For cocktail bars, finding a way forward in 2020 can be a challenge.
North Carolina’s strict liquor laws make takeout models a particular challenge for bars, particularly liquor-focused ones. And for Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker, the married duo behind downtown Durham cocktail dive Kingfisher, that challenge was heightened by a cozy, tucked-away location.
Starting in mid-August, Umstead and Vanderwalker are launching QueenBurger, a burger pop-up in the bar’s “backyard”—aka the parking lot and adjacent upper deck off of West Morgan.
“Michelle and I have really gravitated towards things that are soul-satisfying,” Umstead says. “And a burger is just that! In a practical sense, it’s also something we can do, with confidence. To me, a burger also resembles a classic cocktail, in that it begins with a standard recipe but you can take it into many directions to make it your own.
On the QueenBurger menu: “smash burgers” seared on an outdoor flattop, and available as both double-stacked beef patties and house-made vegan burgers served with griddled onions, hoop cheese, Duke’s mayo, and pickles. QueenBurger will also have wine and beer to-go, and signature Kingfisher pre-bottled cocktails available to drink on premise.
Kingfisher, which opened in July of 2019, has been closed since March 15. Umstead and Vanderwalker have stayed engaged with the community, though, with a virtual happy hour where they experimented with drinks and chatted with cocktail nerds around the nation. The happy hour held course as a daily ritual for several months, before turning into a weekly tradition, Mondays at 4:30 on the bar’s Instagram.
Beginning in mid-August—an exact date has yet to be announced—Umstead and Vanderwalker will add burgers to the rotation. QueenBurger will continue to model Kingfisher’s community engagement by donating 15% of all profits to the local anti-racist education organization we are.
“For a long time we thought we were just a few weeks from being able to reopen Kingfisher in some capacity, but in late June it became apparent that we were in for a much longer pause,” Vanderwalker writes. “We decided we and the community would love something completely different and new, designed to work in this time. We love thinking about what people are missing, even if they don’t know it, and trying to provide a complete experience that makes people really happy—including us! We can’t wait to reconnect with our community.”
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