Arun Mirchandani built a long career in the restaurant industry that brought him from India to NYC, where he worked in his uncle’s Bar & Books establishments, at a 42nd Street hotel, and with the Fatty Crew when Zack Pelaccio was still in the mix. But a few years back, he decided it was time to open his own place — a long-held dream — and he started putting the plans together for Drunken Munkey NYC (338 East 92nd Street, 646-998-4600), which he opened 10 days ago on the Upper East Side.
“This doesn’t exist on the Upper East Side; that was the whole purpose of doing craft cocktails up here,” he says. “I live here, and there’s nothing outside of a wide selection of sports bars on Second Avenue, plus wine bars and family-style restaurants. So I decided to open a cocktail bar and do it a little differently, which is where Indian food came into play in the cafe-bistro format.”
Across the board, Mirchandani and his partners Raju Mirchandani (his uncle) and Chirag Chaman (a childhood friend) are channeling the Indian influence on international cocktail culture and the western world, especially via Britain. “Most bars going the craft cocktail route lean toward American Prohibition,” he explains. “But there was a whole movement going on in Europe as well. Some of those ideas came out of India.” Punch, for instance, which Mirchandani explains was first made in India in the 17th and 18th centuries and is named for the Hindi word for five since punch has five traditional ingredients.
Drunken Munkey serves punch, and it supplements it with a raft of classic cocktails that draw from the European cocktail experience, like the East India Cocktail (cognac, Combier, and maraschino liqueur) and the Army & Navy Cocktail (gin, lemon, and orgeat).
As for the food, Mirchandani says the idea was to showcase real Indian home cooking. “The menu is overseen by my mother,” he explains. “You don’t see the commercial flavors or oils of most Indian food here in the States. It’s very light and fresh.” Because his personal family history intertwines with British India, his menu is also offering a number of Anglo-Indian recipes, which marry Indian techniques to British ingredients. Highlights of the list include the Anglo-Indian beef and vegetable stew, railway chicken curry, and the Goan pork vindaloo, he says. And another difference between this spot and most of the Indian restaurants in the city: Dishes here are served plated as opposed to in little copper pots that get passed around the table. So entrees come on the same dish with rice, bread, yogurt sauce, and a side vegetable, making this spot not just unique to the neighborhood, but also the rest of the Big Apple.
The space itself stays true to the theme; Mirchandani has been collecting bar tools, accessories, glassware, and pieces of design and decor for more than five years, and he has them on display here. Look for crystal glasses and a vintage gramophone; the restaurateur also hopes to unveil a Royal Enfield motorcycle with a sidecar attachment for marketing and delivery sometime soon.
Drunken Munkey further distinguishes itself in its own ‘hood by offering late night eats — the restaurant stays open until 2 a.m. on weeknights and 3 a.m. on the weekends. “The Upper East Side doesn’t have that,” says Mirchandani. “The only place you can get food at that time is an Irish pub with chicken wings and mozzarella sticks.”
The spot is currently running dinner only, though it will open for lunch in the next ten days or so.