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Vanessa Waters: Curator, Afterword Tavern & Shelves

Vanessa Waters

Instagram @vanessalwaters

A bookstore bar in The Crossroads Arts District of Kansas City, Afterword Tavern & Shelves is the best combination of books and booze with a badass all-girl staff of bartenders.


Afterword Tavern & Shelves
Instagram @afterword.tavern.shelves
Facebook @afterwordtavernandshelves


"Sometimes you meet the coolest people as a result of friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend meetings. I first met Vanessa while crashing a USBG meeting in Kansas City (I say crashing, I was invited). They met for brunch at the coolest joint in the Bottoms (note: I need to figure out the correct term for this place) called The Campground. I was returning that day to Dodge after a weekend of tastings. The group was very gracious to include me.

Fast forward a few months, another good friend took me to Afterword Tavern and Shelves for cocktails and who was bartending but Vanessa! I didn't know where she worked when we first met, but soon delighted to find out where she was cranking out some bomb-ass cocktails and amazing food! It was great to reconnect!

We soon arranged a Boot Hill Distillery Happy Hour. She created a menu with BHD cocktails and great Wild West names (she did her research!) and I gave a talk on how Kansas City and Dodge City's histories were intertwined.  

Afterword's Tavern has an amazing staff,  great vibe, and best of all their amazing craft cocktails support local! I highly recommend checking out when going to Kansas City!"

-Lee Griffith, Director of Sales
Boot Hill Distillery



How did you get started bartending?

Six years ago I was celebrating my birthday at Manifesto, and after a few drinks, drunkenly asked for a job because I loved it there so much. Started the next month as a hostess, spent the next four years nerding out watching the bartenders and learning as much as I could, joined the USBG, made friends with other bartenders, and now my geeky love of spreadsheets, cocktail bartending, and a degree in English has brought me to managing a bookstore bar. I must be good convincing people I'm the right person for the job at hand, because I certainly don't have as many hours behind the bar as a lot of my colleagues.


What's your favorite cocktail?

I love a good Sidecar. My favorite is a fine-tuned recipe by Ian Walla at Manifesto. I don't even know what his specs are - but he makes them perfectly. I also love Sazeracs, specifically the recipe from Tex at Novel. That's the one we use at Afterword - since he's the one who taught me to bartend, and it is especially delicious with a split base of Rye and Cognac and a barspoon of Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur. 


Where do you draw your inspiration?

A lot of it comes from my friends and following my favorite bartenders on Instagram. I love to scroll through and see fun flavors and beautiful presentations. I also love to visit my friends while they're working and (when it's slow) nerd out over technique and flavors and silly and fun ideas.

My staff has a whole stream of consciousness conversation thread about random ideas and cocktail names that we want to do - it's very collaborative and inclusive. I also like to draw from food - flavors that work well within food often translate well to cocktails, if you're not afraid of savory and umami and unconventional pairings and ideas. 


How important is it to you to support local brands?

It's imperative! We have a really local-forward spirits menu because we love spending time in our community and supporting our friends and neighbors. We're picky about flavor and quality, but in Missouri/Kansas City we're really fortunate to be surrounded by quality spirits brands, run by passionate people who are an integral part of the hospitality industry here.

Also as a really small business, we would prefer to spend our dollars in our own community instead of giving them to a huge corporation. We're not doing huge volume, so those bigger brands don't really see an influx of sales from a place like us - but hopefully our friends and neighbors can.

Plus, it's fun to have a spirit in a cocktail or a flight, and then be able to tell the guest enjoying it that they can go visit the distillery, meet the producers, and learn about the entire process without traveling too far. I think that's a huge point of interest and connection between our bartenders and guests. 


If you could give advice to your first bartending job self, what would it be?

Stop being so scared. You know more than you think you do. It's okay to be unsure and have to look up recipes or ask for help; every great bartender you know or have heard of started out feeling like you do now, so you don't have to be ashamed of it. 


Where do you go on your night off?
Favorite end of shift drink?

The Savoy to visit Brian Bolton for a glass (or bottle..) of wine. Manifesto for a Sidecar with Ian. And of course, Harry's Bar & Tables in Westport to have a bluebie and well G&T on the patio with nearly everyone I know. 


Finally, what else would you like to say to your favorite beverage professionals out there?

Thanks for always being creative, and always trying new things and putting it on the internet to inspire the rest of us. And hang in there - our industry is suffering right now and it's easy to feel down, but we are resilient - who else can work a fourteen hour shift, shaking cocktails, covered in sticky juice, with the bar two or three-deep of people needing your attention, while filling ice wells, garnishing drinks, on their feet with no breaks? People will always want a drink, so we will always have a position and a future. Hang in there, friends!

Distillery Photo