Kansas City-based architect David Manica has forged a vision for some of the highest-profile projects around the world, including the 2008 Summer Olympics’ National Stadium in Beijing, China; Wembley Stadium in London, England; VTB Arena Park in Moscow, Russia; Inter-Milan Stadium Concept in Milan, Italy; The Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China; and the proposed NFL stadium for the Oakland Raiders in Los Angeles, California. Most recently, Manica has constructed a decidedly more intimate venue: The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge.
“I’ve spent a lot of time around the world – flying to London, Moscow, and other cities that have great cocktail scenes,” Manica says. “I was disappointed to not have a similar escape in my hometown. So, I built my own. My goal wasn’t to open one of the best bars in Kansas City; I set out to have one of the best in the world.”
The Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge opened last summer in the first floor of the Plaza Vista at Roanoke Parkway. The 3,500-sq.-ft. space, which took about one year to bring to fruition, features a main bar and lounge, an outdoor terrace, and a private parlor accessible by reservation or invitation only.
The name of the bar resonates with the city’s rich history, paying homage to a now defunct printing company and the Kansas City Monarchs – the longest-running franchise in the history of baseball’s Negro Leagues which employed legends Jackie Robinson, Satchel Paige, and Ernie Banks. Manica’s real inspiration for the cocktail lounge, however, came from a fellow frequent flyer: the monarch butterfly.
Butterflies are a key element of the speakeasy — from the lighting and décor to the cocktail menu. When guests enter the main bar, they can survey the room from the top of the stairs, taking in its refined, modern elegance. Matte gray walls, black leather seating, hints of burnished gold and purple, and a subtle triptych along one wall are all warmed by indirect lighting, a wooden parquet floor, and fireplace.
The bar itself is white Italian marble, situated in the middle of the room, completely open on all sides. There’s no back bar cluttering up the view. Instead, a scene-stealing chandelier shimmers above with 1,000 laser-cut, translucent acrylic butterflies.
The significant lighting fixture – which weighs close to 1,500 pounds – was created in collaboration with local ceramic artist Nathan Neufeld and the Kansas City Art Institute. Each butterfly was 3D printed, sand-blasted, and etched by hand. To keep them from spinning and tangling with one another, Manica and Neufeld constructed a grid system for the butterflies, made of recycled steel and fishing wire. Five separate panels of about 200 butterflies hang from the grid through an intricate pulley system, allowing them to drop at various heights. The chandelier mimics, “butterflies in flight,” as each hand-crafted piece is illuminated by 10 color-changing LED lights.
“I wanted that Wow factor,” he says. “The lights really make the chandelier come to life. Hitting them with subtle color changes, different intensities, and hues create the illusion that the butterflies are swarming above the bartender. It’s a great complement to the space, and I enjoy watching new and returning guests walk into the lounge and admire its beauty.”
In addition to the one-of-a-kind chandelier, the Monarch’s main lounge area is illuminated by LED spotlights. The tables, bar, and walls are lined with indirect strip lighting to create a soft inviting glow. Each booth also has an elegant table lamp. “The lamps were important to me,” he says. “They’re a nice touch. I think they make the bar feel less institutional and more like someone’s home.”
The outdoor terrace features built-in banquette seating under a glittering glass canopy. Manica pulled inspiration for this space from the summer evenings he had spent on patios in Moscow. Hanging strands of vintage-style Edison bulbs and two dozen lanterns help transcend guests to an ethereal oasis. Much like the main lounge, the terrace is further illuminated by LED strip lighting hidden under the tables and along the railings.
The lighting design in Monarch’s Parlor required special attention. The private VIP room features black marble, walls, drapes, leather, and tiles. Manica describes the dark, luxurious space as the “cocoon of the butterfly.”
“It’s very, very exclusive,” he says. “You have to be invited or be a member to gain access. There’s also a separate, private entrance for celebrities.”
To counterbalance all of the black, Manica turned to golden LED light. The ceiling features warm, indirect strip lighting, the tables are accented with black and gold lamps, and the bar is adorned with several dozen flickering LED candles.
“Finishing the Parlor reinforced my belief on how important lighting is to a space,” he says. “A lot of people are unaware of what goes into a project like this. It’s not just about paint color or aesthetics. Lighting is crucial — it sets the entire tone. Lighting is like the final accessory. When we receive compliments, I know a lot of it has to do with the lighting we chose.”
As illumination and luxury blend to create Manica’s Monarch Cocktail Bar & Lounge, it’s the menu, however, that is what ties the space together.
The cocktail list features elaborate creations inspired by the monarch’s migratory routes, complete with longitude and latitude coordinates. The West Coast Migration, for example, includes Green Chile vodka from St. George Distillery in California, and Sombra Mezcal from Mexico. “We wanted the menu to offer more than just cocktails,” he explains. “We wanted it to tell a story — and that story, of course, is of the butterfly.