J. Wilson’s is a classy yet casual establishment on the West side of Lawrence, Kansas. More than a restaurant, J. Wilson’s is a thriving community with many regulars that lovingly refer to it as "their own Cheers."
We serve Modern American cuisine and strive to offer fresh, local, and seasonal fare, always made from scratch. Featuring a full bar, we focus on local and sustainable liquors and beers wherever possible. The wine list is chosen by our own sommelier and features many estate-grown, family-owned, and sustainable (or organic, or biodynamic) wines.
That’s all the press-worthy stuff, but most of all, it’s a fun place to work, where people care about each other and work hard to do good things. It doesn’t get much better than that.
How did you get started bartending?
I started right here. A little background first – our management team, including myself, the General Manager, Lisa, and the Executive Chef, Luke, have all worked together at this place for nine years together. That’s kind of freak event in the restaurant world. We weren’t always in charge. I started as a host and worked my way up through every front of house position, finally landing the bar gig after a bit more than a year. The culture here has always included the training of worthy individuals to do jobs for which other places only want to hire experience.
What's your favorite cocktail?
I have had dalliances with many different cocktails covering all the base spirits, but I think my rock is the Manhattan. That relationship, too, has evolved over time. I used to like Bourbon in them with French vermouth, but now my tastes lean toward rye and a strong Italian variety. I think that’s what I like about it – it’s a landscape that can be painted so many different ways.
Where do you draw your inspiration?
For the names, history, music, and movies. I have a history degree (a lifetime sentence to restaurant work), I’m a musician, and I have an oddly keen memory when it comes to movies.
My flavor inspirations are strongly influenced by permaculture these days. It’s a field that involves many other disciplines. As a result of taking a permaculture course, my horticultural knowledge continues to expand, day by day, and I’m learning more about herbalism too.
I’m also strongly committed to examining waste and doing what I can to cut it down. I’m looking for ways to lessen our dependence on citrus – a big carbon footprint for any bar – and find ways to utilize it more effectively. I’ve developed relationships with local farmers so I can use fresh, local produce in my cocktails. Making liqueurs is also a big tool that helps to extend those resources. We also have a sizeable collection of herbs growing during the warm months, so that’s nice to just run out and pluck some sage, for example. I’m rambling a bit here, but I guess it’s my desire to make things sustainably and from scratch and not from a purchased bottle that drives my creativity.
How important is it to you to support local brands?
I think now more than ever, the importance of resiliency in our communities is becoming evident. When the trucks don’t roll in from California, how do we do the job? Only by developing relationships with producers in our area can we carry on in the face of adversity. This pandemic is a little taste of the disruption to “normal” life that is soon to grip the global community because of climate change. I could say I’m just trying to do my part, but more and more, it seems to me like a moral imperative. #buylocal #soiltosip
If you could give advice to your first bartending job self, what would it be?
Learn to take advice.
Where do you go on your night off?
Favorite end of shift drink?
My wife and I have a big garden and we like to cook, so we don’t go out too often, but for special occasions, we like to go to places that serve local food like we do. 715, for example. We celebrated my wife’s birthday there and it was great.
My favorite drink to have at the end of a shift is a good local beer – I like them all. If I’m in the mood for a cocktail, I tend to go for gin-based champagne cocktails like the French 75. A slammer!
Finally, what else would you like to say to your favorite beverage professionals out there?
First of all, hang in there. It’s a rough time for everyone and I sincerely wish everyone the best. And when we get things rolling again, I request that bartenders and managers do their research to find brands that they stand behind. I know saving the planet isn’t everyone’s thing, but there’s a lot to know about how spirits are produced beyond their carbon footprint. Price and taste are just the veneer in front of everything that goes into that bottle. Hell, at the very least you’ll learn a story, and stories are what sell spirits.