Sometimes, all you need to do to escape the humdrum pace of normal life is to relax with a cocktail. At least, that’s the idea anyway. And while the alcohol alone has a lot to do with that mental vacation, the setting can certainly help as well. In the case of the newly opened Monarch Bar, one can step off of Roanoke Parkway and into West London, or so it seems.
The Monarch Bar is the passion project of architect and designer David Manica, as executed by local cocktail svengalis Liquid Minded Concepts. With general manager Mark Church, front of house manager Kenny Cohrs, and bar manager Brock Schulte at the helm, they’ve created a posh oasis from the hustle and bustle of the Country Club Plaza.
There are a bevy of adjectives that could be thrown at The Monarch Bar—luxurious, posh, creative—but the one that seems to fit best is ‘whimsical.’ While Manica is most known for his stadiums and vast public spaces, he’s gone the opposite direction and created a bar that is cozy yet light, as 1000 acrylic butterflies float from the central chandelier in the center of a marble-topped bar. The central bar is the stage for the skilled bar staff as they sling, pour and even mold ice cubes in front of guests.
The menu is more than a menu; it’s a travel guide. With original art illustrating the migratory path of the monarch butterfly, which passes through Kansas City, the cocktails run the gamut from the classics with a twist (planter’s punch or the full menu of riffs on negronis) to the fanciful (The Narrow Cut Noble Pursuit, which lists ‘luxury air’ as an ingredient). Where the monarch’s path ends, the migrations of other butterfly species begins, granting the opportunity to incorporate spirits and flavors from across the globe.
Schulte’s cocktail menu is more than simply a list of drinks; it’s liquid theater. One of the bar’s best-selling cocktails, Silver Dollars and Half-Light Skies (found on the Mid-America page of the expansive menu) takes the Old Fashioned to the next level. The recipe starts with Applewood-smoked J. Rieger & Co. Whiskey and adds a barrel-aged cream soda reduction, Yunnan black tea-infused Tabacal rancio and No. 22 Boondock bitters to create a smooth but slightly sweet drink that would be delicious as is. But instead of stopping there, the cocktail is infused with smoke at the time of preparation and sealed with a candied lid. The cocktail is presented with a tiny hammer so that the guest may crack the top and release the intoxicating aroma of smoke. Any cocktail that comes with props is one that can’t be missed.
If whiskey is still intimidating and you prefer a bit of pineapple on the rim of your glass, there are myriad options. The Monarch Planter’s Punch (found under The Atlantic Coast on the menu) gives a fruity favorite a Latin makeover by way of Kansas City. Combining three rums (Foursquare 2004 Single Blended Rum, J.M. Gold Rhum, and J. Wray Silver Rum) with banana mango-chile de arbol, tepeche and Kansas City’s own Crane Brewing seasonal gose. The gose adds a pleasant tartness and effervescence. And don’t worry; if you still want a bit of spectacle, this drink comes out with a flaming lime floating on the top.
Sometimes one cocktail deserves an in-depth look, and The Monarch focuses on the Negroni. The classic cocktail is one of Manica’s favorites, and so Schulte explores the basic format (strong, bitter and sweet, normally interpreted as gin, Campari, and sweet vermouth) and turns it on its ear. The Apollo is a perfect example. Schulte switches out gin for a house made aquavit made with green cardamom, caraway, and bronze fennel, and adds patchouli and oak moss-infused Aperol. Sweetened with Cocchi Dopo Teatro, Imbue Vermouth, and Luxardo Bitter Bianco, it’s a drink that’s equal parts floral and herbal with just the slightest edge of sweetness to enhance the Aperol.
For those that want to up the ante, the Parlour is also available by reservation. The Parlour is the negative of the Monarch Bar; dark and intimate where the main room is light and bright. It’s small and cozy, made for small groups or larger groups willing to reserve the entire space. It comes with its own menu as well that includes eight cocktails that take their ingredients seriously. Based off of Aesop’s fables, these cocktails range in price from $22 to $36, so they are not for the faint of heart or light of wallet. But what they lack in thrift, they more than make up for in personalized attention and unforgettable experience.
While the Monarch Bar is, first and foremost, a bar, the need for nibbles was addressed early with the addition of executive chef Theresia Ota. Fresh from next door neighbor Jax Fish House and Oyster Bar, Ota had a challenge ahead of her—how to make beautiful and delicious bites that can not only enhance the experience but fit on the ever so chic but also ever so tiny tables.
Ota says the concept behind the bar was that a cocktail would never be put down. Even so, real estate is limited, and the menu trends much more toward snacks than to dinner. But she packs a lot of punch into each bite and uses a bit of architectural ingenuity to boot.
While there are late night snacks available such as nuts, popcorn, and olives, there are also larger bites available. Three options of skewers are presented in a vertical form—a six-inch square platter. Despite the small footprint, the skewers pack a punch. The caprese spiedini is presented as a stacked panini of sorts—fresh mozzarella, Farm to Market sourdough, basil and charred cherry tomatoes accompany the grilled chicken. The crispy bay scallops offer an elevation of the classic fried bar food options pairing fried scallops with a fresh and light yuzu crema, horseradish and Worcestershire ketchup.
For more composed options, the small plates menu features a butcher’s board with Broadway Butcher meats and local cheeses, bbq eggplant cups and, my favorite, the negroni-cured lox. The vividly red salmon retains its fatty flavor and doesn’t necessarily taste like its namesake cocktail, but it does cut a vivid place on the table.
Once you’ve indulged in more than two cocktails at The Monarch and had a nibble or two, dessert is surely not far behind. With four options, including Christopher Elbow chocolate truffles, berries and cream and an affogato, I had to go for the boozy ice cream sandwich. At the time of writing, the ice cream batch was based on an old fashioned and included the boozy cherries that garnish each glass. The ice cream is sandwiched between bourbon pecan shortbread. The dessert is decadent but still a bit nostalgic. The next creation will riff on the Moscow mule with a ginger snap base and a vanilla lime vodka ice cream.
It’s clear that Manica turned the pros loose to be creative in the best ways that they respectively know how and the results are spectacular. Not only is the menu creative and the room beautiful, but the service is what you would expect from a world class bar. Instead of languishing over an extended menu with nothing but water to tide you over, an amuse bouche cocktail is presented. Although it’s only a few sips, the citrusy dram is a pleasant surprise at the beginning of a seamless experience. Once drinks are ordered, they arrived at the table within five minutes, prepared by the service bar in the back. The division of labor means that every guest feels like the only guest, and isn’t that what true luxury is anyway?
The Monarch Bar has one goal—to transport its guests from the stolid middle of the country to the wings of an itinerant traveler. It achieves it handily. And while the interior space may be small, an outdoor patio nearly doubles the real estate. With a bit of ingenuity and engineering, the staff expects to be able to use the outdoor area for more than three-fourths of the year. It’s exciting to imagine enjoying a Thanksgiving cocktail in the balmy faux autumn of The Monarch’s terrace.
Kansas City is leveling up in so many ways and The Monarch Bar is the personification of that ambition. Prepare to board, Kansas City. Your flight has arrived.