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Libations for Kansas City

Sheryl Kuhn

November 17, 2011

by Sheryl Kuhn

“I’m not much of a jabberer,” says Arturo Vera-Felicie, bartender at The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange. Perhaps he doesn’t want to talk over the cocktails. His original Chambeli Cocktail had the nation abuzz when it won the 2010 Gran Gala Shakedown. As for how he stands out among his fellow top five nominees: “I have the thickest glasses out of all of them,” he says.

Downstairs at Manifesto, Beau Williams is dancing on a fine line. “I’m easygoing, lighthearted and bordering on, at times, inappropriate,” he says. “We take cocktails very seriously, but we don’t take ourselves very seriously.” When asked about his mint julep recipe, he responded with delightfully long-winded recipe instructions, which include “beating the living hell out of the ice until it’s like the driven snow,” and shoving a lot of things into a “silver tankard.”

Fellow Manifesto bartender Ryan Maybee brings a different approach to classic mixology, which is how he invented smoked whiskey. Using a hose to thread a handheld food smoker into a bottle of whiskey, Maybee infuses the liquor with the smoky flavor. “The cool thing is that it’s not just for one drink,” he says. The versatile invention earned him a profile in a cocktail recipe book.

Over at Tavern in the Village, bartender David Smuckler would love to surprise you. “I like making a drink that someone wouldn’t think they’d like,” he says. The Rosemary Monk cocktail is one go-to recipe for those who are wary of gin. Made with green chartreuse, strawberries and rosemary, the drink is a hit with many customers, and that’s whom Smuckler really cares about. “The drinks come second; the guests come first,” he says.

It’s unclear whether Bluestem bartender Van Zarr is happier making cocktails or playing third wheel. “I don’t specialize in anything except making sure everyone’s experience is comfortable,” he says. “I spend just as much time [bartending] as I do making sure that Sally meets Joe if they’re sitting next to each other and have never met.”

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