New bar under Kaldi’s focused on education and accessibility

The Understudy, which opens in January, plans to offer a diverse selection of high-quality drinks.
New downtown bar The Understudy continues to move into its new space in order to to meet its January opening date.

Underneath Kaldi’s Coffee on the corner of Cherry and Ninth streets, a soon-to-be-bar is in the works. Illuminated by strings of Christmas lights and filled with boxes, the space is still unfinished. But in just a month, this work in progress will officially open as The Understudy.

Owned by Shot Bar proprietors Andy O’Neill, Ben Monsees and Ryan Walsh, The Understudy has visions of being a widely accessible yet still high-quality bar featuring wine, beer, cocktails and small plates of food.

“There’s a kind of faux pas in the bar industry to say you just want to build a ‘good bar,’” Monsees said. “People want a college bar, a lounge, a sports bar. Whatever the design of your bar is, there’s this expectation that it should have a specific style to be qualified. We took the approach that the style of bar we were going to be was a very good bar. We’re going to provide, from top to bottom, a knowledgeable, experienced staff.”

Although highly focused on quality, The Understudy doesn’t have elitist ambitions. The bar isn’t high-end, but it offers a quality experience as far as the drinks are concerned, Monsees said

“The Understudy was conceptualized as a bar that you could go into and get the same experience as anywhere else in the country,” Monsees said. “For example, if you want a really good Manhattan and you aren’t exactly sure where to get it, we could provide it. If you want a craft beer poured the right way, we can provide that. If you need a venue that provides wine but don’t want to go to a ‘wine bar,’ we can provide that.”

As with Shot Bar, one of The Understudy’s most compelling features will be its refusal to charge cover.

“We’ve always had the opinion that cover needs to be for a good reason,” Monsees said. “We hated cover as students here. Most students would agree with that, and we didn’t want to be huge hypocrites.”

Another one of the bar’s unique features will be its 30-foot, live-edge, black walnut bar, which Walsh said will be one of the largest in the country.

Walsh and Monsees also see The Understudy as a way to educate the college population on the vast variety of drinks so that when students graduate, they know what they’re talking about when they enter bars in cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and Dallas.

“We are going to educate the people who come in here without them being fully cognizant of it,” Monsees said. “What we’re doing here is going to be really transferable.”

Monsees and Walsh also discussed the possibility of offering bartending classes to parties or individuals interested in learning what goes on behind the bar.

“We want to give people the knowledge about drinks that other bars may not provide,” Walsh said.

Another goal of the owners is to hire experienced, diverse people from all over Columbia.

“We want to represent the whole Mizzou student body,” Monsees said.

Although the co-owners of The Understudy have many goals for its opening, their main objective is serving well-crafted beverages.

“We want to provide quality drinks with an inviting ambiance,” Walsh said. “We are still a college bar in a college town. We are just going to be as consistent and high quality as our region is capable of producing.”

Edited by Katherine White |

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