Behind Bars: Shawn Shahnazi at Monarch

Erica Thompson

“Welcome to Miami.” You may not want to admit listening to Will Smith's kitschy 1998 hit about Florida's southeastern city, but plenty of people did: The song peaked in the top 20, and its video earned an MTV Video Music Award. Smith seemed to capture the spirit of Miami, which is what Shawn Shahnazi is trying to bring to the newly open Monarch Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge.

“It's more like an attitude than anything else,” Shahnazi said in an interview at the Short North establishment. “You get dressed up, you look good, you feel good. [And if] you feel good, you do good. You really live by that motto.”

The decor will certainly inspire patrons to come in their snazziest attire; there are plush red couches, leather chairs, marble tables and a gleaming, three-tier chandelier so eye-catching it inspired a signature cocktail.

“The Chandelier” includes OYO Stone Fruit Vodka, pomegranate juice and house champagne. Although it was crafted by local mixologist Christine Basham, much of the rest of the menu is pulled from Shahnazi's Miami restaurant, Prohibition.

The restaurant's specialty is seafood, served “family style” in small or large plates. The most popular dishes are the Shrimp Ceviche or Sea Bass Ceviche, both marinated in citrus lime juice with cilantro, onions, tomato, avocado and mango.

“Every bite tastes different,” Shahnazi said.

With 30 years of restaurant experience in Miami, where he still lives, Shahnazi decided to expand to Columbus after visiting his brother in the city.

“I realized it's a great city,” said Shahnazi, who was also impressed by the “strong, vibrant” LGBTQ community.

“I know I bought a gay establishment and converted it to a non-gay [establishment],” he added, referring to Level Dining Lounge, which occupied the space from 2009 to 2017.

“We had some strong feelings,” he continued, referring to community reception.

Shahnazi has also received some complaints about the prices (cocktails are $12 or $13, but all are half-off during happy hour, Wednesday through Saturday, 5-7 p.m.).

“It's the ambience. You pay for the environment, you pay for the setup, you pay for friendly staff [and] you pay for a nice place [to] sit down, lounge,” he explained. “Some have been receptive to what I'm trying to do, others haven't.”

That ambience includes music provided by a live sax player or a DJ. Although customers are encouraged to lounge, the vibe is upbeat.

“Just because it's 5:30 p.m. doesn't mean we couldn't have music and we can't enjoy life,” Shahnazi said. “Dancing shouldn't have to start at 11 p.m.”