Highly-anticipated Durham cocktail bar, Kingfisher, opens for business

Sean Umstead and Michelle Vanderwalker have just opened the highly anticipated Kingfisher cocktail bar, located next to The Durham Hotel at 321 East Chapel Hill Street.

Umstead takes a chef’s approach, elevating North Carolina’s fruits and vegetables to star status, and artfully serving them in Vanderwalker’s hand-thrown ceramics. From one-of-a-kind ground-to-glass cocktails, hand-cut ice, farm-driven small plates, Kingfisher is a refreshing reflection of the couple’s North Carolina home.

Kingfisher’s craft cocktails will offer a rare view into each season through innovative preparations. Fresh Blacktail Watermelon mixes with Campari, vermouth, soda and basil for a summery play on a Negroni in Water World. Strawberries picked at their peak at Lil Farm have been preserved in various ways for use in cocktails throughout the year, as in the Strawberry Daiquiri with preserves on the opening menu; winter versions will incorporate Umstead’s strawberry vinegar and pickled strawberries. Also on Kingfisher’s opening menu, Bee Durham offers Durham Distillery’s Conniption Navy Strength Gin washed in bee’s wax from the Durham Farmer’s Market.

In an effort to collaborate with farmers on their initiatives, Umstead will be serving Queen George’s Highball in an effort to showcase the ginger syrup Lil Farm produces from their ginger, combined with his own turmeric soda, apple cider vinegar and Wild Turkey, for a Bourbon & Ginger that is uniquely Durham-focused. Umstead’s fruit and vegetable-forward cocktails lend well to low or non-alcoholic drinks, as highlighted by Food & Wine. A spirit-free cocktail on his opening menu includes Hot Thyme in the Summertime with juniper, thyme, lemon and soda.

Umstead tapped Chef Joel Schroeter to consult on the menu of snacks and small plates which thoughtfully adhere to the same idea, showcasing what’s in season, and grown and raised nearby. The kitchen and bar share quite a bit, from the pickled fruits and vegetables to the martini olives infused with gin botanicals like juniper and citrus. Butterbean Hummus and Krupnikas Spiced Pecans are light fare, while local meats and cheeses provide heartier snacks, including Duck Rillette with blackberry mostarda and “Tostado Supremo” – a grilled cheese with Chapel Hill Creamery’s Hickory Grove, brisket marmalade and pickled red onions.

Michelle Vanderwalker is responsible for every interior detail of this cozy cocktail den – with relaxed lounge seating for 60, including semi-private booths, cocktail tables and a horseshoe-shaped bar for 12. Kingfisher’s design nods to the couple’s honed sensibility and Vanderwalker’s artistic background as a ceramic artist, and will feature her ceramic dishes exclusively as well as her skillful work in the curved, hand-tiled bar and table lamps.

Umstead has opened Kingfisher with the goal of creating community. Plans are underway to bring guest bartenders to Kingfisher, as well as “Farmtenders.” On August 15th, Umstead will welcome Joe Stinchcomb of Saint Leo Lounge in Oxford, Mississippi for an opportunity to share the meaningful cocktails he’s designed for Saint Leo, including the controversial ones he developed for Black History Month.