Chow Town

Step inside West Plaza’s classy, innovative new Monarch Cocktail Bar

Check out the Monarch Cocktail Lounge and Bar with Chow Town Live

Star food editor Jill Wendholt Silva gets an early look at the Monarch Cocktail Lounge and Bar during a Facebook Chow Town Live. Bar manager Brock Schulte talks cocktails in this distinctive new space on the West Plaza.
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Star food editor Jill Wendholt Silva gets an early look at the Monarch Cocktail Lounge and Bar during a Facebook Chow Town Live. Bar manager Brock Schulte talks cocktails in this distinctive new space on the West Plaza.

The new Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge’s lengthy cocktail menu will sport everything from mezcal, vodka, Riesling and Dogfish Head SeaQuench Ale to green chilies, passion fruit, lime juice and local honey, both in syrup and as toasted honeycomb.

Actually, that’s all just in one drink, the West Coast Migration.

Talk a bit with Brock Schulte, bar manager at the lounge set to open Monday, Aug. 21, in the West Plaza, and the largesse quickly makes sense.

St. George Spirits’ Green Chile Vodka is dosed with mezcal to add a hint of smoke, the wine lengthens the drink and brings balance and minerality, acidity comes with the fruit, sweetness and aroma from the honey and carbonated complexity from the sour session ale, he says. The result is a vodka Collins riff tailored to Kansas City.

“Kansas City is all about smoke and barbecue,” Schulte says. “It does say barbecue, spice and sweet without being all barbecue, spice and sweet.”

The trick is balancing disparate ingredients into a pleasing whole, and balance was just as important in building the Monarch. There were countless decisions, from obvious ones like the bar’s layout and décor, to those that go largely unnoticed, such as the custom-milled balustrades with their butterfly design on the stairs by the entrance.

Each was weighed against the other, all feeding into David Manica’s desire to create a truly world-class bar. Manica, president and owner of Manica Architecture and the Monarch’s primary stakeholder, knew exactly what he wanted. And he chose to work with Schulte, Kenny Cohrs and Mark Church, all partners in drinks consultancy Liquid Minded Concepts, because he knew they’d share his vision.

“But more importantly, I trust them,” Manica said via email. “They are talented and have a very strong work ethic. They’re really good guys.”

As bar manager, Schulte oversees cocktail development. Cohrs is hospitality manager, Church is general manager and all three are part owners.

When it comes to the Monarch, their goal is clear: to offer the best experience possible for guests.

“Hospitality is as intrinsic to the cocktails as the ingredients are,” Cohrs says. “We want this to be very approachable.”

In other words, Schulte says, if you want a vodka soda, order it. If you like gin and tonics, have one. But if you like both, perhaps try the KC Ice Water, a combination of Tito’s vodka, Aviation gin, blanc vermouth and a bit of sherry that Schulte calls robust and quaffable. There are also beers, wines and plenty of room for requests. What you drink, though, could depend in part on where you’re drinking it.

Certain drinks are ideal for the curtained terrace with its built-in seating overlooking Roanoke Parkway, like the Wanderlust Julep on tap, made from Appleton Estate Signature Blend Rum, Château Arton Armagnac Fine Blanche, smoked Grand Marnier, J. Rieger & Co. Caffè Amaro infused with cascara (dried coffee cherry skins) and Cinzano Vermouth 1757. There are also single-serve bottled tipples like the Baja Refresco, made with kombucha, a mango-arbol chili syrup, Cocchi Americano and rosé wine.

When you enter the main bar, you can survey the room from the top of the stairs, taking in its refined, modern elegance. Matte gray walls, black leather seating, hints of burnished gold and a subtle triptych along one wall are all warmed by subtle lighting, a wooden parquet floor and fireplace.

The bar itself is white Italian marble, completely open on all sides so you can approach it and settle into any of its 20 seats. There’s no back bar cluttering up the view. Instead, an overhead chandelier crafted by artist Nathan Neufeld in collaboration with the Kansas City Art Institute shimmers with more than a thousand laser-cut Plexiglass monarch butterflies.

