A word of warning: this is going to be another gushing post. This place is wonderful, well-appointed, well-thought-out, and well-stocked. It’s well-impressive. Some pics and stories after the fold.
Full Disclosure: My wife’s cousin’s boyfriend manages the front of the house and we got a great inside look at the place.
The Blue Monk is located at the heart of Elmwood Avenue, Buffalo’s busiest shopping district. An old dive bar called Merlin‘s used to be located in the spot. Replacing the old rowdy crowd with a sophisticated beer bar is a blessing for the neighborhood but the former tenant’s history turned out to be a curse for the new owner. It seems Merlin’s was under investigation for selling bottom-shelf booze out of top-shelf bottles. This made the license renewal take a lot longer than anticipated and became a financial burden on the staff waiting to open the new restaurant. The bar finally opened last month to much fanfare and I can honestly say that all I want for Christmas this year is a series of gift certificates to The Blue Monk (well some can be to Niagara Traditions as well).
So what makes it so great, right? Well there’s a big list but I’m going to lead off with the small things. Things like the hooks under the bar for jackets and purses and whatnot. The collection of over 40 different pieces of appropriate glassware (see pic above) that’s still growing. And the heat runs that go *through* the bar to come out right on your chilly legs. The giant flatscreen that is only ever on when there’s an important sporting event, and single-person seating on the second level that faces the tv over the heads of the crowd. There’s no question that this place was very well-thought-out from the get-go and it shows. Despite the knowledge that the bar had opened less than a month before the place has a comfortable vibe that makes it feel homey. It’s the attention to the little details that usually go unnoticed that give The Blue Monk such a nice vibe.
Well, that and the food and beer, of course. The draft list is 30 deep and that’s no easy feat for a place this size. You can see from the pics that the cellar is a cramped place with low ceilings. There’s another cooler behind the bar to spread out the load but that’s a whole lot of hose cleaning no matter how you slice it. The list is focused on Belgians but you’ll find a lot of rare kegs as well. When I stopped in the standouts were the Southern Tier Oak Aged Unearthly IPA, the Brewdog/Stone collaboration Bashah and the Mikkeller Monk’s Elixir. We sampled quite a few beers on Tuesday but when I saw Steve the following Sunday he said that in the meantime they had tapped 16 new beers. In four nights they had replaced half of the drafts. This is a place to visit as often as you can to make sure you don’t miss anything!
We stayed at the bar for a few hours while Steve told us about the history of The Blue Monk. It’s named after the famous Thelonius Monk track of the same name. Their logo is a blue hand done in a stained glass-style and could be interpreted either as a jazzman conducting an ensemble or a monk’s hand about to grasp a glass. Maybe the hand is empty because some bums have been stealing the hard-won glassware. 🙁
Mike Shatzel, who with his family owns Buffalo’s famous Coles (another amazing beer bar) and Brennan’s, got the idea after visiting Belgium, Philadelphia’s Monk’s Cafe, and a number of other belgian beer bars. He and his team took inspiration not only from the atmosphere and beer lists of these bars, but also the food. They took along chef Dino DeBell and from the menu it looks like he was inspired. Poutine, a duck reuben and pumpkin soup were standouts. I really didn’t expect to like the pumpkin soup but ended up trying not to finish it off as it was my cousin’s dish! Look for belgian beers to be ingredients in many dishes and definitely try the mussels, which were excellently cooked and delicious as well.
What else is there left to say? This is a beer bar owned by beer afficionados and it shows. The place is warm, inviting and hip. It’s well-worth the trip if you’re anywhere near upstate New York and if you love beer.