Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker know the power of a ritual.
When the pair opened downtown Durham cocktail haunt Kingfisher in July 2019, they wanted it to be a spot that reflected the community and the joy of celebration. In normal times, there are women-led events on Sundays, jazz nights on Tuesdays, with talks and tastings sprinkled throughout.
“The community shifts and changes,” Umstead says. “Because we try and program in a particular way, hopefully it means that anytime anyone walks in, they feel like they can be part of the community.”
Kingfisher closed down two days before the statewide mandate of restaurant and bar closures. It wasn’t an easy decision; for bar owners, the shutdown means treading a lot of water. Vanderwalker has continued to make pottery—she makes all the ware in the bar—and generates some revenue that way. Still, there is no take-out option, no certain way to make ends meet.
The day they closed, Umstead and Vanderwalker decided to crack open a cold one. They opened Instagram Live and began a virtual happy hour—part mixology class, part daily hang. They haven’t missed a happy hour since.
So while all semblances of normalcy may have dissolved, if you go to Kingfisher’s Instagram Live story at 4:30 every day, you can find the pair mixing drinks and dishing out cocktail tricks. It’s a warm ritual and boozy reprieve.
Virtually, the barflies gather, genially heckling Umstead or debating mixology questions in the comments. But while the cocktail community can sometimes feel like an intimidating top-shelf group, Umstead’s ethos is all about improvising and shaking the pantry down. Trade this liquor, swap this herb out, stir, rinse, repeat.
“The ritual is super important and gives people something to look forward to,” Vanderwalker says. “It gives a marker for each day. For us, too—we have to get dressed!”
3 oz Boissiere Extra Dry Vermouth
.5 oz White Tea Syrup (can be swapped for other teas)
1 oz lime juice
12 young mint leaves (can be swapped for other herbs)
Combine the white tea syrup and mint leaves in the bottom of a tall glass. Lightly press the mint with a muddler or wooden spoon for 5 seconds. Add the lime juice and dry vermouth. Top with crushed ice and lightly agitate until the liquid level comes to within 0.5 inches of the top of the ice.
White Tea Syrup
1 bag white tea
5 oz water
4 oz sugar (by weight)
Bring water to a boil. Remove from heat and let rest for 1 minute. Add a teabag. After the tea steeps for 1 minute, discard the tea bag and add sugar. Stir to dissolve.
Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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