The W brings the speakeasy to Lee’s Summit

Bartender Mike Strohm and his scratch bar.

Bartender Mike Strohm and his scratch bar.

The W is hidden among three hair salons, a barber shop, an antique shop, and smoothie bar along one block at 6 ½ SW 3rd Street in downtown Lee’s Summit. Tucked between Budget Blinds and Wedding Expressions by Geri, a narrow wooden door with a stained glass sign above marked 6 ½ is the only visible indication of this new cocktail bar’s existence. The bar’s name, W, stands for wraith, meaning spirit, a clever play on words.

Once inside, a steep climb up a dark staircase leads to a sophisticated lounge with olive green walls, dark wood fixtures and a magnificent bar. There, bartender Mike Strohm awaits to craft cocktails that will transport you to another time and place with more elegance and less fuss than the Amtrak trains that stop at the station a stone’s throw away.

Strohm sets down a wide-mouth tumbler and works up a Smoked Vanilla bourbon cocktail, one of The W’s most popular drinks. He removes a wood-handled ice pick from his navy denim vest and chips away at a 50-pound block of ice behind the bar. The ice chipping to order is standard practice here. Strohm adds the custom ice chunk to the glass. He combines 4 Roses Yellow Label bourbon, burnt sugar simple syrup laced with vanilla bean and Bitter Truth Jerry Thomas aromatic bitters.

He doesn’t serve the drink just yet. Patience, friend.

Strohm removes a glass dome from a wooden pedestal on the hammered copper bar. He places the cocktail next to a small piece of locally harvested apple wood on the pedestal. Then he fires up a torch and scorches the wood with blue-white flame until it chars. He sets the glass dome onto the stand. Light gray smoke unfurls, envelopes the cocktail and seeks escape from the dome. After a few moments, Strohm completes the attention-getting presentation. He lifts the dome and aromatic smoke glides over the bar like a 1920s showgirl vamping to big band swing. He places the cocktail onto the bar.

Finally. A fella could die of thirst. A first sip of the smoky, sweet bourbon with a vanilla kiss confirms that Strohm’s preparation and presentation was worth the wait.

The W specializes in hand-crafted cocktails and attentive customer service in a relaxed, speakeasy-inspired setting. Since it opened on May 29, the lounge has been packed on weekends. Reservations by text (816-287-0000) are recommended, but walk-ins are accommodated when possible. This second-floor bar has a room capacity of 38 people.

Meredith Veritasi sits at the bar inside The W.

Meredith Veritasi sits at the bar inside The W.

Owner Meredith Veritasi and her husband spent two years renovating this space.

“We live in Lee’s Summit. When the space became available, we pulled the trigger,” Veritasi says. “My husband wanted to open a bar or lounge. He and I did the remodeling work ourselves.”

Previously a massage business, the space has undergone a complete transformation. The couple tore down walls to the studs, expanded the main room’s footprint, added a brick arch themselves, tiled a corridor leading to a deck and installed many fixtures that firmly establish a new, timeless identity for The W. The bar tables are made of reclaimed wood from a bowling alley. Custom-made stained-glass windows and repurposed bricks from Olathe lend a touch of old and new to the lounge.

As the main feature and raison d’etre of The W, the bar is topped with a bartender’s implements, fresh citrus and herbs, a hand-pulled juice extractor, assorted bitters and more. The back bar has a host of spirits. The bar is Mike Strohm’s domain.

This Farmers Market cocktail draws its color from beets.

This Farmers Market cocktail draws its color from beet-infused gin.

A 20-year bartending industry veteran, Strohm cut his teeth at Kelly’s in Westport early in his career. Later, he drifted into restaurant management but didn’t care for that side of the hospitality business. Ten years ago, he devoted himself to craft cocktails and mastering the art from behind the bar.

Strohm was discovered by the Veritasis at 37 Steak, where he was tending bar at Harrah’s Casino in North Kansas City. Eager to get away from high-volume drink service, Strohm readily accepted the offer to man The W’s bar.

“I prefer a smaller, more intimate setting,” says Strohm. “Once construction was finished, I came in, started ordering spirits and developed the 18-drink menu.”

He relishes the customer interaction at The W. Strohm makes his own flavored tonics and syrups. He brings in local herbs and ingredients to incorporate fresh flavors and garnish cocktails.

The drinks have names with flair. Lavender Bee’s Knees. Splifficated Sheba. Giggle Water. Ernestoic Daiquiri. From old-fashioned classics to house specialties to a weekly farmers market concoction, The W has something for everyone that wishes to wet their whistle. A recent Farmers Market cocktail featured beet and blueberry-infused S.D. Strong Gin, Lion’s Tooth Dandelion Liqueur, lemon, tarragon and honey. It’s a tangy, citrusy, boldly colored libation. Strohm can also whip up a creative mocktail as well as offer premium spirits, craft beer and wine.

“I keep coming back to bartending,” Strohm says. “I love it and want you to love it.”

petedulin

Pete Dulin is a Kansas City-based writer and author of Last Bite: 100 Simple Recipes from Kansas City's Best Chefs and Cooks. http://lastbitecookbook.com/

2 Comments

  • Reply July 6, 2015

    Sharmin Meadows

    Great article Pete! Thanks for spreading the word. Merideth is my niece so I love it when she gets a shout out. It was amazing to watch the couple renovate the space first. They literally did everything by hand!

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