P.S. — There's More
Hotel Phillips' speakeasy concept offers mystery and allure.
Many years ago, I went on a date with a New York woman who was in tune to the downtown social scene. We went to fun places together, but the most fun I remember was going on an early date to a proto-speakeasy. It was a small nameless bar in a warehouse district hidden behind a simple, unmarked metal door. From the outside, it looked like the grimy backdoor to a company that was closed for the evening.
Inside, however, there was a beautiful, dimly lit bar, with expensive fixtures and luxurious booths. This was before the cocktail revolution of the 21st century, so the drinks were pretty simple, but there was an undeniable allure to being in on the secret.
Fast forward a few years, and the craft cocktail explosion has taken the country by storm. Manifesto has proven that a modern speakeasy-style concept can not only succeed, but flourish in Kansas City. Now, if you know where to look downtown, there’s a new and worthy addition to the cocktail scene.
P.S. Speakeasy opened in the basement of the Hotel Phillips, 106 W. 12th St., earlier this year. It is part of a $20 million renovation by the new ownership group, Chicago-based Arbor Lodging Partners.
I made a solo reservation for Friday night (recommended, but not necessary) at the bar. The entry is an unmarked door near the front desk, and the hostess led me down a well-lit wooden flight of stairs to the bar area. It’s a beautiful room. The bar area has stools and a few small tables. There’s a larger room off the bar area, with couches and large tables for bigger groups, and cozy-looking booths line one of the walls.
When I arrived around 8 p.m., the place was busy without being slammed, and it continued to get busier, which was good to see. It doesn’t seem that long ago that downtown was deserted after 5:30 p.m.
Lead bartender Mark Escobar was efficiently making drinks and conversation with his guests, one of which included a debate over Roman history.
“Republic or Empire?”
While the playful historic debate raged a few seats down, I examined my choices. The cocktail menu offers a half-dozen classics and a dozen house cocktails. Escobar told me they rotate the house menu to keep with the seasons, with the summer menu due any day.
My first two drinks were from the house cocktail list, including a taste of one of the new seasonal concoctions.
The first, the Country Pryde, featured Jameson, Nux Alpina walnut liqueur, Giffard banana liqueur and a dash of Decanter Bitters. I liked this one. The citrus notes jumped out, along with a toasty, nutty aroma. The sweetness of the Irish whiskey made this a dense, deep cocktail. It’s a strong, modern update of the kind of cocktail you might find in 1931, when the hotel originally opened.
The other drink, called Papa Don’t Preach, was a blend of butter-washed (a process of infusing a liquor with the flavors of a fat) Plantation Rum, and Benedectine liqueur with a little blueberry and finished with poppy seeds. This was remarkably well-balanced, showing gorgeous fruit in the middle and then the buttery rum kicks in on the finish. The attention to detail shows in little things like the poppy seeds, which give the drink an extra dimension to its aromas.
Talking to Escobar and the rest of the bar team revealed people who like to think about flavors. We began talking about sherry, and how I sometimes felt it was a good wine, but a great cocktail ingredient. There were two sherry-based cocktails on the list, and soon I had samples of each in front of me.
The first one was a high-end play on the appletini — named, appropriately enough — Not Your Granny’s Appletini. The base spirit is Granny Smith apple-infused Barbadillo sherry. The fruit notes play well off the quirky, tangy, bruised apple notes of the sherry. A bit of Big O Ginger Liqueur and Boulard Calvados give the spice and some additional apple notes.
It’s the second cocktail that is the star, though. The Traveling Spaniard is a winner. The base is a sweet, oxidative PX sherry from Barbadillo, with Rieger whiskey, lemon, egg white and Burlesque Bitters again. This is a complex and well-balanced drink — the subtle sherry note in the Rieger whiskey and the bright lemon notes play well with the PX sherry, and the egg white adds a creamy, almost malty flavor that makes this a three-dimensional, mouth-filling, sensual cocktail.
P.S. has a fun vibe. Escobar tells me the clientele is a mix of hotel guests and KC locals, and they have been pleased to see a lot of the latter. I saw a few people I know in various corners of the bar, so I believe him.
After a few tasting-sized cocktails, I request something top-notch to end my experience. Escobar asked how I felt about gin (I’m a fan) and mixed me another cocktail from the classic side. The Clover Club was a lovely high note.
“Fords Gin is the base,” Escobar says. “It’s a bartender gin.”
The drink itself is a testament to what a few well-balanced ingredients can do. Fords Gin is complex and subtle, and the added lemon and raspberry give the drink a lovely tartness. There are egg whites again — they might be my favorite secret weapon for texture and subtle flavor — and the way the drink settles the first hit is a layer of creamy egg white on top, and that’s like cracking a shell to the sweet, tangy fruit underneath.
Some places just feel inviting, even if they are a little secret. P.S. has a nice, understated glow. It’s worth finding your way downstairs. Just be sure to ask the front desk for Boss Tom.
106 W. 12th St., Kansas City, Mo., (816) 309-0887, hotelphillips.com