Pitch film writers and local bartenders pair quarantini drinks with KC films to ease your pain
You might not believe this, but people are drinking more lately. Liquor sales are up 27 percent nationally. Wine sales are up 26 percent. Another thing that’s on the rise? Streaming. Not that you, a socially isolated person who’s probably watching a lot of movies and consuming a lot of alcohol, need numbers to prove this, but Netflix saw its usage increase 16 percent last month. YouTube saw its increase 15 percent.
We can all agree that it’s pleasantly numbing to plop down on the couch with Tiger King and a whiskey and coke. However, I think we deserve better than mindless binging. We deserve a more elevated viewing situation, even if we’re just watching in our living rooms. We’ve been dealing with a lot lately. We deserve a party.
As The Pitch’s movie editor, and an enjoyer of responsible, quality drinking, I’m taking this opportunity to direct your viewing and instill some civic pride by exploring movies set in Kansas City and the surrounding area. You can’t leave the house, but you can still enjoy rolling plains, shots of Union Station and reminders of KC’s awesome cultural history, all of which you can enjoy in person after this is over. To make it a real viewing experience, and take full advantage of your freshly-stocked liquor cabinet, our contributors partnered with local bartenders from beloved KC drinking institutions to develop cocktails themed to each film. So, break out the remote and a cocktail shaker. It’s party time. –AO
Ride with the Devil (1999)
Ang Lee’s Ride with the Devil sometimes feels more like a history lesson than a movie, but at least it’s a gorgeous history lesson. Lee’s Civil War drama, based on Daniel Woodrell’s novel Woe to Live On, covers the violent clashes between Missouri Bushwhackers (pro-confederacy militants) and Kansas Jayhawkers (pro-union militants) during the “Bleeding Kansas” era, ultimately leading to the infamous Sacking of Lawrence in 1856.
Our introduction to the conflict is Jake Roedel (Tobey Maguire), a Missourian who, along with his best friend Jack Bull Chiles (Skeet Ulrich), joins up with the Bushwhackers after Jack Bull’s home is burned to the ground by Jayhawkers, and his father is killed. Jake starts out a firm believer in the Bushwhacker cause, but the more of the fight he experiences, and the more collateral damage he witnesses on both sides, the more he questions where he really stands.
Ride with the Devil boasts gorgeous cinematography from frequent Lee collaborator Frederick Elmes (who’s also worked often with David Lynch and Jim Jarmusch), and a suitably epic score by Mychael Danna. Elmes’ cinematography, in particular, highlights the pastoral loveliness of the Kansas and Missouri plains, when those plains aren’t covered in blood. For anyone passionate about the history of this area, or its history on film, Ride with the Devil is a cinematic artifact worth seeking out. –AO
To Drink: Rx Julep
For this cocktail pairing, Brock Schulte of The Monarch Bar was inspired by the first cocktail book printed in the U.S., The Bartender’s Guide or How to Mix Drinks by Jerry Thomas, published in 1862. Schulte’s cocktail is an Rx Julep (or Prescription Julep), a classic from Thomas’ day. “It’s a great cocktail for this time period, because though it packs a big punch it is easily consumed by a wide variety of palettes,” Schulte says.
1 oz Rittenhouse BIB Rye Whiskey
1 oz VSOP Cognac
.5-1oz Simple Syrup
Mint leaves for building
Mint sprigs for garnish
To make it: In the bottom of a julep tin, toss a pinch (8-10 leaves) of mint, and crush with your fingers against the sides to release the aromatic oils. Add a splash of the simple syrup, followed by crushed or pebble ice to the brim, Then alternately layer the spirits and simple syrup. Use less sugar for a bigger punch, or more for a sweeter version. Re-mound crushed ice on top of the tin, and slap the mint sprigs around the lip of the tin to release their oils all around the edge. Bunch this mint in one area, and place a metal straw right next to it so you can smell the mint the whole way through as you drink.
Usually when Kansas City gets the limelight in a major motion picture, it’s tied to historical relevance, cost appraisal, or the fact that someone in the production once called the place home. Rian Johnson’s Looper takes a different track. Here, the city is a future-set anywheresville. Sprawling skyscrapers, back alley clubs that feel like updatings of speakeasies and a major homeless problem define the metropolis. Strangely, it feels like the city and state (Kansas is one of the first images to appear on-screen) were chosen as the setting in order to move from a major city to crop fields in a short distance.
