Ça Va Breaks Out the Bubbly in Westport

A fizzy Champagne bar by a trio of food/wine veterans shakes up misconceptions about sparkling wine.



photos by Brooke Vandever

   When used as a question, the casual French greeting “Ça va?” (prounounced ‘sah vah’) means “How’s it going?”  Likewise, Ça Va, the new bubbles boîte in Westport projects a casual, laissez faire vibe, including a relaxed attitude about sparkling wines. Its trio of partners, all KC food/wine veterans, wants to dispel the myth that Champagne is fussy, formal, pretentious and only for special occasions. “We wanted to make Champagne approachable and accessible, and make people think of it with food and as a casual, not-so-expensive option,” says Executive Chef Howard Hanna.  

   The other principal partners in the venture are Champagne Director Jim Coley and bartender Caitlin Corcoran. Corcoran, recently of Port Fonda, was the winner of last summer’s Paris of the Plains cocktail competition. The only female finalist in this prestigious cocktail showcase, she beat out all the boys with her corn-flavored “Field of Dreams” concoction. In addition to Ça Va, Hanna is the chef/co-owner of an obscure restaurant and bar, tucked in an old hotel in the Crossroads, The Rieger Hotel Grill & Exchange, that quickly shot to local and national fame for its food and beverage programs. The hidden speakeasy Manifesto is tucked into the hotel’s basement and accessed via a call button and back entryway. (Manifesto has cultivated several of Kansas City’s top mixologists.) But Ça Va is a more tightly focused concept that Hanna originated to focus on the unique qualities of Champagne and sparkling wine.

   Ça Va is exactly the kind of effortlessly cool, slightly raffish place that industry veterans would design for themselves and their friends. In fact, various food/wine industry types have found their way to its gorgeous white marble bar. Tucked on a quiet side street in Westport with noted establishments like Port Fonda and Julep whisky bar as its neighbors, this bubbles bar represents a more sophisticated, adult corridor in Westport’s playground. A visitor could easily make a progressive date night by stopping off at all three: pre-dinner drinks and snacks at Julep, then dinner at Port Fonda, followed by a romantic late-night stop for Champagne and dessert (such as profiteroles or crème brulee tart) at Ça Va, which pops corks until 1 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

   No fancy dress code is required and no reservations are taken. The bar’s democratic slogan is “Champagne for the people” and the establishment lives up to its billing. Cocoran says the bar attracts a surprisingly but invitingly diverse set of sippers—“from 20-somethings who like to nurse a Miller Light (Ça Va also offers beer) to more mature patrons coming from an evening at the ballet or opera” and everything in between. This includes their share of French expats and Americans who have lived in France and long for a bit of Gallic atmosphere. The bar has also attracted the attention of Food & Wine magazine, who nominated it for a “People’s Best New Bar, Midwest” award this past fall.

jim coley, howard hanna and caitlin corcoran at ca va.

 

   Coley, who also acts as a wine consultant at the Midtown Gomer’s Fine Wines and Spirits and-full disclosure-pens a spirits column for 435 Magazine, has devised a nicely edited and eclectic selection of by-the-glass and by-the-bottle wines for Champagne novices and connoisseurs alike, as well as special wine flight Wednesdays. “Champagne is going through an evolution right now…. People are getting excited about the smaller artisanal producers,” Coley observes. He admits there is any number of quality big-name, big-production Champagne makers out there, but Coley has chosen to focus mainly on smaller, more independent vintners. The list ranges from Oregon and Italy to, of course, France and runs the gamut from sparkling wines like prosecco, cava and rosé to a full-fledged Champagne like Crémant de Limoux, which hails from the birthplace of sparkling wines. The invention of Champagne was apparently a happy accident. According to the myth, it was created by Benedictine monks in the late 17th century, who accidentally allowed the secondary fermentation process resulting in the bubbles.

   Ça Va is also a serendipitous project. Hanna had nursed the idea for a little Champagne bar for many years but the pieces did not come together and then The Rieger intervened, bringing him both loads of work and recognition. Recently, the landlord of Julep and Port Fonda notified Hanna of a small, narrow space in a historic brick building in Westport that had become available—a space he was struggling to find the right concept to fill. Hanna dusted off his old Champagne dream and the rest is history. He paired with his buddy Coley, who he knew through KC’s intimate food/wine circles and then Cocoran was brought on board to oversee the menu of classic and modern Champagne cocktails.  For example, you can sip a Death in the Afternoon with a splash of absinthe or sample Cocoran’s own bestselling (and refreshing) creation County Cork, featuring Jameson whisky, yellow chartreuse, honey, lemon and sparkling wine.