Two bartenders serve guests at the bar, while orders from the low lounge-style banquettes lining the room will be filled from a behind-the-scenes bar Schulte refers to as the cockpit. That doesn’t mean you can’t chat with your bartender, though. One will be making the rounds with the Monarch’s bar cart, designed by local woodworker and artist Peter Warren. It will offer six Negroni variants and other classics — but only the stirred ones, because a noisy cocktail shaker could disrupt nearby conversations.

Back in the parlor, an intimate space open by reservation or invitation only, another eight drinks are on offer. These are more innovative cocktails, the sort one might find at Chicago’s the Aviary, which is known for pushing cocktail boundaries.

“They’re very technique-driven and much more interactive,” Schulte says.

Some of that technique is on show as bartenders mix and garnish, but still more takes place out of sight as bartenders and bar backs make syrups in 80-gallon batches, ready specialty ice, juice all manner of fruits, and batch and bottle cocktails.

Take the Pratt, Windsor, Drake, Esq., Schulte’s version of a mai tai with sumac-infused Tequila Ocho and the homemade cake batter and almondine candy orgeat Schulte makes with white cake mix for no other reason than it sounded good to him. That must all be prepped in advance; Averell Damson Gin Liqueur, lime juice and Rhum Clément Créole Shrubb, a rhum agricole-based orange liqueur, then round out the drink.

It might not smack of traditional tiki, but then “the cool thing about tiki is the rules are meant to be broken, so you can do whatever you want,” Schulte says. “You just keep building a drink until you feel you shouldn’t build anymore.”

Enjoying such creations is all about trusting the culinary instincts of both bartenders and chefs, says the Monarch’s executive chef, Theresia Ota.

Ota, who has worked in New York, San Francisco and Denver and was most recently chef de cuisine for Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar, collaborated with Schulte, Cohrs and Church to fully integrate food into the Monarch’s identity. The result is a selection of small plates, meant to be ordered and enjoyed along with a cocktail.

Schulte recommends offsetting the unctuousness of Ota’s lobster, watermelon and avocado summer roll with the Watermelon Crawl, an on-tap terrace drink made with Russell’s Reserve 10-year-old bourbon, Keemun black tea syrup, lemon juice, watermelon agrodolce (a tart-sweet sauce), mint and South African Chenin Blanc. The Fire and Rain (Suntory Toki Whisky, Jameson Irish Whiskey, coconut water, Granny Smith apple-infused Aperol and juice from paprika-dusted and grilled pineapple) pairs perfectly with what Ota calls her super-decadent Monarch’s Eggs, a quail egg and pork belly rendition of Scotch eggs.

“This is playful food I want to eat while I’m drinking,” says Ota, who notes most items are handheld or on skewers because “I don’t want you to put your drink down while you’re eating this food.”

Brandon Cummins, another Liquid Minded Concepts partner, also consulted on the Monarch, although his job as director of marketing and education for spirits distributor Altamar Brands prevented him from either owning or working at it.

Schulte, Cohrs, Church and Cummins have long influenced Kansas City’s cocktail culture and will continue with Liquid Minded Concepts’ operations, including education, consulting and events such as Boulevardia, where they this year served 8,000 cocktails before the end of the second day.

While the Monarch team was clearly inspired by global hotspots — Schulte, Cohrs and Church traveled to London earlier this year to study establishments like the Connaught Hotel Bar, Artesian Bar, Nightjar, the Gibson Bar and others — they’re as quick to credit the local bartending community where they’ve all long worked.

“There are amazing places here that provide us with great experiences,” Cummins says. “We’re taking things we’ve seen, things we’ve learned and compounding that into anything greater than we’ve experienced yet.”

To reach freelance spirits and cocktail columnist Anne Brockhoff, send email to blithespiritskc@gmail.com.

KC Ice Water

The Monarch’s menu ranges from world-class, technique-driven cocktails to terrace-friendly quaffable drinks, like this one from bar manager Brock Schulte.

Makes 1 cocktail

3/4 ounce Tito’s Handmade Vodka

3/4 ounce Aviation Gin

1/2 ounce Dolin Blanc vermouth

1/4 ounce Barbadillo Fino Sherry

Boylan Heritage Tonic Water, to finish

Add vodka, gin, vermouth and sherry to a Collins glass, stir and top with tonic water (to taste) and crushed ice.

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