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Kingfisher Cocktail Pop-Up Series Sweeps the East Coast This September

Where to find the libations

As a warmup for the launch of his cocktail bar Kingfisher in Durham later this year, Sean Umstead is rolling out the first in his series of cocktail pop-ups September 12. He’ll hold his pop-up at The Roof at The Durham Hotel that Wednesday from 6-9 p.m., conveniently next to the space where he’s building out Kingfisher at 321 East Chapel Hill St.

“This next space is kind of going to be a representation of my wife and myself, of what we’re passionate about,” said Umstead, who is wrapping up his time as general manager of St. Roch Fine Oysters + Bar in Raleigh to focus on work with his wife Michelle Vanderwalker.

The pair will co-own Kingfisher, with Umstead taking the lead as bartender and Vanderwalker operating as designer. Vanderwalker, a potter, is actually in the midst of a bunch of ceramic work for the bar, with farm-inspired tiki mugs for crushed ice drinks in the works, plus tumblers with vases build into the sides for flower garnishes.

That’s the first bit of unexpected flair guests can expect to look for at the Kingfisher when it opens — hopefully, Umstead said, in December 2018. For now, don’t expect a heavy emphasis on food — a kitchen may be added later, but light bar fare sourced from friends and local restaurants is more likely, to start.

As for the hint of the unexpected in Umstead’s drinks, they’re farm-driven. He wants to be able to take beautiful ingredients supplied by friends who farm in the area, he said, and translate them into cocktails throughout the year.

As a Carolina-boy-at-heart who was born and mostly raised in North Carolina, Umstead said, “That kind of history is what I’m interested in exploring and elevating.”

At the moment, he’s adding tastes of North Carolina farms while he experiments with 15 to 20 cocktails, not to mention traditional preservation methods like canning, jamming and pickling, whether he has his hands on local watermelons, strawberries or muscadines. The goal: to develop a cabinet of ingredients to pull from that are interesting, unique, seasonal and sustainable.

To add a twist of complexity, Umstead is working to add texture to his cocktails, from bubbly, to slick (think basil oil), to airy.

“Texture is something that I hope to translate in our cocktails through either our choice of sweetener or techniques I use,” said Umstead, who is partnering with Durham Distillery for this first pop-up event, as well as various other events.

Umstead hinted at some of his possible concoctions to sip on in September: a basil-oil-washed drink with dehydrated strawberry and peach powder, plus a crisp mix of distilled cucumber vodka and lightly fermented cucumber soda — for a cheeky nod to the vodka soda.

His pop-ups will skip from Durham to Raleigh, and up the East Coast so he can travel a bit and work with inspiring people, while getting feedback.

He said, “I believe that you should always be learning and this is just a good opportunity to do that.”

A glimpse of Sean Umstead’s cocktail-infused Kingfisher pop-up series locations:

  • Sept. 12: The Durham in Durham
  • Sept. 18: Crawford and Son in Raleigh
  • Oct 8: Grand Army in Brooklyn
  • Oct 9: Penrose in NYC
  • Oct. 25: The Garrison in DC

Be on the lookout for more pop-ups along the East Coast, and follow @kingfisherdurm on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for details and updates.