Drunken Munkey Combines Indian Fare and Cocktail Culture

Dec 04, 2013 Industry News
Industry News

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.

The polished barmen can whip you up an East India Cocktail—D’usse VSOP Cognac, Combier, pineapple syrup, Luxardo, and Peychaud’s bitters—or an Army & Navy with Bulldog London dry gin, fresh lemon juice, orgeat, and lemon zest, or the iconic Anglo-Indian Singapore Sling with Bombay East gin, Cherry Heering, Benedictine, Combier, mixed with fresh lemon and pineapple juices. Modernized colonial classics include the Pimm’s No.1 Cup, made here with fresh lemon juice, hand-muddled ginger, a crisp-fresh cucumber slice, topped off with lemon-lime soda. They’ll also be serving warm cocktails for the season, including mulled Offley Ruby port served in a snifter with a dose of fresh cinnamon.

It makes sense that the first Indian bar in New York would also pay tribute to cocktail history: The origins of the cocktail can arguably be traced back to India in the early 1600s with the invention of “Paanch.” The Hindi word for five, or what we know in English as punch, is a basic recipe of the five elements—sweet, sour, spice, fruit, and alcohol—that make up a cocktail.  Thus, a prime feature of the Drunken Munkey NYC menu is the ‘Paanch’ of the month, a rotating combination of the essential five ingredients, served in a crystal bowl for up to eight, as a traditional toast to friendship. There is also a list of Indian-style beers (Maharaja’s Imperial Ale, Parvati India Pale Ale) and domestic beers (Full Sail Session Lager, Anchor Steam) and well-priced wines by the glass or bottle (Viognier, Pinot Gris, Bordeaux, Shiraz) and fine Champagnes. The comprehensive list of spirits is one of the many benefits of the owners’ years of experience and connections; it includes dynamic rum and whiskey selections, exciting aperitifs, satisfying ports, and agreeable digestifs.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen the Anglo-Indian collaboration keeps up the pace with two chefs from diverse backgrounds. Executive chef Derek Alfaro, formerly of Zak Pelaccio’s Fatty Crab, discovered his passion for cooking while serving in active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, then graduated from the International Culinary Center and later became chef de cuisine at the Beekman Tower Hotel.  Chef de cuisine Chetan Patil studied hotel and restaurant management in his native Kerala, India, and worked in the kitchen at several 5-star hotels in India including the Oberoi Grand Hotel, and in the U.S. at Saffron in Philadelphia and Tulsi in New York City.  With complementary skills, the two chefs are sending out a large proportion of classic, authentic and home style dishes not typically found in restaurants, many based on the families’ own recipes—taste-tested, tweaked and approved by Arun’s mother (affectionately nicknamed “The Tongue”).

This food is the ideal complement to the cocktails: Savory, crunchy, spicy mouthwatering snacks such as Paani Puri (classic street food), crispy flour puffs filled with potato and chickpea chaat with tamarind mint water (cleverly presented in a re-purposed escargot plate) and Lamb Seekh Kababs, grilled hand-ground spiced lamb meat.  The main courses are served as composed plates with everything you need: ghee rice, raita and naan. Examples of the distinctive Anglo-Indian entrees include Railway Chicken Curry, an ode to a dish served on railway cars that varied with the destination on the Great Indian Peninsula Railway (the largest rail network in the world under colonial rule), prepared in a sauce of tomato, onion, mustard seed, and curry leaves; and Anglo-Indian Beef and Vegetable Stew, an improvement on the British original, with tender braised beef, leeks, potatoes, carrots, and onions, and whole spices.  Another rarely seen original is Goan Pork Vindalu, that unlike most vindalu you may have seen, contains no potatoes, rather it is cubed pork shoulder in a spicy chili vinegar tomato sauce.  Look for other special dishes such as Double Onion Lamb Curry, Tandoor-Baked Whole Cornish Hen in wine sauce and Lucknow Meatballs browned with onions and ginger.  But even familiar dishes like Butter Chicken Tikka Masala, cubed chicken in creamy tomato sauce and Bagara Baigan, coconut curry eggplant in peanut sauce, are elevated in the hands of these two chefs, with more distinct flavors, delicately layered seasonings and amazing textures. Dessert offers a twist on traditional fresh cubed mango, here served sundae-style with vanilla ice cream and house-made orgeat drizzle. 

In the coming weeks, the bar will offer full dining options in addition to shared plates on a separate bar menu. A rotating list of daily specials will complement in-house dining as well as an exceptional food delivery to be added to the format.  Private sit down dinners for up to 35 people, and private cocktail reception with passed hors d’oeuvres for up to 50 people can also be arranged, both in-house and at your home.

 

 

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