As for the film itself, in the 2040’s, crime-ridden cities like KC are home to “Loopers” like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Joe, hired killers with a dark futuristic contract. 30 years in Joe’s future, time travel is invented, and almost as quickly made illegal. Gangsters take hold of the tech to dispatch undesirables into the past, to be killed by the Loopers, thus erasing them from existence. A Looper’s retirement comes when his own future self is the one to be done in (closing their “loop”). But when Joe’s older counterpart (played by Bruce Willis) appears in front of him, it sets off a chain reaction where no one is safe. Not even in Kansas.
Looper is the film that helped Johnson get The Last Jedi, which in turn made 2019’s Knives Out possible. It’s a sci-fi action film that has a bit more on its mind than just time travel. In fact, Looper would rather throw all the particularities of that genre out the window. Johnson instead cares about how we’d confront our younger self, if given the chance. For all the set pieces, Looper is a film that wants to have introspective moments and eat its futuristic cake, too. It’s really worth giving a chance, not just for the tenuous Kansas City connection, but to see Gordon-Levitt best Willis at being Bruce Willis. –AT
To Drink: The Reignmaker
Named for Looper’s mysterious crime boss The Rainmaker (and with a subtle nod to KC’s recent Super Bowl win!), this drink by Parlor’s Josiah Torres is a mashup of two cocktails: a Mezcal Buzz and the Lawrence-invented Horsefeather. Torres’ cocktail combines the smoky flavors of Mezcal and Drambuie, balanced out with lemon juice and tiki bitters, and sweetened with ginger beer and honey syrup.
1 1/4 oz Mezcal
1/2 oz Drambuie
1/4 oz Lemon Juice
1/4 oz Honey Syrup
2 Dashes Tiki Bitters
To make it: Combine all ingredients except ginger beer in a shaker tin with ice. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Top with ginger beer. Garnish with cherry.
Kansas City (1996)
“I tried to write this film like jazz,” Robert Altman said of his 1996 love letter to the Kansas City of his youth. Jazz is the lifeblood of this tragicomic gangster story in what we would now think of as the Coen Brothers vein, set against the backdrop of the Pendergast machine and the large-scale electoral fraud of 1934.
In the fictional Hey-Hey Club of Kansas City’s famous 18th Street jazz district (named for the actual historical Hey-Hay club once located at 4th and Cherry), a who’s-who of contemporary musicians stand in as 1930s jazz greats, providing the score to the film and recreating moments like a legendary all-night “cutting contest” between Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, which is witnessed by a 14-year-old Charlie Parker.
While the plot of Altman’s Kansas City may revolve around the doomed kidnapping perpetrated by Blondie (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to rescue her husband from the clutches of the Hey-Hey Club’s owner Seldom Seen (Harry Belafonte, having a blast), the movie really belongs to the music. In fact, so much jazz was shot that Altman also released a documentary the same year entitled Jazz ‘34: Remembrances of Kansas City Swing, narrated by Belafonte himself. –OG
To Drink: “Bathtub Gin” Martini
Robert Altman’s movie is set in the 30s, making it a perfect pairing with a prohibition-era drink, like this martini from Sean Sobol of The Drunken Worm. “Most of your ‘classic cocktails’ actually were born in this era, to mask and hide that taste of the moonshine,” Sobol says.
2 1/2 ounces gin(or vodka)
1/2 ounce dry vermouth
1/4–1/2 ounce olive juice (to taste)
To make it:
Build the drink in a mixing glass and stir for 30 seconds, or shake for 10 seconds. Strain into a martini glass.
Variation: Shaken Cucumber/Lime Martini
2 1/2 oz gin
To make it: Place 3 cucumber slices and 2 lime wedges in a 16 oz pint glass, or mixer tin. Muddle (Sobol recommends adding an ice cube to the fruit to help it break down). Fill a glass 3/4 full with ice. Add gin, shake and strain into a martini glass. Garnish with another slice of cucumber.
