My first experience at Infuxn Vodka Bar in Joplin took place only a couple of years ago while home for Christmas. I was immediately alarmed – and excited – by how different it was from anything I had ever experienced before in my hometown. French Negronis? Moscow Mules? Vegan-friendly small plates? In Southwest Missouri? Admittedly, I was also instantly worried about its chances of survival in such a place.
That’s why I wanted to sit down with co-owner, visionary, and Cocktail Maestro Daniel – who, in typical, small-town fashion, is also a childhood friend – and ask him how he made a sophisticated lounge the go-to place for drinks in a such a Bud Light kind of town.
Discussion of perfectionism, passion, and Pimm’s Cups followed. Cheers.
[“Black Hole Sun” by Soundgarden blasting in the background]
Kimberly: …a casual conversation. I wrote down questions for the first time ever. So that I’d be organized. So I’m with Daniel. In Infuxn. Downtown Joplin. And I guess my first question for you is how did you get into bartending?
Daniel: Um, that’s actually a really interesting story.
Daniel: I…I met a girl. In a bar. For the first time ever. The only girl that I’ve ever met in a bar. But it didn’t really count because she was the bartender. So, we knew each other for a couple of years. And then we started dating. And, oh, it was like…you know, you do the typical boyfriend thing. So, a month, two months in, you go and see your girlfriend at her work, and blah, blah, blah. And I saw all the shit that she had to put up with. And I told her, “I could never, ever do your job.”
Daniel: And I was serious about it because I saw all the drunks, and everything that she had to put up with. The different social situations which, at the time, I was absolutely not prepared for. I have severe social anxiety. I’m an introvert.
Daniel: Really, really bad.
Kimberly: I wouldn’t have gotten that from you.
Daniel: It’s just…along the way, you learn how to walk behind the bar and flip a switch. And that’s your comfort zone. So, to this day, it’s really hard for me to go into a bar and sit on the other side of the bar and interact with people. I find that very difficult. But back to what happened… So after a couple of months, I told her I could never, ever do what she was doing. And then it turned into, a month later or so [someone interrupts]… Yes, sir?
[Inaudible conversation between Daniel and a patron for a couple of minutes]
Kimberly: There’s always interruptions.
Kimberly: In every interview that I do. OK. So you saw the girlfriend, you said, “I could never put up with this.”
Daniel: Right. Absolutely. And then, we were probably, I don’t know, two weeks down the road. I was, I don’t know, helping her bar-back, and grab ice and stuff like that. And I started making basic cocktails. Part of who I am is, when I become interested in something, I have to be the best at it. I just have that drive. And that hits every single aspect of my life. It’s a blessing and a curse. So I got into that, and I started making basic cocktails, and I started getting into craft beer, really, really hard. And that was the time that you couldn’t get someone to drink a Sam Adam’s in this town. [Laughing] And so, I was exploring craft beer, and I was also into bicycles, and I ran a group called The Crawlers, which is a bicycle pub crawl. And I got everybody kind of turned on to this thing. And so at that point, we had, like, six handles, which expanded to thirteen, which expanded to forty-three. So between her and I, we broke the craft scene here in town.
Kimberly: I remember that. I remember everybody talking to me about craft beer at one point. When I’d come home for Christmas. And it was the bar that you were at at the time.
Daniel: Yeah, and so after that, you’d see a lot of the restaurants around here, especially, like, Karma and a lot of other places… it was almost like an Arms Race over who could have the most tap handles. And…
Kimberly: I love that.
Daniel: It was Beer Wars! We called it Beer Wars at that point because everyone was competing to see who could have the most handles, who could have the rarest beers, and everything. And I did that for…two, two-and-a-half years or something like that. And really, I just got bored with the whole idea. I love craft beer, still to this day, but it doesn’t mean as much as it did to me then. I was super-fascinated by it at that point, but then it turned into… I realized I was presenting somebody else’s product. And I knew everything about their product. I knew where they were from, I knew the origin of their brewery, I knew the style of each beer that I was pouring. The ABV, the IBUs [note: huh?], the hops that they used…but I was doing that for somebody else. And it’s kind of disheartening after awhile. Because you had the first wave of craft-beer fans that came out. And these were kids who were camping out at Macadoodle’s and other liquor stores waiting for the newest thing to come out and researching everything on the internet. So they’re coming in and asking you questions when I have forty-three handles on tap. And I’m swapping between nine and thirteen handles a week. I’m continuously having to keep up, and they’re coming in and asking me, “Do you have this beer,” and blah, blah, blah. It was very frustrating and I’ve seen people that I trained during that time, I’ve seen them go through this as the years have progressed. They’re still into craft beer and they have to put up with that. And at that point…as I said, I’m an introvert, I don’t like people, I don’t want to talk that much [laughing]. So, for me, I was always in love with the idea of the original cocktail, Prohibition-style cocktails, and when a bartender was a bartender, not somebody who made Alabama Slammers or just poured a beer.
