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Merlin's To Monks, Oh My!

Kevin Brinkworth and Mike Shatzel (photo by Rose Mattrey)

The 411 on 727 Elmwood

Elmwood Avenue has seen its share of shuttered windows and mysteriously missing shops.

It’s not a secret that the businesses and eateries that exist on Elmwood Avenue can be volatile in nature. They open, close, remodel, and move around the street like pawns on a chessboard. The streetscape seems to change from day to day.

An old store shows up in new digs, like Lu Modern Classics, which moved from 504 Elmwood just a few blocks south to 715. Often a reincarnation of a storefront is so dramatic that the memory of its predecessor is soon forgotten; the Bank of America at 495 Elmwood used to be home to the wicker furniture wonder, Pier One. And some addresses seem to be plastered with rental signs for years.

The residents of the Elmwood Village are passionate about their neighborhood and these often overnight maneuvers do not go unnoticed. So when Villagers woke up to find that 727 Elmwood Avenue and been closed down with little to no fanfare, it became the talk of the town.

727 Elmwood is no ordinary address. It was not home to any ordinary business. 727 Elmwood Avenue was Merlin’s.

A neighborhood staple for decades, Merlin’s was a local dive bar with an attitude. It had an eclectic array of regular patrons and young urban villagers. It served up cold beer and great music. When the taps went dry, many eyes watered.

But what was old is new again.

Welcome the Blue Monk to the neighborhood.

The Blue Monk, while new to the street, has been in the mind of its entrepreneurial owner for years. Mike Shatzel of the famed Shatzel restaurant family, owners of Cole’s (1104 Elmwood Avenue) and Brennan’s (4401 Transit), has been researching this project for over half a decade.

While Shatzel’s love of beer is evident in the extensive list available at Cole’s, his true understanding and appreciation of the barley and hops brew was born from a trip to Amsterdam. Shatzel was intrigued with the Belgian beer bars he visited while abroad. He had an epiphany and the idea for the Blue Monk began to form.

Not wanting to rely on just one experience, Shatzel made several trips across the sea visiting and informing his vision of the perfect Buffalo Belgian beer bar. He traveled from Prague to Belgium, tipped his elbow and took in the suds, all while taking notes.

“I credit the majority of my beer knowledge to personal mass consumption,” says Shatzel, laughing.

Returning to Buffalo, he continued to allow his plan to ferment. He began to scout out the perfect location for what would soon become the Queen City’s first and only Belgian beer bar.

He didn’t have to look far.

A village resident himself, Shatzel knew from the onset that the Elmwood strip would be the best home for the Monk.

“Elmwood Avenue is the lifeline of the city,” said Shatzel.

As luck would have it, the infamous 727 addresses became available. Shatzel immediately stepped forward to sign the lease with the owners of the property, the Brinkworth family. Friends from childhood, Kevin Brinkworth and Mike Shatzel are now partners in the Blue Monk.

Still shrouded in mystery, the question on everyone’s mind is what to expect when the doors re-open.

While the bar remains in its rightful place, the remainder of the building is currently under going a tremendous transformation. Merlin’s is very quickly becoming the Blue Monk.

Between the remodeling done by the Brinkworths and the financial contributions of Shatzel, he estimates that more than $150,000 will be spent in the complete overhaul. He jests that the majority of the money went to remodeling the bathrooms. Those with not-so-fond memories of the Merlin’s restrooms will appreciate the effort.

As far as the fare and the brews, his concepts and ideas are both unique and exciting.

According to Shatzel, the Monk will have more than 25 draft lines tapped into a brand new walk-in cooler constructed directly behind the bar. At least half of the taps will be dedicated to beers of the Belgian variety. He notes that the majority of Belgian beers have their own particular glass in which they are intended to be served. Each glass is designed to allow the drinker to taste the beer in the way in which it was crafted to taste.

Shatzel has given thought to even the smallest detail and his efforts will not go unnoticed by his thirsty patrons.

In addition to the Belgium brews, they will also feature local microbrews. There are plans for a boutique wine by the glass list as well as a full selection of distilled beverages.

Under the watchful and creative eye of Dino DeBell, Shatzel’s executive chef, the menu at the Monk will be as unique as the beer selection.

Shatzel refers to the food as gastropub fare. Gastropub fare generally refers to a menu comprising modern European food, with a dash traditional British and Belgian influence.

“It is pub fare with a purpose,” says Shatzel.

Hungry clients will find distinctive dishes along the lines of mussel pots steeped in beer, double-fried pommes frites with a selection of homemade mayonnaises, and Spar’s sausage dishes. For the slightly less adventurous, burgers and wings will abound.

The plans for the Monk do not stop there. The property boasts a large backyard and, with the support of the neighborhood, Shatzel envisions a typical biergarten to enjoy in Buffalo’s warm weather months.

Shatzel’s plans for the Monk are aggressive but his confidence and belief in Buffalo will no doubt help in his success. His “wait and see what the neighborhood wants” motto will assure that, unlike what became of the somewhat stagnant Merlin’s, the Monk will be a breath of fresh air.

Scheduled to open this summer, the owners can’t wait to welcome patrons and pour out more than a few pints.

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