Black Restaurant Week is searching to find the best Black bartender in the nation through their second annual virtual national cocktail competition called Power of the Palate.

Bartenders represent cities from each of the four regions: East, West, South and Central and compete creating a cocktail that embodies their city using Maker’s Mark bourbon, sponsor of the competition.

The bartenders can advance in two ways:  by their score from a panel of judges and by fan votes.  The competition’s top prize is $5,000. 

This year’s bartender representing Kansas City is Tamara McConnell.  She has been bartending for more than 10 years and owns her own catered beverage service, Breathe Beverages.

Bartending first piqued her interest after she saw how many close friendships and relationships her mother built as a bartender and how creative she could be experimenting and concocting new drink recipes.

“Watching her as a young girl, she’d be at home creating drinks and it was like science. She’d have juices, spirits, wines, all these things laid out on the table and from that would come a beverage, and I’m looking like this is amazing,” McConnell said.

Currently, McConnell bartends full-time at the Loews Kansas City Hotel downtown and works with Soiree Steakhouse and Oyster Bar building beverage and cocktail menus. She also provides beverage services for events and hosts cocktail classes through her business Breathe Beverages. 

Smokey Jazz

The cocktail McConnell invented for the competition she calls the Smokey Jazz, which embodies what Kansas City is most known for: Jazz and barbecue.

The cocktail is inspired by a grilled pineapple steak prepared with a good rub and whiskey glaze. The ingredients include Maker’s Mark bourbon, smoked pineapple syrup and lemon juice all served over ice. McConnell garnishes the drink with barbecue spices and a dehydrated lemon, adding another pop of color.

McConnell makes her own pineapple syrup from scratch, but you can find the syrup at a local liquor store.

“For me, the Smokey Jazz feels like outside on a summer day. It’s just like an adult snow cone,” she said.

Find the recipe for the Smokey Jazz here: https://blackrestaurantweeks.com/smokey-jazz/.

On Aug. 23, McConnell and the other competitors in the Central Region will make their signature cocktails live via Zoom and it will also be streamed on the Power of the Palate Cocktail Lounge Facebook group here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/334468647711667.

Judges then score each of the competitors based on the name and inspiration of the cocktail, creativity, palate, drink presentation, style and personality.

Competitors also have the chance to advance based on votes from fans. Out of each region, judges choose one bartender to advance and the bartender with the most votes advances as well.

“It’s so important for not only Black bartenders to have a spotlight but all bartenders to have a stage where they can share their craft and their work,” McConnell said.

To vote for your favorite bartender, go to the Black Restaurant Week website: https://blackrestaurantweeks.com/cocktail-competition/

The winner will be announced in November.

Jazzlyn Johnson

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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