co-founder of paper crane and bartender at the vandy, randi kranz photo by izaiah johnson

Paper Crane co-founder and The Vandy bartender Randi Kranz seeks out a challenge – and thrives

Age: 41

Title: Co-founder, Paper Crane, and bartender, The Vandy

Why watch her: She seeks out a challenge – and thrives

For some bartenders, the starting point for creating a cocktail is an ingredient, a riff on a classic, or a notion of how a combination of flavors might work together. That’s not Randi Kranz, who operates the Paper Crane pop-up with collaborator Tyler Baublitz and also makes cocktails at The Vandy.  


autumn morning in osaka cocktail at the vandy // photo by izaiah johnson


The seed for Kranz’ invention is typically visual. “It usually starts out with something very simple,” she said. The cue might be a color, or something she’s seen that day. “I could be looking at a plant and the way it's growing out of cracks on a concrete wall,” Kranz said. She then reverse-engineers the drink from that picture in her mind, identifying, then putting together, the pieces of the puzzle.

The results are beautiful, intricate cocktails that astonish Kranz’ peers as often as they do guests at Paper Crane. “She finds inspiration in just about anything,” Baublitz said, praising Kranz’ ability to “pull the essence” of an idea and present it in a novel way. Jello shots are a Paper Crane signature, but Kranz’ jello shots can take many forms, from a prize-winning gin jello shot with an oolong tea sidecar to shots shaped like mini hamburgers.

Kranz and Baublitz started Paper Crane in 2021 as an outlet for creative fulfillment, but their pop-ups are only made possible by discipline and hard work. Kranz does most of the work on the cocktails, while Baublitz takes the lead on cooking, though their responsibilities do overlap to some extent: Baublitz usually contributes at least one cocktail per event, while Kranz gives valuable input on the food. “She’s much better at making things pretty than I am,” Baublitz said. In the week building up to an event, Kranz said it’s not unusual for her to work 40 hours on the pop-up, in addition to her regular job.

Baublitz was managing the bar at Mission Taco Joint’s Central West End location when Kranz started working there in 2016. In Kranz, Baublitz saw a fast learner whose drive compensated for her lack of experience. “I taught her everything that I knew, and then she just took off from there and got much more talented than I am,” he said.


co-founder of paper crane and bartender at the vandy, randi kranz // photo by izaiah johnson


Kranz attributes her flair for visual aesthetics to her artistic background – she was an art major in college – and talks about creating cocktails the way a writer drafts and redrafts a story. “It’s definitely experimentation, trial and error, and just not being afraid for it to fail the first time,” Kranz said.

Kranz’ stubborn streak is another important component of her creative process. “Instead of seeing it as a failure, I’ll just be like, ‘Let me learn this from it, let’s tweak it and then try it again,’” Kranz said. Out of this painstaking ritual come drinks like Autumn Morning in Osaka: Teeling Irish whiskey, Pierre Ferrand dry Curacao, lemon, a basil-ginger syrup and Japanese sweet potato puree, garnished with a basil leaf, a dollop of purple yam and a tea biscuit.

The Vandy’s beverage director, Patrick Gioia, admits he was initially bewildered by Kranz’ approach, but describes working with her as “astounding.” According to Gioia, her influence has changed the way The Vandy garnishes cocktails, and Kranz sets an example that inspires colleagues to learn and grow. “She’s kind of in her own echelon of ability,” he said. “She is among the crème de la crème of bartenders that I know, on even a national scale. I've only met a handful that can do what she can do.”

Kranz regularly competes in – and often wins – cocktail contests, almost in spite of herself. “[I take part] because I don't want to,” she said. “I'm incredibly shy, I'm a very introverted person.” The constraints imposed by competition give Kranz a problem to solve, and she thrives under such circumstances. “I run headfirst toward things that are difficult,” she said.

For now, Kranz and Baublitz intend to keep evolving Paper Crane, which she said is “starting to blur the lines between cocktail party and immersive art exhibit.” They would love to open a brick-and-mortar bar, but it would have to be a small place where Paper Crane’s expansive creativity would remain sacrosanct. “I love Japanese micro-bars. I like really tiny, intimate spaces, but those aren't always the most profitable, because you don't have high volume,” Kranz said. A conundrum, sure, but one Randi Kranz will, in her own good time, run headfirst at. 


Tags : Cocktails, People, Bars