This NYC institution has been around for 84 years. While some restaurants transform dramatically over time, Monkey Bar is the rare spot that has stayed pretty much the same. We thought it hit its apex under owner Graydon Carter. But now that it’s run by the guys at 4 Charles, we see that the party is just getting started at Monkey Bar NYC.
Monkey Bar’s superpower is that the more things change, the more they’ve stayed the same. Located in the Elysian Hotel in Midtown, Monkey Bar is a New York institution. From the day it opened its doors, it was generally always buzzy, and a go-to-spot for after-work drinks. With its Park Avenue proximity, it naturally attracted the finance crowd and office workers from the area, so it’s always interesting people-watching. It’s the kind of place where Don Draper would fit right in, and it got even better when Graydon Carter of Vanity Fair was at the helm.
However, during the pandemic, the unthinkable happened, and both Monkey Bar and the equally classic 21 Club closed their doors. But when one door closes, another opens, and luckily in walked the Hogsalt Hospitality group. The name may not register, until you see they are the masterminds behind Au Cheval and 4 Charles Prime Rib. Hogsalt’s has a distinct formula. The company takes spaces and makes them into throwback restaurants circa 1940s. Why mess with a good thing? With Monkey Bar NYC, Hogsalt didn’t. This is the review.
In a nutshell, Monkey Bar is as old-world New York as it gets. When you walk in, you could be in the year of 1923, or 2023. The lighting is dim, walls are adorned with murals (which of course include monkeys), and the palette is deep red with polished dark wood. The décor is where the classic ends; the vibe of Monkey Bar is fresh, lively, and fun. The majority of the crowd are New Yorkers and even people who normally don’t eat above 14th Street.
Like 4 Charles (where even after 7 years, it’s near impossible to get a reservation), Monkey Bar is in demand. The dining room has one of those rare setups that as you walk in, you can see virtually every table as you descend the open-floor-plan stairs. Monkey Bar NYC defines “see and be seen.” For a client dinner or large group, it’s a place that immediately guarantees a fun scene.
At the bar of Monkey Bar, it’s first come, first served, and it’s packed. Luckily the crowd is attractive to manage the two-hour-plus waits. There’s not a lot of easy standing space though, so if you’re planning to walk in, make sure no one gets hangry. Whether you get a spot at the coveted bar or at a bar table, the energy of the room is exactly what you want for bar dining.
Food and Wine
Monkey Bar has some of the best food in NYC right now. Two words: crab rangoon. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like crab. I grew up eating in Chinese restaurants with my family, and have never had a more perfect rendition. The Monkey Bar version didn’t mess with the classic recipe, other than elevating the quality of the ingredients. The savory cream cheese is mixed with shreds of king crab and a light-as-air wonton wrap. There are about eight in an order; I could almost eat it all by myself.
If you’re waiting for the bread basket to arrive, it won’t: there are no complimentary add-ons here. But that’s for the best, because you’ll want one of each on the expansive menu. The beauty of the Hogsalt guys is they don’t muck with the classics, but rather improve them them with top-quality ingredients and expert preparation. The baked crab cakes have virtually no filler, and celebrate blue crab at its best. They come in an order of two which is easily an entree, and potentially a good leftover to take home for the next day’s lunch. The crispy potato pancakes are naughty, but worth it 10 times over.
On the healthier side, there’s have a full raw bar on the premises, with everything from oysters, shrimp cocktail to caviar add-ons. The caviar, by the way, is a marriage made in heaven when paired with the potato pancakes. The hamachi crude is one of the best dishes on the menu, made simply with olive oil, citrus, and a little spice. It represents how top-quality ingredients create brilliance on a plate.
The butter lettuce salad on the menu is another dish that is all about execution. Instead of drenching the top of the leaves, the olive-oil herbed dressing sits under the avocado and lettuce. Ask for a spoon to scoop out the herbs like chives and tarragon.
The stars of the show, though, are the steaks, French dip, and burgers. They’re not messing around at Monkey Bar NYC. The dry-aged steak and the porterhouse are both from Snake River, and a good share for the table. Just like at 4 Charles, the burger is a stunner, as is the Wagyu prime rib. There’s not enough room to cover all the virtues of the food at Monkey Bar. Let’s simply say that it’s better than it ever has been in its 84-plus-year history.
We’ve never awarded a rating this high. Monkey Bar NYC deserves it.