Montage Café and Bar brings a third dimension to the venue occupied by The Redhouse and SubCat Studios
Most new restaurant owners start by deciding on a concept, a menu and a style, then search for a location to house their place. Although Christian Van Luven had a basic blueprint for his new eatery—Montage Café and Bar, located in The Redhouse at 201 S. West St.—the joint’s personality, food and services have taken shape in response to its unique location.
Although the Montage crew would be glad to feed hungry Redhouse patrons and visitors working with the state-of-the-art technology of SubCat Studios and other creative businesses within the walls they share, they’re no office building lunchroom. Since opening on June 11, following more than a year of planning and working with building owners, Van Luven has asserted his café’s place as an integral part of that hot corner.
“Basically what the concept revolves around is that the building itself houses so many different initiatives going on—you have The Redhouse, you have SubCat Music Studios—so we kind of had to make our own identity,” Van Luven says. “But at the same time we also work with the concept of this building programmed to the music and the arts.”
Beyond the doors of its new home, Montage is also anxious to fill a role in the evolving neighborhood at the entrance to Armory Square. Downtown workers, shoppers and visitors, Syracuse University students studying across the street at the performing arts Warehouse Building and artists occupied in activities at the other businesses within The Redhouse’s complex (dubbed “201 South” by Redhouse tenants) create an eclectic and diverse customer base.
“This building kind of serves as an anchor, connecting the Near West Side development with Armory Square,” Van Luven asserts. “Just the way this café is designed, basically a long hallway, our front door is Armory Square and our back door the Near West Side.”
In anticipation of the unusual challenges of Montage’s location, Van Luven, in collaboration with daytime manager Kyle Pooler and evening manager Tomomi Yoshida, Van Luven’s Japanese-born wife, has crafted an exotic and colorful menu from local sources when possible. They feature Green Hills pastries, homemade granola and New York cheeses.
“We’re trying to work with companies that are only sourcing locally, within a limit of 25 miles,” Van Luven notes. “Right now we’re dealing with Regional Access, which works with a select number of farms that are all within the local area. They’re the only ones that are doing this right now.”
Drinks range from the locally manufactured West Roast fire-roasted coffee, sake blends and bubble tea, and blended drinks developed by Van Luven and Yoshida, who moved to Syracuse and opened Roji Tea Lounge in 2004, basing it on Japanese concepts. One thing absent from the menu is meat as the café is vegetarian and vegan.
“Once you start dealing with heavy food and meat and like that, it becomes a whole different concept,” Van Luven contends. “The atmosphere in here, you kind of get that sense that you’re not going to have a sit-down, big meal. At night we’re going to do our own blend of sauces with fresh bread you can dunk in, really kind of light snacks-oriented.”
Everything on the menu, which concentrates on creative drinks and light bites, is available anytime with the café’s hours: Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m., and Saturdays, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. “You’ve got to realize that people are kind of passing through and they don’t have the time for sitdown dinner,” Van Luven concedes. “But at least you want to provide the high quality of what they’re getting.
“The hours also cover three different kinds of crowds. You have all those connections to work with. A montage is a collection of several different pictures to make one and that’s kind of why the name fit what we’re doing.”
Owners are counting on post-performance crowds to provide Montage with a chance to welcome some new customers. “Redhouse events will typically end around 11 p.m.,” Van Luven explains. “This way people—instead of having to go right back home again—can come into the lounge and hang out and converse for another couple of hours.”
They’ll be relaxing in a 1,400-square-foot environment decorated with nothing left to chance from ash table tops harvested from local trees removed from city area projects and processed at Mack Brothers, a few blocks east, to birch wall panels, all-natural Marmoleum flooring and kimono-inspired upholstering on the stools.
Technology is wired into the room with three 32-inch flat screens near the entrance that provide informational loops and feeds from Redhouse performances and SubCat sessions, a new system for taking orders and cashing out customers and a website (www.monstagecafeandbar.com) that provides links to the sources of food on the menu. Even the tables have technology that can scan bar codes, providing information on the café furniture.
Soon Montage will be presenting live entertainment with DJs and wine nights accompanied by classical guitar on the agenda. “I’m in the process of getting my entertainment license for the space,” Van Luven says. “We’ll pretty much design the nights to cater to different vibes: different atmospheres for different nights. On Saturday nights, we’re going to be working with Real College Radio, SU’s FM radio station. They’ll actually come in and do live broadcasts from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. That will be very interesting because they’ll actually let customers choose their playlist, actually participate in the programming of the station.”
Next in the planning stages are outdoor seating on the brick patio at the building’s northeast corner and a September outdoor concert in the parking lot.