UPPER EAST SIDE — A new restaurant and bar on East 92nd Street is offering a twist on the craft cocktail craze by featuring drinks inspired by British Colonial India.
Drunken Munkey NYC owner Arun Mirchandani rose to fame with gigs including designing a high-end beverage program for the New York Helmsley Hotel. But the Upper East Side longtime resident always dreamed of opening his own cocktail bar in own neighborhood, drawing from his Indian heritage which he said was the starting ground for all cocktails.
“Punch is the first documented cocktail method, and it came from India,” said Mirchandani, who said punch traditionally combines five ingredients. “The word punch itself is derived from the Indian word paanch, which means five,” explained
He said he he finally saw an opening in the market in his own neighborhood, and leaped at the chance — partnering with his uncle Raju Mirchandani, who runs the Bars and Books lounge chain, to open a bar and restaurant inspired by India’s British Colonial period.
The drink menu features modern interpretations of classic Colonial Indian cocktails, such as the East India, which combines Cognac, pineapple juice and Peychaud’s Bitters, as well as the Singapore Sling, made with Bombay East gin and Cherry Heering.
The cocktail menu also features a “Paanch of the Month,” featuring a rotating selection of recipes based on the traditional five-ingredient formula of something sweet, something sour, spices, fruit and alcohol. The drink is then served in a crystal bowl with glasses for up to eight people.
“The cocktail culture has been vibrant for the past five years now, but it’s nonexistent on the Upper East Side,” he said. “We want to be a neighborhood place that is offering the same quality as places Downtown.”
While the dinner menu includes standard entrees, it also offers dishes not often seen at traditional Indian restaurants. These include a vindaloo curry made with pork — an unusual meat in Indian cooking — and a British-style beef stew flavored with Indian spices.
Both dishes highlight the Anglo-Indian cuisine that was formed when European recipes fused with Indian flavors and ingredients, Mirchandani said.
Some of the recipes, like the Sindhi Fish Curry, come straight from the kitchens of the Mirchandani family, which has been heavily involved in the taste-testing process, he noted.
“I’m fortunate that my mother lives a few minutes away and can oversee the final flavor of all the dishes,” Mirchandani said. “We don’t use much oil. The food is not as spicy as at some Indian restaurants. We’re making this food the way that its actually cooked at home.”
The dining experience at Drunken Munkey NYC is also different than that at most Indian eateries. Rather than serving food family-style, the restaurant is styled after a French Bistro, with diners ordering individual entrees and choosing from a selection of side dishes.
Touches of the Colonial India period also come through in the decor. The door handles are fashioned from cricket balls, a gramophone graces the stone-topped bar, and vintage toy trains are lined up on a shelf above an elegant navy-and-gold banquette. The namesake monkeys float above diners as part of the chandeliers.
So far, Drunken Munkey NYC has been very well-received, Arun Mirchandani added.
“It’s been fantastic, he said. “The neighborhood has come out in full support, and I think that some people have discovered their new watering hole.”