   The tiny, narrow 740-square-foot space has a relaxed, vintage appeal with old-school wood and metal bar stools, marble-topped Parisian café tables, reclaimed wood floors original to the historic building, an exposed brick wall and a salvaged pressed-tin ceiling that long ago belonged to a former bordello outside St. Louis. “The ceiling’s grapevine motif seems tailor-made for Ça Va,” says Hanna. To reinforce the theme, a circa 1900s photograph of a prostitute from New Orleans holding up a Champagne glass enjoys pride of place over the loungy back corner of the bar. And at night, countless votives sparkle amid the glinting glasses of Champagne, sparkling wine, cocktails and bottles. On some nights the bar might be playing French tunes, jazz or ‘90s hip hop. On other nights, local musicians have been known to play a set, such as award-winning jazz trumpeter Hermon Mehari on certain Thursdays. A bellini bar is set up for Sunday brunch and French DJ Rico Dejoie regularly spins French pop and soul tunes for the brunch hours.  In spring and summer a delightful side patio expands the bar’s capacity.

   

   Ça Va does not have a full-service kitchen, but it does offer several delicious bites designed to pair well with the drinks menu, such as $2 Wellfleet oysters, cheese toasties with quince paste, a Croque Madame, salad Niçoise, paté, cheese and ham plates, or The Reiger’s famous pork soup, which Hanna imported here. Hanna says the menu “represents a nod to France but is also in line with local purveyors and my cooking style at The Reiger.”

   Look for one of Cocoran’s specialty cocktails come Valentine’s Day. She is thinking of doing something with “Chocolate Guinness, Champagne and perhaps raspberries.” But be sure to pad time into your Valentine’s Day schedule because Ça Va does not take reservations, even on special holidays. The policy is simply “ first come, first serve.”

   When asked if they can pinpoint the elusive allure of sparkling wines and Champagne, Coley says the bubbles are refreshing, mesmerizing and fun to look at,” and then chimes in, “It’s like a snow globe in reverse!”

   This same casual, playful joie de vivre also infuses Ça Va.

   Ça Va is located at 4149 Pennsylvania Ave. in Westport. It is open Tuesday.-Saturday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. Sunday brunch starts at 11 a.m. For more information visit cavakc.com.

 

Five Favorite Sparklers at Ça Va – by Jim Coley

 

Jose Dhondt Blanc de Blancs  The presence of this Champagne in Kansas City makes me happy. Dhondt specializes in chardonnay-based Champagnes, and this is one of our most popular glass pours. It has a great mix of citrus, apple and pear fruit with a yeasty richness that makes me think of croissants at breakfast. I love this with our Croque Madame sandwich, or brunch! We're also adding his vintage Mes Vieilles Vignes bottling for special occasions.
 
Joel Falmet 'Traditional'  This Champagne producer makes only a few thousand cases of wine each year -- the local Costco probably sells that much Moët! Falmet is one of the top growers in the Aube, the southern part of Champagne, France, which produces bigger, richer styles of Champagne because of its distinct soil. Falmet's Traditional uses primarily pinot noir, and is a rich, round, ripe and powerful style of Champagne.
 
Roederer Estate  The Champagne house that produces Cristal also has a small winery in Northern California in the Anderson Valley. This is one of the few regions that is cool enough to produce chardonnay and pinot noir grapes that can be turned into sparkling wine. It is a balanced, elegant wine with pear and apple flavors and comes close to Champagne quality.
 
Zardetto Prosecco  This peachy Italian sparkler flew off our patio this past summer. Prosecco has brightness and refreshing flavors and just a hint of sweetness to a massive wave of peach flavors.
 
Domaine Collin Crémant de Limoux  This wine hails from the South of France. Limoux is where they believe sparkling wine was first produced, and this small estate is considered one of the region's best. It's a blend of four grapes. It doesn't spend as much time aging as Champagne, so it only has a hint of yeast to it. This wine is very dry, and has a lot of citrus and apple fruit to it.