Kansas City Confidential (1952)
As if Kansas City Confidential didn’t announce its bona fides from the name alone, this midcentury film noir gets its opening image just right with an establishing shot of the city skyline, with Union Station front and center. The action doesn’t stay in the city the whole time, but it does play a significant role throughout the events of the movie.
Kansas City Confidential tells the sordid tale of a bank robbery, and the man framed for said robbery, Joe (John Payne). Joe heads to Mexico, where the robbers are hiding out, to clear his name and get a cut of their million dollar-plus take. While he’s there, he falls for a pretty young tourist (Coleen Gray) visiting her retired dad, an ex-Kansas City police captain who may or may not have something to do with the crime.
The movie’s biggest strength is its supporting cast. The bank robbers are played by a trio of classic Hollywood character actors—wild-eyed drifter Jack Elam, war movie staple Neville Brand, and iconic Spaghetti Western badass Lee Van Cleef in his third-ever film appearance. Van Cleef’s over-the-top acting and fantastic sneer alone is worth the price of admission, not that you’ll have to pay anything to watch Kansas City Confidential—you can find it streaming free on Kanopy. –AO
To Drink: The Homage
Kansas City Confidential hops between Mexico and Kansas City, so Char Bar’s Tamrah Edwards created a specialty cocktail pairing with this classic film noir that brings smoke and heat to the party, courtesy of mezcal, serrano pepper, and ground cayenne pepper. It’s balanced out by the sweetness of agave nectar, lime and pineapple juice. Take a sip and you’ll feel a little pain, chased by a little pleasure, just like a tortured noir hero.
3 or 4 slices fresh serrano pepper
1 1/2 oz. Reposado tequila
1/2 oz. Del Maguey Vida mezcal
1/2 oz. Cointreau
1/2 oz. fresh lime juice
1 oz. agave nectar or raw honey
2 oz. pineapple juice
2 soft dashes ground cayenne pepper
To make it: Toss Serrano pepper slices into pint glass and muddle them. Add Reposado Tequila and let sit for a few minutes, then add the remainder of ingredients. Pack a pint glass with ice, and grab your shaker, then shake for a solid 10 seconds, or until the shaker is cold and frosty. Strain over ice.
All Creatures Here Below (2018)
When you don’t have money, any mistake could be your last. That’s the central conceit behind Collin Schiffli’s All Creatures Here Below, which concerns a Los Angeles couple named Ruby (Karen Gillan of Guardians of the Galaxy) and Gensan (David Dastmalchian, Ant-Man) whose only forms of wealth management are lottery tickets and illegal betting. Their meager existence becomes even more desperate when she gets fired from a janitorial job, and he loses his job baking pizzas.
When Ruby spots a baby whose parents have what could politely be called a negligent attitude, she abducts it. When another of Gensan’s financial plans goes south, the two flee to Johnson County with the child, even though neither has any idea how to care for it.
The Pennsylvania-born Dastmalchian also wrote the script and spent most of his youth in stretches of Johnson County that weren’t littered with McMansions, and where people struggled to get by. As a result, Ruby and Gensan’s struggle is believably involving, even if it’s not hopeful. The two long for a contented, safe life, and their wishes become more remote.
Schiffli filmed most of the movie here in the KC area and, in some cases, ingeniously got portions of Johnson and Jackson County to convincingly double for L.A. Alert viewers can spot local mainstay Walter Coppage and Missouri-raised David Koechner as Gensan’s sympathetic boss. This movie is currently playing for free on Kanopy and is also available through Showtime. –DL
To Drink: Mercy & Consequence
A scene in All Creatures Here Below was shot in front of the J. Rieger & Co. distillery, so it only made sense to have their very own Ryan Maybee create a strong cocktail to go along with this dark drama. “I made this drink to demonstrate what I’ll generously refer to as an act of mercy by David Dastmalchian’s character, Gensan, at the very end,” Maybee says. “Whew. I needed a stiff drink after that.”
2 oz Rieger’s KC Whiskey
1/2 oz Plantation O.F.T.D. Overproof Rum
1 barspoon Amaretto
3-4 dashes Absinthe
To make it: Stir over ice, serve over a large cube. No garnish. No chaser.