The Monkey Bar. What can I say? I have officially found my favorite restaurant in Manhattan. If you come to visit NYC, and you’d like to go a classic, old-timey New York restaurant (and you’re willing to dish out some dough) — this is the place for you.
Some history first. On the heals of the end of Prohibition, the Monkey Bar opened in 1936 on the ground floor of Hotel Elysee in Midtown (which was, at the time, one of the fanciest hotels in the city). It quickly became the go-to hangout for old-school New York celebrities like Tallulah Bankhead, as well as the place “a number of significant events” occurred (says the site) — like when Tennessee Williams mysteriously choked on an eye-dropper and died there.
Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.
The bar was purchased in 2009 by Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter and his wife, along with hotelier Jeff Klein.
And the mural. Oh this mural, my friends. Created by illustrator Ed Sorel, the three-paneled mural runs along the entire length of the back wall of the restaurant, and then onto some adjoining walls as well. It features many significant figures from the Jazz Age, those same figures that used to call the Monkey Bar their favorite hang out. You can click on the mural link above in this paragraph and it’ll bring you through the entire mural and explain little histories about all those on it.
One of the many, many things I loved about this place was how it felt like two completely different places. The front entrance (reached from the street) has the feeling of a really fancy, old-school bar, with a real live piano player in the corner and a bar with monkey murals in the background.
But then move through the bar area to the back of the joint, and the actual restaurant area is much more subdued and romantic.
Plus — the monkeys! Monkeys, monkeys everywhere! And yet somehow — they managed to be tastefully done.
(I apologize in advance for the graininess of these photos. As I mentioned, it was quite dark, and since it was, you know, a somewhat classy joint, I was trying my best to be discreet with my photo taking. Chris may or may not have been mortified.)
^^ I mean, look at this menu! So detailed!
^^ The dessert menu was just as beautiful as the main one.
^^ This mural guys. This mural.
^^I was convinced this was Marilyn Monroe. Chris said no.
Unfortunately he was right. (I hate when that happens.) It’s Mae West.
The food was not outdone by the ambiance. I ordered a seasonal cocktail (The Harvest Punch, with rum, mulled cider, cognac, lemon juice and nutmeg) and Chris had the Improved Whiskey Cocktail. He says his was fantastic (I don’t know anything about that … I don’t like those kinds of drinks), but I can tell you right now mine was. We ordered a crab cake appetizer to share (best damn crab cake I have ever had in my life), and I ordered the Saffron Risotto for dinner. Chris got the Colorado Lamb Rack. We both thought our meals were incredibly delicious.
Discussing the joint on our walk back to the subway afterwards we were trying to decide what to rank it. Neither one of us could come up with any negative things to say about it. Even our waiter was polite and quick and lovely. Nary a negative thing to say, people. Not one damn thing.
Great job, Monkey Bar! You will mostly certainly see us back here!