Kansas City was once called “Paris of the Plains,” but it’s not because our waiters were rude.
The town got its Gaulish nickname from its Prohibition-era reputation as a city of sin, with speakeasy jazz clubs and wide-open nightlife.
That rebel spirit will be revived this week — albeit legally — with the annual Paris of the Plains cocktail festival, a combination of trade show, bartenders convention and exercise in debauchery.
POPfest, in its third year, was inspired by a big brother in the Big Easy, a festival called Tales of the Cocktail in New Orleans. The hospitality industry’s biggest annual showcase, Tales celebrated a 12th anniversary this summer. Along with such festivals as the Manhattan Cocktail Classic, Portland Cocktail Week and the Boston Cocktail Summit, Tales has played a key role in the revival of craft cocktails and an elevation of mixology to a culinary art.
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Paris of the Plains isn’t as big, old or debauched as Tales, but POPfest co-founder Brandon Cummings says the Kansas City festival can compete with anyone city’s in term of talent.
“The main purpose of the festival,” Cummings said, “is to highlight the bartenders we have in the Midwest, and get world-class people out here on stage and working side by side with them.”
Or competing. For instance, at the the Midwest Melee, a bartending competition featuring teams from four cities crafting cocktails live on stage.
Cummings is especially excited about bringing in experts from around the world to teach seminars and give tastings.
“It’s a opportunity to bring the world’s best to KC,” he said. “We want to offer a level of education to bar professionals here that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get.”
POPfest will do so with some two dozen events around town, from a seminar on sherry to classes on distilling spirits. To be sure, less educational events abound — late-night pool parties at Woodside Health & Tennis Club in Westwood and a big-band tribute to Kansas City jazz on Saturday night at the Kill Devil Club in Kansas City’s Power & Light District.
Paris of the Plains Cocktail Festival runs through Sunday, Aug. 24, at various locations across Kansas City. For a full schedule and admission prices to individual events, go to PopFestKC.com.