There's been a gradual turning of the tide on the Upper East Side in the past decade, a gentle erosion of some of the more abrasive characteristics of the much-maligned neighborhood. Yes, Dorrian's still lurks, but cool new places like Penrose and Jones Wood Foundry have thrived, tilling the soil for similarly hip spots to take root. The underserved section of the neighborhood in the East 90s has needed some fresh blood—especially with the scourge of the Second Avenue Subway construction—and new Anglo-Indian cocktail restaurant Drunken Munkey NYC certainly fits the bill. With its haute cocktails served in vintage glasses and whimsical, monkey-filled dining room, the 92nd Street eatery brings a much-needed dose of refined revelry to a barren patch of the east side.
There may be mini-bicycles serving as decoration, but this doesn't feel as much like a faux-Brooklyn facsimile as many other newcomers do. Owner Arun Mirchandani, along with two partners, designed the restaurant to channel colonial India, from the cricket ball door handles to the beautiful chudidaar kurtas worn by the servers. The charming cocktail glasses, which Mirchandani began collecting when the restaurant was still just in his imagination, have a charming old-world look with their crystal etchings and delicate stems. They're lovely, if a little unwieldy when filled to the brim with one of the bar's floral, herbaceous cocktails.
Drinks are heavy on the gin, naturally, as well as tonics and tinctures like Pimms No. 1, creme de violette and a variety of bitters. The Aviation Cocktail ($12) was a standout at a recent press preview; its a potent and refreshing mix of gin, lemon juice, maraschino, creme de violette and Agostura orange bitters. The Bramble (also $12) packed a piquant punch from fresh blackberries, mellowed just enough by gomme (viscous simple syrup), blackberry liqueur, lemon and a healthy dose of gin.
Where the cocktails are intense, the Indian fare is more subtle. Family recipes—overseen by the watchful eye of Mirchandani's mother—toe the line between traditional Indian dishes like Goan Pork Vindalu ($15) to hybrids like Ango-Indian Beef & Vegetable Stew ($15). The former sees tender hunks of pork bathed in a faintly spicy chili tomato sauce. We could have stood for more heat, knowing how fiery these dishes can get, but appreciate that burning one's taste buds may not be for everyone. Those dipping their toes into this kind of food should choose the latter, with a thick, savory gravy that's low on the Scoville scale. Dishes are served a la carte, as opposed to the ubiquitous family-style presentations at many Indian establishments, and most entrees comes with buttery naan, raita (yogurt sauce) and equally butter ghee rice.
Oh, and definitely finish your meal with the Gajar Halwa ($6) an unlikely-sounding dessert of carrot pudding flavored with cardamom, rosewater and pistachio. You can thank me later.
338 East 92nd Street between 1st and 2nd Avenues; (646) 998-4600; drunkenmunkeynyc.com.