The 5th Annual Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition
By Francine Cohen

Kansas City on the radar again this week. Suddenly we’re noticing something magical happening in this Midwestern town from killer restaurants ( to a burgeoning cocktail festival that, on August 21st, marks its fifth year; behold, the 5th Annual Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition.

Set in the heartland where cattle is as important as cocktails, a whole new drinks fest is on the rise. Though the name belies a single event, don’t be fooled. This is not just some one night wonder competition that’s here and gone. The 5th Annual Greater Kansas City Bartending Competition is a week-long celebration of a lovingly crafted drinks culture that keeps pace with the rest of the country.

Ryan Maybee, the bartender/restaurateur behind Manifesto ( and festival co-founder, shares a bit about his brainchild for his hometown that next year will bear the name Paris of the Plains Cocktail Fest in honor of the nickname bestowed upon Kansas City during the Jazz Age by journalist Edward Morrow. He notes, “We’re branding it next year to indicate that it’s a festival and not just a competition. We think it’s great for Kansas City and for the industry. This year the competition itself will happen Sunday, August 21st; it starts at 7:00 p.m. and goes until 10:00 and throughout the evening food will be served and we’ve got live music and burlesque. But the week of that event – starting the prior Monday – there are going to be cocktail parties and tastings going on all around town. It will actually culminate with the competition.”

The competition features 13 contestants from Kansas City, and nearby cities such as Nashville and St. Louis, all of whom will put their drinks to the test of King Cocktail’s palate. Yes indeed, Dale Degroff goes to Kansas City this weekend to sip in judgment.

Festival co-founder and Beverage Alcohol Resource partner ( Doug Frost comments on what Dale will find in front of him as he says, “Most of the competitions out there are cocktail competitions that allow creative bartenders to deliver clever cocktails to the marketing departments of established or new brands. That’s great; it lets talented mixologists show off their ideas in a public forum. But the idea behind this competition was never about promoting certain brands (though we greatly appreciate William Grant’s crucial support) but about testing bartenders for their knowledge, their skills, their understanding of the greater scope of the profession, far beyond the crafting of one recipe. For us, it’s not about the elevation of one recipe; it’s about bringing attention to the wonderful professionals we believe are at work in our region. This competition has always been about letting people in our area know about these fantastic mixologists.”

The word is about to get out to Kansas City residents and more. Maybee notes, “In the beginning this came together mainly because Doug and I were always geeking out over spirits and I was traveling to New York City a lot and going to Pegu ( and Milk & Honey ( and there wasn’t a culture like that in Kansas City that people knew about. We wanted to identify which bartenders were excited about the craft cocktail movement and generate some some buzz and build a community.”

He continues, “We want to establish Kansas City as a major player in craft cocktails. Inviting other people in from other parts of the country to compete and see what we’re doing here is a great way to do that.”

This festival is good not only for the craft cocktail movement, but for the city in general. In true good spirited fashion there will be a local non-profit organization which benefits from some of the proceeds of this event. Maybee concludes, “This year we are partnered with Kansas City public television – the local PBS affiliate. I’m a big fan of PBS and public television; they’ve got a strong presence here in the community. All these things celebrate what we do; they build the reputation of bars and bartenders and build commerce and travel into the community. It’s a great thing.”

So, maybe you’re not busy these next few days and can hop a plane to Kansas City to see, firsthand, what all the buzz is about; or maybe you’ll just read about it here and wish you’d gotten on that plane. If that’s the case, you’re really missing out. But, good news…there’s always next year.

Here are the nitty gritty details:

Tony Beyer, Benton’s Prime Chop House, Kansas City
Jennifer Tosatto, Manifesto/The Rieger, Kansas City
Valdez Campos, Manifesto/The Rieger, Kansas City
Shannon Ponche, Taste, St. Louis
Jon Yeager, Watanabe Asian Cuisine, Nashville
Paige Unger, M&S Grill, Kansas City
Matt Seiter, Sanctuaria, St. Louis
Berto Santoro, Extra Virgin, Kansas City
Chad George, Demun Oyster Bar, St. Louis
Matthew Herman, Trezo Vino, Leawood, KS
Travis Stewart, Chaz on The Plaza, Kansas City
Justin Richardson, The American, Kansas City
Jason Kimbrell, Tannin Wine Bar, Kansas City

Presenting Sponsor is William Grant & Sons (, and their brands include Hendrick’s Gin (, Milagro Tequila (, Solerno Liqueur ( and Stolichnaya Vodka (, among others.

When and Where: Sunday, August 21st at the Uptown Theater ( 7pm
Tickets: $15
Who: The regions’ top 13 Bartenders and Mixologists, Live Music, sample booths, DJ, KC’s Best Restaurants
Prizes: $1000 for First Place, $500 Second, $250 Third.