Until recently, cookbooks either focused on utilitarian recipes or begged for admiration with gorgeous photos of meals you might attempt on a long weekend. The easy availability of internet recipes has led to the near-extinction of the classic how-to book, with today’s cookbooks getting prettier and sometimes growing into mini-memoirs.
Bartending books have likewise evolved, with titles like The Cocktail Codex, The Drunken Botanist and Tiki: Modern Tropical Cocktails. They’re getting prettier, too, rather than going deep into the historical roots of drinks and obsessively categorizing them as earlier books in the genre did.
The Monarch Book of Cocktails is something else entirely—a unique and detail-driven book for a unique and detail-driven cocktail bar, which redefined luxury nightlife in KC when it opened on the Plaza five years ago. The drinks might be described as “aspirational” for most bartenders, but beautiful photos and clear instructions make it possible to recreate world-class mixology at home if you’re willing to spend the time and money.
The book opens with a description of the bar’s spaces—no accident since owner David Manica is an architect whose firm designs stadiums around the world, including the palatial new Raiders stadium in Vegas and the new Golden State Warriors arena in San Francisco. Digital renderings of the original designs and finished spaces look like a mirror’s reflection. The text accompanying the images gets into detail about design choices and materials used.
The drink recipes that follow are detailed and clear, but even the simplest will require a little effort and a few trips to the store for a home bartender. The Carriage Club (Tito’s, red wine, lemon juice and a syrup made from fresh berries and mascarpone) and the Kansas City Ice Water (Broker’s gin, Tito’s, Dolin blanc, fino sherry and tonic water) are probably the most approachable.
Monarch’s signature drink, the Louisiana Purchase, is more complicated, requiring you to make an infusion of two exotic liqueurs and orange peel and also a tincture with eleven ingredients including burdock root, wormwood and angelica. The final mixed drink is then freeze-distilled for two hours before serving. (At the bar, the glass is chilled with liquid nitrogen, but you can omit this step at home.)
Several other drinks require making tinctures from tropical nuts, salt-curing egg yolks or making your own kombucha or tepache.
For bartenders in other markets, there surely are ideas here begging to be borrowed. For most people in Kansas City, the book is a reminder of how lucky we are to have Monarch in town and pouring these drinks for what now strikes me as a very reasonable fifteen dollars.