Where to Drink in Kansas City, One of America's Most Exciting Cocktail Destinations

This unassuming Missouri stalwart has been a drinking town for centuries, so it only makes sense that it has finally come back to claim its former top-shelf glory.


New York City, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago, and … Kansas City? Yes, this unassuming Missouri stalwart is well on its way to becoming a veritable superstar in the world of cocktails thanks to a growing crop of world-class drinking dens manned by some of the brightest barkeeps in the country.

As it turns out, KC has been a drinking town for centuries, famously thwarting Prohibition in favor of mobster-run gin joints, their doors flung wide open with defiant aplomb. So it only makes sense that this scrappy town has finally come back to claim its former top-shelf glory.

If you're looking for a quick, easy, and yes, downright cheap, drink-cation this summer, it's time to book your tickets and ready your palates — here are the best bars in Kansas City.

The Parker

At this Country Club Plaza-area rooftop oasis atop The Fontaine Hotel, chef Ryan Spruhan's locally sourced sharing plates back an ambitious craft cocktail program. Beneath the fresh, contemporary dining area — greys and creams, polished wood tables, mosaic tile floors, globe pendant lights, wine racks aplenty, and a glass-encased fireplace — lies a sleek sunken lounge marked by a curved slate grey bar, soaring ceilings, and lots of happy Kansas Citians. Potent elixirs like the warming, butterscotch-scented Brown Butter (brown butter washed Four Roses, Demerara, aromatic bitters) and the earthy How High the Moon (mezcal, Pasubio Aperol, celery bitters, Maldon salt) set the tone against sweeping cityscape views. The best part? The bar opens up onto an open-air terrace with fire pits, patio loungers, and a gorgeous rectangular pool gleaming in all its early summer glory.

Swordfish Tom's

Courtesy of Swordfish

To find this Crossroads hideaway, head through an alley, down some stairs, and into a waiting area lit by a glowing industrial-style lamp. If the light's green, a knock on the door gets you into what was once a boiler room — a hulking iron boiler sunk into the front room gives it away — and then to a dimly lit space akin to a turn-of-the-century parlor. At its center is a small sectioned-off bar where proud proprietor Jill Cockson holds court.

The Nebraska native spent most of her 20-odd year career at Lincoln's lauded The Other Room, a role which got her a James Beard Award semifinalist nod in 2015. But KC eventually beckoned. "I knew I wouldn't ever get majority ownership in Lincoln, so when this opportunity came up, I jumped at it," said Cockson. "I went to college here, so I knew the scene and everything going on here. It was exciting and it didn't break the bank. As they say, if you can't make it here, you can't make it anywhere."

Swordfish Tom's is a speakeasy fan's speakeasy. Cell phones are restricted, conversations are kept at a low murmur, a Moleskine logs the tabs ("the original POS system") and the pre-Prohibition-style menu runs deep. Tasty numbers like the KC Royal Tea (local gin, yellow chartreuse, housemade honey-bergamot syrup) and the Kansas City (local whiskey, two types of sherry, Angostura, flamed orange twist) smack of hometown pride while the cheeky anecdotes accompanying each item as well as the hand-cut ice ⁠— hefty, crystal clear cubes bearing the bar's logo (Cockson's metalworker fiance made the embossing rod) ⁠— provide personality. God is definitely in the details here.

Lifted Spirits

Housed in a 19th-century horse stable, this cheery distillery and tasting room has been keeping the good hipsters of the Crossroads district happy with housemade gin, vodka, and Kansas City's first-ever native-born absinthe for just over a year now. Lifted Spirits' vapor-distilled gin is bright, approachable, and particularly cocktail-friendly, which is a good thing, considering their sun-drenched tasting room — with its reclaimed wood fixtures, retractable garage-style front wall, and view of the distillery — doubles as the neighborhood's go-to for an afternoon nip. Try an aptly titled CrossroadsSour, which marries gin with blackberry, lime, Cointreau, orange bitters, and Angostura in a summery liquid embrace. It's just as sweet, fun, and charmingly offbeat as the 'hood itself.

Julep & Soft Conspiracy

With its glossy dark wood, sliding library ladders, Art Deco-style cut-mirror chandeliers, comfortable seating, and sports on the projector, Julep hovers somewhere between a sophisticated whiskey den and a relaxed neighborhood pub — albeit one that stocks a ridiculous amount of Pappy Van Winkle among other boozy rarities. The staff is as friendly as they are talented, adroitly stirring and shaking their way through the comprehensive bar menu. Highlights include anything whiskey, like the many old-fashioned and mint julep variations (go with the Frosty, a sweet, earthy mix of root beer-infused bourbon, sugar, and mint) in addition to the Bible-thick bottle list. Other spirits get their due in the form of the tiki-inspired A Toast for Jost (aged rum, chai-spiced coconut cream, pineapple, orange, Angostura, nutmeg) and the light, aromatic Garden & Gun (gin, honey, lavender, lemon, orange bitters). As for snacks, the playful Southern comforts steal the show. Go ahead and pair your Pappy with a suped-up bologna and cheese sandwich (artisan bologna, housemade pimento cheese, sharp cheddar, house barbecue) for the ultimate high brow-low brow experience. If you're looking for something a bit more exclusive, inquire about Soft Conspiracy, a swanky lounge hidden behind a door near the bar, for tableside cocktail service and upscale small plates.

