A New Reign
The Monarch ushers in a new dynasty for Kansas City's cocktail culture
I feel like a different kind of person stepping into the Monarch. The elegant courtyard patio looks like it was plucked from the pages of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and I float through it before descending into the below-street-level bar next to Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar on the Country Club Plaza.
The interior is divine, but that’s no surprise, given the expertise of architect owner David Manica of Manica Architecture. There are plush jewel-toned seats, a pristine white marble bar and a show-stopping butterfly chandelier. It all puts me in the mood to order elegant martinis — and there are plenty to be found on the Monarch’s 60-drink menu.
There are also Tiki drinks, shim cocktails and — of course — an entire chapter dedicated to various riffs on the classic Negroni.
I’ve never really been a Negroni girl, if I’m being honest. Campari, that gorgeous ruby-red Italian aperitif that is the recipe’s backbone, has always been just a little too bitter and a little too thick for me; I’m reminded too easily of cough syrup. But Bar Manager Brock Schulte gives me a wry, polite smile when I tell him this, and he goes about preparing the drink I’ve come to see him for. Spoiler: It’s a Negroni.
Well, it’s a riff on a Negroni — Schulte calls it the Apollo. Instead of Campari, he’s using Aperol, Campari’s sweeter, lighter cousin. He’s using a patchouli and oak moss-infused Aperol, to be exact. How does one infuse such flavors into a liqueur? A lot of science, it turns out.
“I have an ultrasonic homogenizer,” Schulte says with a straight face. “It’s a machine that allows me to create flavors filler, rounder and richer than they would be with just regular infusing. This uses high-frequency ultrasonic waves. It’s used in chemistry to break open the cells in liquids.”
Bartending is another kind of chemistry, though, and one with broader appeal. In inventive infusions — like, say, patchouli Aperol — the homogenizer makes it possible for Schulte and the rest of his team to have several layers of flavor with one fluid texture.
The rest of the Monarch team, by the way, includes a lot of familiar faces. Schulte is one of the partners in the bar, as is General Manager Mark Church and Hospitality Director Kenny Cohrs. These are also the names behind the Kansas City beverage consulting agency Liquid Minded Concepts. With such star power making the gears behind Monarch’s gleaming scene work, it’s no wonder the drinks impress.
Attention to detail is perhaps the most prevalent theme at the Monarch, which takes some inspiration from local history — the Kansas City Monarchs were the longest-running franchise in the history of baseball's Negro Leagues — and its namesake from the monarch butterfly.
“The monarch is a fantastic creature,” Schulte says. “It travels 3,000 miles a year, from Canada all the way to central Mexico. They follow different migration paths all across the world. Their cousins on other continents do the same thing; they make a 5,000-mile trip from the tip of northern China to Indonesia. We start tracking these paths and taking not only spirits found and made along those routes, but also the ingredients. What’s really been great about the menu is that we’ve been able to incorporate a worldwide flavor that’s seasonal and unique to different areas. We’re having a lot of fun.”
The butterflies may travel widely, but Monarch patrons won’t have to migrate too far to find kindred spirits. The 24-seat bar is designed so that guests can converse with each other from any vantage — even if they’re sitting on opposite sides of the room. This is largely thanks to the storing of bottles and products below the bar surface, rather than on racks in the center of the station.
“One of the most important things was the sense of community,” Schulte says. “Everyone’s sight line is very clear. We wanted to create an experience between guests that is unique here.”
As he says this, Schulte pours a sunset-colored liquid into a rocks glass and over a large ice cube. He takes a heavy stamp and presses it onto the cube; it leaves a butterfly imprint.
Of all the cocktails at the Monarch, this may be the simplest presentation (trust me — there’s one drink that comes garnished with a cupcake). But the Apollo is anything but simple; I feel like I’m sipping on a secret garden, something wild that’s flourished on a sunny patch of earth somewhere along the Adriatic. The Apollo may be a riff on an old classic, but it’s made a true believer out of me. Maybe I’m a Negroni girl, after all.
4808 Roanoke Parkway, Kansas City, Mo., (816) 437-7912, themonarchbar.com
The classic Negroni is an Italian cocktail composed of equal parts gin, Campari and red vermouth. It’s named after Count Camillo Negroni, who ordered this drink — itself a variation on the classic Americano cocktail — from a bartender in 1919.
Strong: Gin has always been the strongest element in the Negroni, making it a powerful — and powerfully boozy — cocktail. In the Apollo, Schulte instead uses a house-made aquavit, a Scandinavian spirit similar to gin, and enhanced with cardamom, caraway and bronze fennel.
Bitter: Campari and the Negroni go together like brunch and mimosas, but in the Apollo, Aperol, an Italian orange liqueur, provides a softer alternative. Schulte infuses Aperol with patchouli and oak moss, which works even when it sounds like it shouldn’t.
Sweet: A traditional Negroni uses a sweet red vermouth, but Schulte uses two: a delicate floral domestic from Imbue in Oregon and another called Dopo Teatro from Italian spirit powerhouse Cocchi. There’s also a white Italian bitter liqueur from Luxardo. These give the drink added depth and flavor.