The experience begins with a message on a screen, just as some relationships do.
One of the barkeeps, upon texting confirmation of your reservation, signs off with a short “Thank you,” a response that, though a platitude, still manages to feel like a personal touch.
The W staff only communicate via text, until, of course, you enter the private bar in downtown Lee’s Summit, which was recently voted by Journal readers as the top spot to share with a date.
“It’s a secret club,” said Amy Abbott, celebrating her birthday Jan. 5 at The W with her husband of six months, Jonathan Abbott. “It’s like they’re protecting their little secret, and now we’re in the secret.”
The general manager and chief barkeep, Mike Strohm, said The W has been deemed a speakeasy by customers. That may be due to its unspoken reservations, its removed den — concealed from the street by closed wood shutters — and the outdoor intercom that must be buzzed before breaching its stately, unmarked front door.
A speakeasy, or Prohibition-era bar, evokes the surreptitious and illicit. At The W, the same is called to mind when Strohm lifts one of four bell jars from its perch on the bar, releasing a cloud of lingering smoke and one of his signature smoked cocktails.
“I’ve noticed, with higher proofs, (the smoke) mellows out the burn,” Strohm said.
The smoke is pumped by fan into the bell jar, swirls around a cocktail and lingers on the glass even after the first sip is swilled.
“There is no burn,” Jonathan Abbott said of his smoked cocktail.
“And he’s a firefighter, so he knows the burn,” Amy Abbott added.
The Abbotts agreed this, their first visit to The W, would not be their last.
“We were already starting to plan when we could sneak away and come again,” Amy Abbott said.
As the Thursday night wore on, Strohm could be found singeing the upper stems of a rosemary garnish with a torch, its green turning an incandescent red above a libation of Four Roses Yellow bourbon mixed with house-made maple syrup, lemon, smoke and other ingredients.
The drink is named “Nothing Compares to You,” after the song, according to bartender Taylor Dumsky.
The speakeasy only serves drinks, is only open three days a week and buys ingredients from a local farmer or crafts them by hand, like the 15 different types of syrups made in-house.
And the welcoming barkeeps seem to pride themselves on fostering The W’s private atmosphere, where the flame of old love may be rekindled or a new connection could be sparked.
Mica-Elgin Vi, at the bar with friend Emily Catz, described other bars, where, he said, drinks may be served quickly, as if to discard customers.
But that’s different, Vi said, at The W.
“I feel like this kind of small establishment is very personal and intimate,” he said.
“Are you describing me?” Dumsky asked, from across the bar.
Vi paused. “No comment,” he said, with a smile.