The Spiritual Side
At Swordfish Tom's, Jill Cockson serves up some otherworldly cocktails.
Don’t worry: When Jill Cockson starts talking about Exorcism on Main Street, she’s not being creepy. She’s referring to a cocktail on the drink list at her new bar, Swordfish Tom’s, a speakeasy-style joint located in the Crossroads Arts District.
The Exorcism on Main Street is a spin on the classic Aviation martini. Cockson developed it in 2012, when she was still working at The Other Room in Lincoln, Nebraska. It’s still on the menu there, under a different name: the Mumbai Exorcism. With that drink, Cockson won Omaha’s Most Imaginative Bartender Competition hosted by Bombay Sapphire. She still has the award — you can view it behind the bar at Swordfish Tom’s, next to a bottle of Bombay Sapphire gin.
At Swordfish Tom’s, the Exorcism on Main Street replaces Bombay Sapphire with a local favorite, Corruption Gin from Tom’s Town Distillery, located on Main Street in downtown Kansas City. This is mixed with Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur, fresh-squeezed lemon juice and Cockson’s cubeb pepper-infused hibiscus syrup.
“Cubeb is one of the botanicals in Bombay Sapphire,” Cockson says, “and when I was originally researching the drink, I found that cubeb pepper is globally and historically associated with exorcism.”
Cockson produces a jar of dried cubeb peppers. They look like purple-tinged peppercorns. The scent — almost like a musky cologne — reminds me a bit of incense, which is one historical application of this curious agent. In the 17th century, Catholic priests used cubeb incense during exorcisms, much like the Chinese, who during the Tang Dynasty believed the herb could expel demons.
Cockson is careful not to let her hibiscus syrup take on too much cubeb, lest it start to taste a little too much like perfume. Green Chartreuse is the final touch, and it also carries a touch of mystique: the exact recipe, which dates from 1737 and contains 130 herbs and spices, is a tight-lipped secret kept by the Chartreuse monks who distill it. Cockson sprays Chartreuse on the inside of a coupe glass, lights it on fire and — in another exorcism reference — extinguishes it with the cocktail mixture.
You’ll feel quite fine sipping this spooky, purple-tinted cocktail as you sink into one of the antique armchairs at Swordfish Tom’s. The bar is a basement-level speakeasy with an alley entrance, and Cockson has been as particular about its decor as she has been about the drink list. It’s a low-lit, comfortable space with brick walls and chess sets. The whole vibe is more Diogenes Club than night club, and that’s just how Cockson wants to keep it.
“The space is mostly dedicated to people who are looking for an intimate night out,” Cockson says. “We have a very specific audience. Not everyone goes out to let loose and party — for some people, it’s about making a memory and having a quiet conversation. I don’t think every venue should be like this, but it’s what we’re trying to do.”
Legally, Cockson tells me, there is a 66-person capacity, but Swordfish Tom’s is only allowing 30 people in at a time (a green light outside the venue’s door will let guests know whether there is room for them; a red light lets them know they should try back later). When newcomers arrive, the concierge will hand them a card detailing the rules of entry: Cellphones are for texting only; inside voices are required; cash bar (there is an ATM inside).
This is all in the name of helping her guests make connections — with each other and, hopefully, with their bartender. Cockson’s drinks should help with that, too. Go ahead — get exorcised!
210 W. 19th Terrace, Kansas City, Mo. For more information, check Swordfish Tom’s Facebook page.
• Tom’s Town Corruption Gin (1 1/2 ounces) — Made in downtown Kansas City at Tom’s Town Distillery, this Western-style gin is botanical-forward without the traditional juniper or pine notes.
• Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur (1/4 ounce) — Ever wondered what purple tastes like? This is it! A newer version of creme de violette, this funky purple liqueur boasts a concentrated violet flavor.
• Cubeb pepper-infused hibiscus syrup (3/4 ounce) — Cockson makes this syrup herself by rehydrating dried hibiscus flowers and concentrating them with water and sugar, then adding crushed cubeb peppers. For a quicker fix, you can buy candied hibiscus flowers and use the syrup from the preserves.
• Fresh lemon juice (1 ounce) — Balance is the mark of any good cocktail, and lemon juice is just the thing to give the Exorcism on Main Street a hit of acidity to offset the sweetness. Combine all these ingredients in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake, shake, shake!
• Green Chartreuse (1/4 ounce) — Cockson keeps Green Chartreuse in a tiny spray bottle, which she spritzes onto a coupe glass and lights on fire before straining her cocktail mixture on top.
• Candied hibiscus flower — A touch of elegance is the final embellishment on this haunting libation.