The Drunken Munkey: A New Take on Anglo-Indian Cuisine
Initially, it was the spelling of The Drunken Munkey that pulled me in the door. The creative and delicious cocktails, lovingly prepared Anglo-Indian food, and the colonial-kitsch vibe has already made me a repeat visitor.
When I saw "Drunken Munkey," with the phonetic spelling of monkey, I had a vivid flashback to a circular debate with my high school best friend: "If you say 'munkey' for 'monkey,'" she reasoned, "then why don't you say 'dunkey' for 'donkey'?"
A just question. Drunken Munkey founder and co-owner Arun Mirchandani delighted me when he explained the name with that same reasoning.
"When it came to how to pronounce 'monkey,' the English language got it wrong," Arun says with a laugh.
Fortunately, Arun (formerly beverage director at the New York Helmsley Hotel), partner/uncle Raju Mirchandani (Bar and Books and Le Bateau Ivre), and partner/childhood friend Chirag Chaman share a sense of humor along with a commitment to delivering top-notch Indian food alongside classic-with-a-twist cocktails. The Drunken Munkey it is, and the bar/restaurant is a bonafide find on New York City's "upper" Upper East Side at 92nd Street between First and Second Avenues.
With a nod to India’s history as a former British outpost, the Drunken Munkey celebrates the décor and tastes that arose from that era, from the Brit-centered cocktail menu to the Royal Enfield motorcycle and sidecar parked out front.
Step inside and you’re transported to what could pass as an officers’ mess from the 1930s. The family accordion hangs above the door, monkey-themed decorations lie here and there, and the bar is sprinkled with vintage bar spoons, jiggers, shakers, and elegant crystal glassware Arun has collected over the years.
At the bar, the "Original Classics" cocktails all deliver a taste of Old Bombay. The Royal Enfield Sidecar titillates with flamed orange zest to complement the D’usse VSOP cognac, Combier and demerara sugar along the etched crystal champagne flute in which it is served. The Singapore Sling is a fruity but measured blend of Bombay East gin, Cherry Heering, Benedictine and Combier with fresh lime and pineapple juices, eased by a splash of club soda.
The bar also boasts as neat selection of Indian beers and gins, from various takes of Bombay and Hendrick’s to Beefeater and Tanqueray, up to a powerfully herbal German gin, the Schwarzwald Monkey 47. Served over a perfectly round, single ice ball, the Monkey 47 shows why it deserves a place at the bar, and not just because of its cute name.
The Drunken Munkey team describes the place as a "craft cocktail bar with a full Indian kitchen." But let’s be clear: While the bar at the Drunken Munkey has many attractions, you’ll find yourself pulled toward one of the tables when you see and smell the food wares.
Authentic Flavors. Modern Hues.
The appetizers and sides are sharable, and many of them are unlike any Indian food you might have had before. The Paani Puri -- crispy flour puffs filled with potato and chickpea chaat with tamarind mint water -- is a one-bite delight. The Mutton Seekh Kabobs -- skewered, hand-ground spiced mutton -- pair perfectly with the mint chutney served alongside. Spicy, homey Chili Cheese Toast on Pullman bread triangles and fresh chilis is another crowd favorite.
In a unique presentation for Indian food, the entrées are served bistro-style as individual portions rather than family-style. The main dishes come accompanied with naan, the ubiquitous Indian flatbread, delicately perfumed ghee rice, lemon daal and raita.
The Railway Chicken Curry (a nod to the colonial railway dining-car food) and the Butter Chicken Tikka Masala are two standouts, along with the Goan Pork Vindalu, a rarely seen original that unlike most vindalu you may have seen, contains no potatoes. The recipe for the cubed pork shoulder in a spicy chili vinegar tomato sauce comes directly from Arun’s mother. In the hands of Executive Chef Derik Alfaro (formerly of Fatty Crab), these Anglo-Indian dishes take on a modern hue with clean yet authentic flavors.
While its East 92nd Street location may not be directly adjacent to any of the major attractions on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, it’s worth a side trip to experience Indian food in an interesting and most thrilling new setting.
The Drunken Munkey is located at 338 East 92nd Street, between First and Second Avenues. Currently serving dinner and weekend brunch, it will be opening for lunch later this year.