Monarch Martini

Monarch, 7401 Manchester Road, Maplewood; 314-644-7175.

A little purple pearl of cassis sits nestled at the bottom of the Monarch Martini. You just want to reach into the glass, pluck it out and string it into a necklace. But, alas, cassis is a liquid (blackcurrant liqueur), so unless you're a wizard or warlock you won't be able to hold it on a string. The competing impulse is to drink the martini quickly, the way you used to eat a whole box of cereal just to get the toy surprise. But that would be a waste of an incredible drink — one of many on Monarch's new cocktail menu.

The Monarch Martini contains housemade orangecello, Cognac and fresh orange juice, and is topped with moscato. Then bartender Ted Kilgore — dip into your savings account to tip him! — pours a little touch of cassis, which drops to the bottom. The result is like sipping an otherworldly nectar: soft with orange, sweet with Cognac and as gentle as a kiss on the cheek.

Ah, layers of deliciousness — there are many within Monarch's stunning drink menu, which spans sixteen pages and even has a table of contents.

Let's get all of the superlatives out of the way here: Drool drool dribble dribble. We could gush for the length of this column and still feel like we've shortchanged the two geniuses behind this epic menu. Sommelier Chris Hoel and head bartender Kilgore have combined like the Wonder Twins to fill the pages with so much inspiration and creativity that we're left feeling helpless beneath their magic.

Bartenders citywide — nay, worldwide — could learn a lot from a few hours spent sitting around Monarch's glorious bar. There, with the soft lights providing ambience, they could learn about perfection, about freshness, about inspiration. They could learn about the craft of the cocktail, the art of wine pairing. They could learn about the way things are supposed to be done.

The table of contents tells part of the story. Among others: sparkling cocktails, new classic cocktails, straight-up cocktails, beers, sakes, white and red wines, aperitifs, Cognacs, whiskeys, tequilas, rums, vodkas, single-malts, eau de vies, Armagnacs.

The meat of the story starts on page two. Take the Fancy Devil, an update of the classic El Diablo: silver tequila, cassis, fresh lime juice, Champagne and Angostura bitters. Or the Thai basil mojito: Appleton rum, fresh lime, basil and lemongrass. Dribble dribble drool drool: The Lavender Bee's Knees contains gin, fresh lemon juice and lavender-infused honey; the Pisco Pear — which is exquisite — contains pisco rum (national drink of Peru), lemon juice, egg white, sugar and pear, which Kilgore tops with a dribbling of Peychaud's bitters.

Kilgore, who created the cocktail list, is a student of spirits, the kind of guy whose head is filled with recipes and info, who collects classic cocktail books and drops names of drinkmasters the way that poetry professors cite verses. Hoel, an advanced sommelier, deserves his own throne at Monarch; his knowledge is never overshadowed by his honesty, and he will tell you which bottle on his extensive list has the best bang for the buck. He delivered us a glass of riesling, a 2004 Strub Niersteiner-Bruckchen Kabinett, that paired so well with our corn bisque that their coupling seemed preordained.

Go any night of the week — as long as you go — but we'd highly recommend hitting Monarch's wine bar on a Friday, when DJs mix house music and Kilgore mixes drinks. It will rock your world.

 
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