Colonialism in India introduced the flavors of the sub-Continent to the rest of the world. Now the team behind Bar and Books and Le Bateau Ivre introduce Drunken Munkey New York City—the first craft cocktail bar with a full Indian kitchen, a playful throwback to the time of the British rule in India (1757–1947) and a tribute to the famous cafes and bistros of Old Bombay, serving late into the night and early morning.
The recent history began six years ago, when founder and co-owner Arun Mirchandani started collecting vintage bar spoons, jiggers, shakers, and elegant crystal glassware. He was determined to open a bar of his own in New York City, a dream he had since childhood. Everything in his professional life led to this moment: from studying hospitality management at the Sheraton School of Hotel Administration in India and at the New York Institute of Technology, New York City, and training under his uncle, and co-owner, Raju Mirchandani, for a decade with Bar and Books, eventually becoming director of Operations there, to developing a luxury beverage program at the New York Helmsley Hotel as Beverage director. Sharing his nephew’s passion, Raju (founder of the international chains Bar and Books and Monkey Tobacco) traveled with Arun back to India for renewed inspiration. Raju’s experience working at London’s Dorchester and Bombay’s Taj Mahal hotels adds another layer of European and Asia sophistication. Entrepreneur and childhood friend of Arun’s, Chirag Chaman joins Arun and Raju in this venture.
The family has a very personal connection to the colonial period in India: Arun’s great-grandfather was the first Indian to serve as Customs Collector for the British East India Company; his family grew up with British rock, London gin-based cocktails and “Memsahib’s cooking,” a hybrid style that evolved when the British “Lady of the House” asked her Indian household cook to prepare traditional British dishes—the rich ingredients and spices used in the kitchens of the Indian aristocracy were incorporated into the recipes brought by the European settlers. The British, French, Dutch, and Portuguese all adapted variations on their own dishes, resulting in a new cuisine—collectively known as Anglo-Indian cuisine.
Inspired by the family connection to Anglo-Indian culture and the way British influences defined a generation in India, Drunken Munkey New York City captures the glamour of the era in a bistro format with a mirrored wall and banquette seating, French doors that open to the street and other telling details—remnants of Colonial India, such as monkeys dressed in red Nehru jackets hanging from the chandeliers, cricket-ball door handles, elephant coat hooks, intricate hand-carved wood panels and authentic vintage toy trains and replica bicycles around the ceiling’s perimeter. The staff are decorated in style, too: the bartenders are dressed in Nehru jackets, the servers in “chudidaar kurtas” and the chefs heads are covered with Rajasthani turbans—all custom made in India.
The heart of the matter, however, is the “East Indian Beverage Selection,” a sophisticated cocktail program designed by Arun, consisting of craft cocktails—classics prepared both traditionally and with a modern interpretation in Anglo-Indian style. The beautiful stone-topped bar is not only a mixologist’s fantasy come true—outfitted with vintage bar tools, hand-cut crystal glassware, elegant etched coups, tools for creating elegant garnishes (cucumber spirals), a real swizzle stick, and dedicated ice-shaping equipment (ice molds for slow-melting spheres, long sticks for highballs, shaved ice for swizzles) and stocked with tinctures, bitters, and fresh squeezed juices—but it’s also playfully decorated with colonial Indian artifacts from Arun’s personal collection, including candle-holder monkey sconces, an antique gramophone, his father’s piano accordion, and a classic old phone.