Political boss and bootlegger Tom Pendergast’s influence (and staunch refusal to play by the rules of prohibition) helped make Kansas City the Paris of the Plains. Now nearly a century after KC became known as Tom’s Town, his name is still closely associated with the local drinking scene—only this time, it’s on the up and up.
Tom’s Town Distilling Co. (1701 Main St), founded by Steve Revare, whose great-uncle sent Pendergast to prison for tax evasion, and David Epstein, the grandson of a rival bootlegger, injects swagger back into the city’s boozy tradition. They have reason to be confident. Tom’s Town’s impressive lineup of spirits includes the floral, citrusy Botanical Gin, which won a coveted gold medal at the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America conference in 2018, and the pure, smooth Double Grain Vodka, which has racked up enough awards to earn the nickname “America’s Gold Medal Vodka.”
Although the distillery’s spirits are now available in 12 states, not to mention bars and restaurants throughout the metro, guests make their way to the Tom’s Town restaurant and tasting room for the most authentic drinking experience. The Crossroads spot leans into its historical inspiration with Art Deco flourishes—Daisy Buchanan would fit right in, resting against one of the lush, olive-green wraparound booths with her drink sitting on a white marble-topped table.
There are also plenty of stylish nods to its namesake. One of Pendergast’s most iconic quotes, “The people are thirsty,” is painted on the side of the building, a beacon to parched Kansas Citians and visitors alike. (The ever-stylish Fab Five from Queer Eye celebrated wrapping filming on the third season of the hit show at the bar in November).
Tom’s Town makes for an especially appealing stop during happy hour, offered 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Thursday, which offers a perfect opportunity to sample the tasting room’s take on the classic aviation cocktail, or walk on the wild side and sip the Devil’s Brew—serrano-infused vodka with sugar, lime, and beer.
A solid selection of dishes is also served, with items ranging from fried Sriracha-pickled green beans with a spiced bourbon honey to short ribs with smashed potatoes. And of course Pendergast gets a few shout-outs, including the Boss Tom Burger, served with a special “boss sauce,” bourbon mustard, shallot, and arugula on an onion bun.
The local legend also pops up on the cocktail list. For the Tom Pendergast, created for the Tom’s Town winter menu, bar manager JT Koenig-Riley took inspiration from the classic Blood and Sand cocktail, substituting Tom’s Town’s Royal Gold Bourbon for scotch and introducing an agave-based smoked cinnamon syrup.
“The syrup is flavored with some warm spices,” explains Koenig-Riley. “I am lucky enough to work closely beside our head distiller, Brian Harper, who happens to be an accomplished smoker and barbecue chef. The drink came full circle when he gave me smoked cinnamon sticks, used to mimic the peat of scotch, and by extension the real inspiration for creating the Tom Pendergast.”
- 1 ounce Pendergast’s Royal Gold bourbon
- ¾ ounce lemon juice
- ¾ ounce Punt e Mes (sweet vermouth)
- ¾ ounce smoked cinnamon agave syrup (2:1 agave to water)*
Garnish with cinnamon stick.
*Smoked Cinnamon Agave Syrup
- 1 quart water
- 10 smoked cinnamon sticks (smoke over wood chips and charcoal on a Weber grill or just use plain cinnamon sticks)
- 3–4 allspice berries (whole)
- 2–3 cloves
Bring to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes.