People keep asking Jennifer Ray what kind of place the Monarch will be. Truth is, she doesn’t know yet.
"I’m kind of waiting for customers to come in and shape what this becomes," Ray said. "Flexibility is the key."
Of course, Ray does have some ideas of her own, which is why the Monarch features work by local artists on the walls, tasty food on the menu and a bar stocked with everything from PBR to high-end bourbons.
Ray opened the Monarch last month in a space on the Delano roundabout formerly occupied by The Garage and before that, John Barleycorn’s and River’s Edge.
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"I’ve always loved the location, always loved the space," Ray said. "I guess I was just in the right place at the right time."
The time was right because The Garage’s owner, Michelle Borin, was ready to move on, and Ray — after more than a decade running somebody else’s bars — was ready to work for herself.
Ray has been in the bar business since a short stint teaching school taught her that "wasn’t going to be my thing." She’s worked for Dave Dunn for 11 years, most of them as manager of Emerson Biggin’s and Rock Island Live in Old Town.
"I’m terribly loyal," she said.
As are Ray’s fans and friends. Troy Wells, a graphic artist and writer who’s known her since high school, shakes his head when he hears people say Wichita needs the same bars and restaurants they’ve seen in other cities.
"Having a chain doesn’t establish you as a great city," he said. "It’s having people like Jen."
Wells said the two have talked over lunch for years about "if you did your own thing, what would you do? I think (the Monarch) is very in tune with the neighborhood and the people that frequent this neighborhood."
Ray said her basic concept was "something very nice but still laid back. I just want to do it a little better." The name comes from a bar that operated in Wichita in the 1870s.
Ray spent a month transforming the location, painting the interior and exterior, hanging new lights, hand-making tables and covering up tread plate that had given the place the look of a garage. Gone also are that bar’s hip-hugging waitress outfits, which perhaps owed a debt to Borin’s other business, the Michelle’s Beach House gentleman’s club.
Instead, the focus is on art by Patrick Duegaw, Wade Hampton, Curt Clonts and others. There’s still a pool table, piped-in music and enough TVs to let you know you’re in a bar.
John Ernatt, who owns Diver Studio with his wife, Connie, said many restaurant and bar owners offer artists space to exhibit their works in exchange for "exposure." Ray bought the works herself.
"It’s a real significant difference," he said.
Ray put the kind of food she likes on the menu – from smoked chicken wings and sweet potato tots to homemade tomato bisque, smoked chicken caprese sandwich and grilled Caesar salad.
"I wanted to take bar food and make it a tad bit different," she said. "Nothing super pretentious but nothing super boring."
The kitchen serves until midnight.
Come warm weather, Ray said, she may feature live music on the patio, which overlooks the Delano clock tower.
The Monarch is open from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays through Saturdays. If you catch Ray there and she looks a little tired, it may be because she’s still working part-time for Dunn until they can find somebody to take over for her.
"He is happy for me," Ray said. "He is pretty proud of his little girl getting her own place."