By Rory Winston
Yes, I’ll say it, “to the vanquished belong the spoils.” If success were gauged in terms of lasting cultural plunder rather than immediate gain, that’s how the proverb would read. Poetic justice prevails in that empires often learn very little from their victims, while the colonies both absorb the traditions of their captors as well as emerge with a more developed sense of their own identity.
The British fared no different. Though most of the English returned home with their meager culinary traditions in tact, the post-colonial cosmopolitans of Bombay enjoyed a renaissance in cuisine. Not only did they incorporate approaches from hitherto unknown regions, but they also brought the notion of the cocktail to new and exotic heights. Luckily for the Brits, some Indians packed up their patilas and immigrated to London. The Drunken Monkey pays homage to just such non-innocent times.
Created by the team behind Bar and Books, and Le Bateau Ivre, this Upper East Side Indian cocktail bar and restaurant is a proscenium celebrating the bistros of Old Bombay with colonial artifacts ranging from cricket-ball door handles to Nehru-clad monkey sconce’s hanging from the chandeliers. With authentic vintage toy train set, replica bicycle dangling from the ceiling, antique gramophone and piano accordion, one gets the sense of having walked into a Prakash Mehra film production.
Founded by Arun Mirchandani, formerly of the Helmsley Hotel, the restaurant is the culmination of a life long dream for both himself and his uncle Rajun of Bar and Books and Monkey Tobacco renowned.
Dressed in “chudidaar kurtas” waiters arrive bearing perfectly crafted cocktails in hand-cut crystal glasses. Whether opting for the Pimm’s No.1 cup, the East India Cocktail, or the iconic Singapore Sling, it takes no time at all for guests to feel like emissaries from her majesty’s empire being courted by local representatives.
As for food, if the collaboration between Chef Chetan Patil of India’s 5 star Oberoi Grand Hotel and chef Derek Alfaro of the Beekman Tower doesn’t say enough, note that Arun’s own mom not only contributes to the menu but must personally approve every dish. From Paani Puri to Goan Pork Vindalu to the very unique Railway Chicken Curry, each sumptuous masterpiece is a story of several bygone eras, an amalgam of very distinct contributions from a highly varied and colorful past.
“I have eaten of your salt” goes the Hindi saying, expressing loyalty. If this is the case, I have little doubt that all who indulge in a Drunken Monkey meal will pledge devotion enough to last several lifetimes. •
1205 Forest Ave
New York, NY