drink in your hand, and they usually have two on tap. The Cafe Colada is a frozen drink with silver agave, pineapple, coconut and coffee liqueur.
  • Chingu’s menu includes Soju, a distilled spirit from Korea. I recommend the Don't Call Me, made with local Lifted Spirits Bold Gin, prosecco, plum soju, lemon juice, hibiscus, lavender and club soda.
  • Cheval on Main is owned by Heather White and has a Cold Brewed Espresso Martini made with vanilla vodka, Mr. Black's cold brew liqueur and cold brewed espresso that is quite good.
  • Bronson’s Milk Punch comes in Original Recipe and Tropical, and was created by local bartender-turned-businessman Bronson Kistler, who first made his recipe at Westport Cafe. Now he bottles and sells them at a liquor store near you.
  • Earl’s Premier is a little seafood shack near Brookside that introduced the city to gin & tonics in frozen form. It’s a must-do when dining in.

Tyler Shane, Kansas City Magazine:

  • King G is one of my favorite cocktail lounges, partly because you can order their amazing sandwiches until 11 p.m. The relaxed environment goes great with some of the best cocktails in the city. Their daiquiri is a simple blend of rum, pineapple, and lime, but it’s perfectly sour and delicious.
  • Enzo – limoncello slushie. Forget the wine, this drink is amazing for the summertime. The owners, Laura and Grant Norris, make their own mix and it’s a secret recipe. My last server said they won’t even tell him what’s in them.
  • Drastic Measures is dimly lit and kind of swanky, but a lowkey environment means you don’t have to dress up. The Drastic team has a knack for impeccable cocktails, like the Kill Bill, with tequila, pressed ginger, Thai chile, lemon and salt.
  • The Campground – Jungle Lounge. Their rye whiskey is infused with yellow mustard seed and includes garam masala and tamarind simple syrups, lemon, pineapple, amaro and a splash of bitters. It’s a drink that’s meant for the patio, and tastes just like punch.
  • Harry’s Country Club has a regular cocktail menu, but for this weather I love their “beer-tails.” Blue Moons, Radlers, or Coors Lights get mixed with vodkas, lemonades and other refreshing flavors. Get a pitcher (and a designated driver)!
  • Hey! Hey! Club is a cool underground spot at the J. Rieger distillery. This place has turned me on to quality mocktails like the fizzy Troubadour, with coconut water, lemongrass, turmeric, coriander, cinnamon and lime.
  • Barbacoa – Savory Summer. This cocktail is tequila fat-washed with smoked pork confit, then mixed with salted tomato syrup and yuzu. Fear not — it’s refreshing and surprisingly well-rounded!

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As a host and contributor at KCUR, I seek to create a more informed citizenry and richer community. I want to enlighten and inspire our audience by delivering the information they need with accuracy and urgency, clarifying what’s complicated and teasing out the complexities of what seems simple. I work to craft conversations that reveal realities in our midst and model civil discourse in a divided world. Follow me on Twitter @ptsbrian or email me at brian@kcur.org.
As a producer for Up To Date, I create sound-rich talk show segments about the individuals and communities that call Kansas City home. Whether it’s a poet, a business owner or a local lawmaker, I seek out diverse voices to help break down the biggest stories of the day. After listening to the show, I want Up To Date listeners to feel informed and empowered to make decisions in their daily lives. You can reach me at claudiab@kcur.org
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