Daniel: A bartender was somebody originally whom you went to to find out all the local information. What was going on in town, what’s new, what’s the best. That type of deal…
Kimberly: But that’s difficult for an introvert! To be that person…
Daniel: Right, well, I kept finding myself getting into this spot where I was just a beer-tender and I just had to know all of the knowledge. And I felt like I was pigeon-holed into that.
Daniel: And I wanted to jump out and do something different. Now, cocktails were not something that were really accepted around here at that point. Like, you had your standard restaurants, and everything…bars that had their own cocktail menu. But if you went in to order a traditional Pimm’s Cup or a Last Word or even an Old Fashioned, you still cannot get those around here.
Kimberly: I’ve never seen a Pimm’s Cup here. It’s traditional in Europe. You would always find a Pimm’s Cup. But I don’t think I’ve ever had one in Joplin.
Daniel: To tell you the truth, somebody asked me for a Pimm’s Cup one time and I had no idea what it was.
Kimberly: Yeah! [Laughing]
Daniel: And I did the ultimate bartender cheat that we all do. If you ask us for something and we don’t know it, we go into the kitchen and we look it up on our phone. [Laughing] And we come back and we make it!
Kimberly: Yeah, you’re like, I got it!
Daniel: And that was the first one. And I was like, Man, I really need to do my research into all this. And I just really fell in love with the art of the cocktail. So…I just kept researching and researching. And at that point, I left that bar and I become more of a business consultant. And did my own thing. And during that time, I researched over and over again cocktails, I wanted to improve my knowledge. I wanted to be the best at that and bring back these drinks that history had kind of forgotten.
Kimberly: I love that.
Daniel: Yeah, well, as I said, at that point, when I find something that I want…
Kimberly: You go for it.
Daniel: I have to be the best at it. So it was a year or two of that. And I learned all of the old drinks and started creating my own and I started getting a reputation for it. Which precedes me, I guess that’s kind of stupid [laughing].
Kimberly: No but that’s why I want to talk to you. Because now we’re in Infuxn Bar, you’re a co-owner, you’re also behind the bar here. And if you had to describe this bar for people who aren’t familiar with Joplin…how would you describe this bar, and what’s at the heart of this bar?
Daniel: It’s absolutely the employees and the dreams and the ideas and the experimentation. This is my laboratory. Hands down. That’s what I tell everybody. It’s paid off pretty well, we got named a Top Ten Bar in Missouri last year.
Kimberly: Oh! Wow! Mazel tov!
Daniel: Right? Based off of our creativity, we are, as I said earlier in conversation, it’s almost a pearl in a pig’s eye, and that’s kind of how they summed it up in the review. Amid all of these buildings and dive bars and everything, you walk in and you are not in Joplin anymore. You are in a cross between Vegas and Chicago.
Daniel: And you don’t really know what to expect.
Kimberly: Right. But there’s some hometown pride here as well.
Kimberly: You’re not in denial of your roots.
Daniel: No, no, no. Absolutely not.
Kimberly: You’re just trying to kind of trying to introduce something new and share it basically.
Daniel: I mean, I’m still a punk kid. I’m still tattooed. [Laughing]
Kimberly: I’ll take pictures, don’t worry.
Daniel: I do not look like other people around here, I get teased about that. I don’t care. I’m different. And that’s something that this town needs. You’re seeing a lot of it, from a lot of different angles. I am absolutely super-proud of downtown. We’ve come lightyears from where we were just a few years ago.
Kimberly: When I left ten years ago, it was completely different. Completely different. And that’s leading to a different question. Because I’ve interviewed quite a few people since I’ve been in town. And it speaks to kind of my group of friends, and the people that I choose to interview. The sentiment has always been, We’re a little different from maybe what the preconceived idea of Joplin is. And so I would ask, what were your obstacles in opening in a town like this. And actually, is the image of this town changing?
Daniel: Oh, that’s a good question.
Kimberly [Laughing]: Yeah, thank you.
Daniel: The obstacles were really, really rough. You have preconceived notions of what a bar is supposed to be here in town. Like drinks are supposed to be old drinks, not the traditional style, but really like Long Island Iced Teas or stuff like that. Rum and Cokes. And everything’s over-poured. It’s a boozy town! It is!
Daniel: There’s nothing to do in Joplin except drink! [Laughing] But we wanted to do something different and we did absolutely challenge the traditional idea of a bar here in town by making it more of a lounge style and putting people together in tight corners to where they talk. And they’re not on their phones. And they appreciate the cocktails. And also, little details that we’ve had to take, that we’ve had to deviate from the norm with just the design of the cocktails. Everyone around here likes things a little sweeter. And they like it a little boozier. So I had to totally change people’s ideas but do it comfortably, like holding their hand.
Kimberly: Yeah, I understand.