Tom's Town Distilling Company

Tom's Town
Courtesy of Tom's Town

From its dazzling Art Deco tasting room (think: tufted leather, pressed tin, a handmade walnut bar) to its top-of-the-line production area, basement barrel room, and airy loft-style event space, this destination-worthy Crossroads distillery pays homage to KC's scandalous past. The Tom in Tom's Town is none other than Tom Pendergast, the famously corrupt political boss who kept the city adamantly wet all through Prohibition, cementing the newly minted Paris of Plains' long-lasting love local affair with the devil's drink.

"I love being a part of the Kansas City cocktail scene, it's a part of my DNA," said co-owner David Epstein, a KC native who took a leap and left his adopted New York City to open the distillerct, I think every Kansas Citian has a bit of bootlegger in their ancestry. That's who we were and that's who we'll always be."

Booze might not be illegal any longer but that's no reason not to savor every sip. First, tour the distillery and taste your way through the portfolio's award-winning vodka, American-style gin, bourbon, and whatever else they've got cooking as a part of their one-off Pendergast Machine experimental series. Then hit the bar for a revitalizing Shoot the Messenger (vodka, local cold brew coffee, stout syrup) or the fiery Angry Goat (bourbon, Lillet Rose, strawberry habanero syrup, lime). Bar bites like fried sriracha pickled green beans and a juicy bacon-cheddar burger smothered in bourbon-spiked ketchup should keep you going.


"We're a young enough scene that you can't get away with poor quality," said SoT general manager Taylor Johnson, who, along with the rest of this gem's crew, assuredly live up to her word. Dubbed as a "secret garden party-themed haven," this Crossroads bar combines a Pinterest-worthy aesthetic complete with quirky glassware, teal leather banquettes, custom-patterned wallpaper, and a large backyard strewn with greenery, with a cocktail program fit to roll with the best of them. Of note are the bar's exceptional command of offbeat ingredients like the vegetal kiss of pea shoot in smoky mezcal- and green chili-based Back in the Tall Grass and the Spring Fling's tangy dose of strawberry Campari jam, adding oomph to the floral lavender- and jasmine-smoked gin. To pair, the snack list is brief but delicious.

The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge

The Monarch Bar

You know those people who were born to do what they do? The ones that have turned something they not only love but seemingly effortlessly excel at into a full-time job? Monarch head bartender Brock Schulte fits that bill to a T. Be they thoughtful Negroni twists like the Dufftown Monarchy (The Balvenie 15-year Sherry Cask scotch, Aperitivo Rinomato, Amontillado sherry, rich sweet vermouth) or coupes brimming with the tropical martini-inspired Chestnut Tiger (gin, kiwi, black sesame, mirin, yuzu ponzu), his diverse panoply of creations is worth a plane ticket to KC alone.

Schulte's masterful libations mirror the interior's tasteful ambiance. A glimmering swarm of 1,000 acrylic butterflies floats over the central marble-topped bar, surrounded by loungy velvet and leather seating and large-scale modern art, all cloaked in a white and slate grey palate. Stashed in the back is a handsome reservable VIP room stocked with a coveted array of high-end spirits for a more intimate escape. It's upscale for sure, but that's not to say it's stuffy. This is Kansas City, after all.

"The Monarch is a special place because it's somehow sophisticated and high-end but also really laid back and easygoing," said owner and seasoned architect David Manica. "It's everything I wanted it to be: a highly social and elegant atmosphere where everybody can meet to have great drinks and a lot of fun without pretense. Honestly, I've never been anywhere like it before."

Ça Va

At once poised and laid back, this Westport Champagne bar is a welcome respite in a section of town with a bit of a rowdy, late-night reputation. Inside, what seems like hundreds of candles illuminate the narrow space where a long marble-topped bar set against crisp white subway tile contrasts with heavy drapes, a line of bistro tables, and gilded mirrors hung above a small upright piano. A serene brick-laden side patio completes the romantic Parisian vibes. One step in and the description written on the Ça Va's website rings true: "We've got French flair and a Midwestern heart, and we're bringing Champagne to the people."

If you're in the mood for bubbly, you've arrived. The hand-picked selection spans Euro favorites and obscure Missouri sparklers alike. But we're here to talk cocktails, so focus on the seasonally inspired lineup of inventive, largely aperitif-driven concoctions like the refreshing Avalon Springs and the Bull (Pimms, Lillet Blanc, ginger, lemon, mint, sparkling wine) and the Dapper Slipper, a twist on the Glass Sipper featuring local J. Rieger & Co. whiskey, Génépy des Alpes, and red vermouth. Of course, the usual Champagne-spiked suspects like French 75s and Aperol spritzes are also on hand, each pairing perfectly with any one of the decadent snacks on offer. Caviar service, anyone?

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