On Monday August 11th, another beer bar on Monroe Street opened. It is, creatively, called Monroe Street Bistro. I love that the sign outside the bar proclaims "est. 2008." This makes the fifth beer bar to open in just the last year; Brasserie V, The Malt House, Alchemy and Dexter's Pub are all recent entrants in the high quality beer bar restaurant business. Each is different in its own way: The Malt House is corner pub through and through - no TVs, no pool, no darts, no food - just good beer and good friends. Dexter's is a Wisconsin corner bar all growed up - a fantastic fish fry to enjoy with your beer. Alchemy replaces the old Wonders as a neighborhood beer and food provider. Brasserie V provides a more upscale European evening.
So, where does Monroe Street Bistro fit? Think of it in the tradition of the Natt Spiel - dim lights, cozy interior, good food, good music, good beer, good liquor, good wines, and just a hint of mystery. Of course, the Natt Spiel doesn't advertise - if you know it's there, you go; if you don't, they don't exactly go out of their way to let you know they are there. It's a hip bar for those too hip to admit they're hip. Monroe Street Bistro is more than happy to tell you they are there, but still keep the hip sense of mystery about them with secret menus only for those in the know (I assure you the password exists in this post somewhere) and hipper-than-thou bar selections (like the "Left Bank Martini" made with St. Germain Elderflower Liquor and Bombay Sapphire).
Of course, given that Monroe Street Bistro is just under 1 mile Southwest down Monroe from Brasserie V, the comparisons are inevitable. In fact, Clayton, ex-head chef of Brasserie V, is a co-owner of Monroe Street Bistro where you will also find the gregarious Agent Provocateur from Brasserie V, Joseph. But, in only a few respects is Monroe Street Bistro similar to Brasserie V: a focus on quality, European fare, Belgian beer and a wood bar. But that's pretty much where the similarities end; where Brasserie V is the realized focus of its owner, Monroe Street Bistro concentrates on providing a more comprehensive experience.
While the focus at Monroe Street Bistro is, of course, on beer (15 taps, 28 bottles) they also offer scotch (13 different bottles), and cocktails (28 of their own creations) and other high-end liquor. Chef Clayton has created three different menus: a lunch, a dinner, and a late night menu. The dinner menu ranges from Belgian (Moules et Frites) to French (herbed lamb chops) to Italian (Bucatini Marinara) to Greek (a Greek Appetizer plate). But, post-9pm until bar-time is where Monroe Street Bistro really separates itself. While Brasserie V tends to slow down as the evening goes on, Monroe Street Bistro is just heating up with a late-night menu consisting mostly of the dinner-time appetizers and a focus on live music and dj sets in the French chillout/downtempo tradition.
Of course, I could pick some nits: some of the taps have been dedicated to certain distributors ( which results in things like Miller Lite on-tap), the menu is eerily similar to Brasserie V, the mirror on the back bar could use some fancy-ing up, too few non-restaurant seats. But, in other respects Monroe Street Bistro has really been the most fully realized opening of the recent beer bars - no missing artwork, the walls are all painted and the interior is well-appointed (note the French tradition of chairs outside of the ladies room for the lasses to sit on while waiting), the staff is all knowledgeable and trained from day one.
So, just like Dexter's, Alchemy and The Malt House all peacefully co-exist on the East Side despite all being within 1 mile of each other, Brasserie V and Monroe Street Bistro are not mutually exclusive propositions.