Following years of construction and permitting problems, Christopher Ciesiel and Cristin Llewellyn had nearly given up on their dream to open The Campground, a craft cocktail bar concept that originated several years ago with the couple’s much-loved backyard entertaining.
While Ciesiel and Llewellyn originally wanted to locate their business near Westport Road and Main Street, the original spaces they leased presented challenge after challenge, from construction issues to permitting and how to make everything ADA-compliant. This summer, just when the couple felt ready to move on from their idea, an opportunity presented itself: Genessee Royale Bistro, located in the West Bottoms, was closing after several years in business. Former owner Todd Schulte sensed that The Campground might be a good fit, and he connected Ciesiel and Llewellyn with landlord Bill Haw. The couple quickly signed a lease, and The Campground suddenly had new life.
Ciesiel and Llewellyn haven’t changed the layout of the 1,400-square-foot space, but it certainly looks different: The walls have been painted black, and carefully chosen vintage furnishings, rugs and even taxidermy have been moved in, along with soft pine seedlings and houseplants. It feels like a space Wes Anderson would be comfortable in.
“It’s a little bit clubhouse, a little bit elevated summer camp,” says Ciesiel, of the aesthetic that he and Llewellyn were going for. “We want it to be cozy, approachable and a little rough around the edges, because we’re a little rough around the edges. It’s an extension of our home.” The space seats approximately 40. A large outdoor patio, which will open in the spring, will seat another 25.
Ciesiel has long been known for his cocktails; The Campground’s bar menu will feature approximately 10 cocktails at a time, as well as a small but well-curated selection of wine and beer. Ciesiel explains that he likes to work with aperitivo and classic cocktails, and then adds special touches to make them his own. One example of this is his version of the Bamboo, a classic drink made with sherry.
He explains, “[for the Bamboo], we take a nod from the tiki world, where they say what you can do with one rum, you can do better with three. So instead of using one sherry, one vermouth and one bitters, we have our own sherry blend, a vermouth blend and a bitters blend. You can’t get this Bamboo anywhere else. It’s really light, and super delicious.”
Of his Martini, he says, “I’ve been dreaming about this presentation for years.” He mixes a classic Martini, made with a 3-to-1 ratio of vermouth to gin, and serves it in a small cordial glass with a tray on the side that holds the rest of the drink on ice, along with a serving of sea salt and vinegar potato chips. The cocktail will generally be made in batches and kept frozen.
“It’s almost like a dirty Martini or a Gibson, but here we’re serving with some extra salt to cut some of the booziness,” he adds. “When the cocktail is frozen, the texture is almost viscous. It’s super silky, and as it comes closer to temp you get more of the botanicals from the gin.”
Among other cocktails on the menu: an Old Fashioned with sorghum, a Big Iron with reposado and Cynar, and a cocktail named the Hatchet Man, made with apple brandy, falernum, lemon and bitters.
One big surprise with The Campground is an impressive and serious full food menu, something that Ciesiel and Llewellyn had not originally planned as part of their concept (initially The Campground was to feature a small market plus grab-and-go lunch and small shared plates). For this, the couple has partnered with chef Craig Howard, who has developed lunch, dinner, happy hour, brunch and bar bites menus.
Howard describes what he’s created as “Nature harvested and inspired Midwestern fare – meaning local veggies, local meats, grains, handmade pastas, some comforting Midwestern salads – but still light and vegetable-forward.” The dinner menu includes a whole chicken-fried quail, served with a radicchio-apple slaw and butter lettuce, as well as butter-braised carrots with puffed quinoa served over a tangy smear of housemade labneh. Dumplings made of farmer’s cheese are served with house-cured salami, olive and tomato.
Howard notes that in developing the menu, he's enjoyed playing with the idea of a campground: Other menu items include house-smoked meats (including housemade Canadian bacon for brunch), lesser-used proteins such as rabbit, and kebabs served on antique Turkish skewers. There will also be, of course, s’mores for dessert.
The Campground officially opens for business on Mon, Dec. 3. In a space larger than intended, with menus more grand than intended, this place seems poised to raise quite a few eyebrows – in the best of ways.
The Campground is open Monday and Thursday from 11am to 11pm, Friday from 11am to midnight, Saturday from 10am to midnight and Sunday from 10am to 3pm. It is closed Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Campground, 1531 Genessee St., West Bottoms, Kansas City, Missouri, thecampgroundkc.com