Repeal 18th pours style and ambition into the Northland but needs a little something more
Repeal 18th Bar and Bistro is the latest in a line of establishments celebrating Kansas City’s mobbed-up middle finger to Prohibition. But it may be the first of its kind in North Kansas City, bedding down in the burgeoning commercial corridor that’s already home to Chicken N Pickle and the Cinder Block and Calibration breweries.
Father-daughter team Edward Collins and Ann Cook opened the cocktail-centered gastropub six months ago, in a strip mall–issue space that once housed Johnny’s Back Yard. Collins and Cook kept the yard — Repeal has an outdoor stage and books live music Wednesday through Saturday nights — but they hedged their bets with an industrial-modern redesign and an indoor cigar lounge. They also hired a veteran mixologist, Darrell Loo, and a promising executive chef — Bryan Sparks, whose kitchen credentials include Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar in KC and Ostrea in St. Joe.
Sparks’ singular focus on texture and presentation thrusts Repeal 18th into the same weight class as KC’s fine-dining heavy hitters. But to last more than a couple of rounds, the restaurant will need to reckon with an intermittent tension: At times, the drinks are overwrought and the eats are underseasoned.
The cocktail menu is biblically long, with heavy slates of pre-Prohibition classics and more modern, seasonal drinks. Though there’s a drink for every taste, whiskey lovers are clearly in Loo’s sights. Tall shelves behind the bar stack dozens of ryes and rare single malts toward the ceiling, the spirits equivalent of that library from Beauty and the Beast. The craft cocktails have craft prices, but happy hour is a good way to sample some of the classics for cheap. My pick’s the Sazerac, which Loo treats with the reverence it deserves. The drink has no unnecessary embellishments, just a solid pour of rye tamed with Peychaud’s bitters and licorice-sweet Kubler Absinthe. The Old Fashioned sips just as smooth, with a fragrant orange edge, though the one I ordered was overstirred.
Loo’s seasonal cocktails are showier, though style occasionally eclipses substance. I wanted to love the Winter Is Coming, which looked purpose-built to tick all my boxes: cognac, madeira, Colony cold brew–infused Luxardo, Fernet Dogma — a coffee version of the herbal liqueur. The drink had a warm, appealing nose from the plum bitters, but it tasted muddy, blunter than its component parts.
I preferred the Dark and Gloomy, thanks to an inspired snowcap of Angostura-and-egg-white foam. That top was glossy and meringue-thick, with a bracing tartness and a slightly woody edge transported almost alchemically from the drink’s cedar-infused Rieger vodka. I am not exaggerating when I say I would drink a glass of this foam and call it a protein shake. But it was more interesting than the drink underneath, which had a flat pumpkin flavor reminiscent of Libby’s straight from the can.
The bar food is a cut above the ordinary, but two of my favorite menu items are the most dressed-down. Truffle fries are ubiquitous now, but Sparks’ meticulous take gave me a new appreciation for them. The fries arrived 10,000 to a bowl, each generously parm’d and pleasingly funky from a light touch of truffle oil. But the texture was the main draw: The fries’ crisp exteriors gave way to soft, flaky insides in a puff of starchy steam.
The funk returned in the Truffle Pig, a flatbread layered thoughtfully with sharp truffle cream, melty gouda, spicy soppressata and caramelized onions. The ingredients harmonize well, and Sparks doesn’t overtax the bread — but the star here, again, is the texture. The crust is crisp but flexible, with a delicate, airy structure that belies the grease and cheese.
Plating is another of Sparks’ strengths, and the charred bone marrow makes a hell of a glamor shot. The pale bone is striped handsomely with scorch-brown grill marks and dressed with a verdant salad of fried parsley, briny capers and edible marigolds. Repeal’s version delivered less of an umami kick than I expected when I tried it, but the marrow was suitably rich and gelatinous — an ideal spread for the accompanying triangles of marbled rye.
Repeal 18th had two soups on the menu on my visits — a chunky chili of wild game and white beans, and a silky purée of smoked butternut squash. The chili was comforting, though it would have benefitted from a creamier bean and a heavier hand with the spice. The butternut-squash soup was more promising, its purée impossibly smooth and almost marshmallow-sticky, with a light maple flavor and a little pulse of smoke from the squash. But the flavors were too plain for the presentation. The dish needed more salt, more smoke, more spice — just more.
Muted flavors undersold the entrées I tasted as well. I’m thinking of an unadorned mound of cubed sweet potatoes alongside a strip of crisp-crusted salmon (like so many restaurant salmons before it: fine). Or a moist, local Berkshire bone-in pork chop that had a whiff of ginger but little else. (Ah, but the smoked eggplant spaetzle that arrived on the side was excellent and peppery, with a yielding, dumplinglike bite.)
The pork-belly BELT was a literal interpretation — so literal, in fact, that the bread was naked, with nary a swipe of mayo or any other condiment that might overtax the sandwich acronym. The ingredients were, again, high quality and well textured: crisp hunks of tender pork belly; a rich and gently fried duck egg; a dense, lightly soured and toasted bread. But the sandwich cried out for a catalyst to help each of its top-notch components cohere.
I wanted every entrée to be like the Cedar River bone-in short rib. This is the plate to order when you need to wait out your cocktail buzz. The tender meat came glazed with a subtle Amarena-cherry barbecue sauce and bright chimichurri. And the presentation was half of the pleasure. The short-rib bone stretched up proudly like a skyscraper from a moat of creamy whipped potatoes dressed with piquant mustard greens and tender-stalked asparagus. It was a résumé in a dish, a brash advertisement for what Sparks does best.
Repeal 18th has a solid foundation — strong classic cocktails, satisfying bar bites and elegant plates that showcase a promising chef’s care. With a little time (and maybe a little thyme), the team should be able to nudge the few underperforming items across the finish line.
Repeal 18th Bar and Bistro
1825 Buchanan, North Kansas City
Monday-Thursday: 11 a.m.–1 a.m.
Friday and Saturday: 11 a.m.–3 a.m.
Sunday: 10 a.m.–9 p.m.
Best bet: Sip a Sazerac with some truffle parmesan fries at happy hour. Order the bone-in short rib for dinner.