Food & Drink

Spirited Sips

Craft cocktail outlets The W and The Campground crop up as the desire for the drinks becomes unquenchable.

Story by Lauren Rutherford

Lee Summit’s newest best-kept secret opened quietly in a former massage parlor just a few weeks ago. But since then, keeping the speakeasy on the hush-hush hasn’t been easy.

Housed in a transformed upstairs space at 6 1/2 SW. 3rd St in the suburb’s downtown, The W is a craft cocktail bar with speakeasy swag. Its mysterious name stands for wraith, which means spirits in Gaelic.

A past farmers’ market cocktail at The W. Photo via The W’s Facebook page.

The bar’s owners bought the space and started the renovations two years ago. What once was a small business is now an intimate and inviting space filled with low leather chairs, brick archways and a fully stocked bar.

Mike Strohm, the joint’s sole crafter of cocktails and a bartender for 20 years, says Lee’s Summit doesn’t have anything like The W. As a former bartender in Westport, Strohm says many would drive to the historic district for a handcrafted drink.

“Why not do something here and give our guests what they want?” he says.

If you happened to miss it, craft cocktails have become a big deal in KC, spurred by spots like Manifesto and Julep. Strohm attributes the drinks’ popularity to the trend in farm-to-table eats and customer desire to know exactly where their food comes from. Craft cocktails cater to that ideal directly: Oftentimes your bartender is making the labor-intensive drink in front of you.

“They don’t want to see me pull out a neon green bottle of sweet and sour. They want to see me squeeze those lemons and limes,” Strohm says. “People want to have excitement now. They want to see their bartenders taking their time and making beauty in a glass.”

Chris Ciesel, owner of The Campground, a small backyard cocktail outlet, agrees.

“In the six years I’ve been here, there has been a huge upturn,” he says. “Day one to now has been a drastic change in mindset. People want to see something made start to finish. In a restaurant, there’s a wall between kitchen and the rest of the restaurant. At a bar we get to interact and laugh with customers. There aren’t any smoke and mirrors”

About four-and-a-half years ago, Ciesel built a tiny clubhouse in his backyard for he and his wife. They invited some friends over from drinks, and it snowballed—growing into a healthy craft community that’s using Kickstarter to open a brick-and-mortar bar. Ciesel says the cocktail crowd often arrives with an open mind. And the crowd is quite diverse.

The Campground’s Chris Ciesiel and Cristin Llewellyn. Photo by Zach Bauman.

Strohm notes young people aren’t the only ones with the craft cocktail bug—he’s seen people ages 21 to 70 in The W for a drink and finding themselves pleasantly suprised. Often customers come in saying they only drink wine but come out loving a cocktail—because of this, Strohm says the bar has barely sold any wine.

When it comes to the menu, The W focuses on locally sourced and grown. Strohm utilizes as many local spirits as possible. He even grows the herbs he uses in the drinks and sources fruits and veggies from the local farmer’s market.

“I do a weekly farmer’s market cocktail that’s been very popular,” he says. “I go down to the farmer’s market here in town on Wednesdays. So I have to create that brand new cocktail on the spot. I see what they have available and I go from there.”

Eventually, he hopes to install beehives on the building’s roof for homegrown honey and has plans to put raised beds on site for the fresh produce. It’s urban gardening with an alcoholic twist.

As for getting your craft cocktail fix The W, you’ll have to text 816-287-0000 first. The bar is reservation only in order to control crowds in its small space.