Daniel: So like a typical pour is about an ounce and half. Our house items, our menu drinks, are two-ounce pours. But everything we do here is like, fresh-squeezed juices, hand-made syrups, everything. There is a lot of set-up that goes into this. And so you get a really nice, fine, balanced drink and you have your…at first, you would have your typical Joplin people come in and go, Oh, I don’t even really taste the booze in that. And then they have three of them. And they’re stumbling to the bathroom and they come back and they’re like, “OK, you’re pretty good at this.”
Kimberly: I didn’t [inaudible]. And maybe that’s how it’s supposed to be, like, I enjoy the drink and it’s not just getting drunk. Like, when you say holding people’s hand…it’s like, you can actually enjoy a cocktail for the taste. And it’s not just to get completely hammered.
Daniel: Exactly. That’s what I’m trying to bring to this town, where it’s like, how smashed can we get, how fast can we get smashed? To…let’s sit down and enjoy conversation and have a fine, balanced drink and you can imbibe and you can figure out which way you want to go through conversation, but it’s not people yelling over each other. Or anything like that. It’s…I don’t know, it’s nice. It’s relaxed. It’s a different feel.
Kimberly: Do you feel like people have responded to that?
Daniel: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. It took ‘em awhile to understand but mostly we have an older generation that comes in because they don’t want to be at a loud bar. They want to sit down and they want to have their time, and that’s usually early in the evenings. And then you have this newer generation that’s coming up, especially new college graduates, post-college, which is what I really want to target because it’s kind of their scene. [Laughing]
Kimberly: Yes, and this is what we were talking about before. Because, like that’s my scene, that’s your scene, and this is the kind of bar that we’d like to come to.
Daniel: Right, because you can come in and you don’t have to deal with frat boys or anything like that. I mean, I will go on record right now and say probably 90% of my clientele on Friday and Saturday nights is female. Because this is a safe place for them.
Kimberly: That is very interesting. That is something I almost brought up earlier when we were talking… is that this is a very female-forward and female-friendly bar. As a woman, I would feel comfortable coming here by myself. Where there are other places in town…just because of the town that we’re in…I would feel like there’s a stigma attached to me going to a bar by myself. Where this is not that kind of place.
Daniel: Exactly, no. And I mean I’m kind of a…I’m kind of a fatherly-figure around here and I don’t like to see anybody put into a spot that they don’t want to be put in. And I will be the first person to walk over and take care of that. I want peace and conversation and good drinks and laughs and smiles, that’s all I want. This isn’t a breeding ground! [Laughing]
Kimberly: I mean, maybe it is, but, like, unintentionally. [Laughing and getting ready to botch a Seinfeld quote] What’s that Seinfeld quote? How are all these ugly people getting together? Alcohol! [Laughing] No, but maybe, the by-product is breeding but it’s not the first and foremost idea behind the bar. Um, ok, just a really quick question. People from outside of Joplin, maybe people from Paris, when they come to Joplin, besides go to your bar, what should they do?
Daniel: They should take me back with them. Because I want to see Paris.
Kimberly: Dude! Next time I go, come with me! Seriously, you’d have so much fun.
Daniel: Absolutely. Um, I don’t know, you’re going to get a different experience here, you’re not going to get much time here in town, or in our town, and find anything else like this. You’re just not. I mean, we have a lot broader views than most people in town. To the staff that we hire, everyone is very open-minded. And we’re all here, we’re just here to have fun. That’s the whole thing. Why do you go out? You should be greeted with a smile, you should have good service, everybody should have fun on both sides. You don’t want a rude server, you don’t want a rude bartender, you don’t want rude clientele. And that basically starts on our end. If we are friendly to you, then it’s usually reciprocated. And that’s the reflection that we want.
Kimberly: So you feel like people coming in here, that’s the experience they’re going to have…it’s easy.
Daniel: We’re not here to just provide drinks or anything like that. We want it to be an experience. That is our number-one goal. It’s says that on the wall of our kitchen. “It’s the experience.” That’s what we’re here to provide. And it’s not like one of those cheesy Applebee’s things, right? Like, “We’re all on board with this!” [Laughing] We’re all in the kitchen high-fiving each other. Like, we all have bad days. Dude, you totally have bad days in the backroom. But at the end of the day, this is what people are coming in for and we really, really work together to pump each other up. And we are family. And you can’t find a group of people that we have here as motivated, just self-motivated. It’s not even about the money or anything, it’s about the interest and the comradery. And that’s one of the things that you will find here. [Perfectly-timed maniacal laughing from someone in the background] I tell you, one of our biggest things is we have like a zero turnover rate.
Kimberly: Yeah, people come here to work and they stay. Because they found a place…
Daniel: Right, I mean, yes, you should make yourself happy. You shouldn’t be sitting in a corner somewhere, you should…you should find yourself and take chances and learn to make yourself happy. But also to surround yourself with the right people. And yeah, we’ve got a good collection of people but you can single anyone of us out and we’re all positive. There’s no sad sacks here.
Kimberly: We’ll leave it at that…there’s no sad sacks here. Oh that was like a way longer interview than I had anticipated. That’s goo-