The newly renovated, refurbished building at the junction of Museum Road and Church Street in central Bengaluru that houses Monkey Bar version 2.0 — back in the city in a new avatar after version 1 shut down in 2019 — used to be a small hotel called The Museum Inn. On its second floor was a tiny (by current standards), dark, claustrophobic pub called Tavern At The Inn. In the days before pubs and microbreweries sprouted on every street corner of every neighbourhood in Bengaluru, it was the go-to place for those looking for a smart-yet-cosy place to meet friends over a drink, have a conversation, and sink into the comfort of being at one’s ‘local’ — a pub around the corner that feels like home. It attracted many women — especially impecunious young journalists who worked at one of the several newspaper offices in the area — and it helped that it had a standing ‘ladies night’ on Wednesdays, when women would get 3 free drinks. Tavern’s closure caused a lot of heartache among its many fans in the city. Though we had probably contributed to this by switching loyalties to the many shiny, new, more photogenic pubs that opened after 2010, Tavern had earned our lifelong loyalty — if only for the free mid-week drinks.
It feels both ironic and somewhat fitting though that the new Monkey Bar is opening at the exact same spot. If pubs like Monkey Bar — which ushered in an era of ‘gastropubs’, or bars that go beyond regular bar snacks and offer interesting, innovative food — were kind of instrumental in the decline of the older, shabbier places like Tavern that didn’t go beyond peanut masala and chilli chicken, they themselves are in a minority now in Bengaluru, where the current trend seems to be opening crazy big pubs with a minimum of 500 covers. The new Monkey Bar, spread over 3,700 sqft over a single floor with 100 covers, has a bright tropical interior designed by Sabina Singh and a large-ish balcony that makes you feel like you’re sitting in someone’s private garden. The whole effect is one of intimacy and warmth, enhanced by the sweet, enthusiastic service by the staff, among whom there are many familiar faces for old Monkey regulars. It’s a rare phenomenon among the rapid churn and attrition in Bengaluru’s pub scene, and it does feel like coming home. “Monkey Bar started in Bangalore and was very popular here till the day it had to shut owing to new laws. It started the trend of gastropubs in India and we didn’t want it to be forgotten in the city where it was born,” says AD Singh, founder and managing director of the Olive Group of Restaurants that owns and operates Money Bars around the country. “At the end of last year our local partners in Bangalore showed me this property and we all liked it to bring Monkey Bar back and then worked hard to create a fresh new vision for it.”
With a brand-new menu that nonetheless feels familiar because of a satisfyingly similar flavour profile as the older one, the bar bites section features dishes like the fiery Fire Pork, a Coorg-style crispy fried pork dish; 'Paddus with a Twist', onion, coriander and chilli Paniyarams (paniyarams or paddus are a kind of steamed vadas with many variations across the southern states); Prawns Kheema Pao; the Juicy Lucy Slider and mains like Puliogare Rice & Bhindi Raita; Pandi (pork) Curry with Akki (rice flor) roti. The cocktails are similarly fresh-yet-familiar: among them the OG Manga Mule, made with zesty, desi marmalade; the Rum Cha, a cocktail of Old Monk, masala tea cordial, aperol and vermouth; and the Church Street Corner, a melange of pink guava, salt and bird's eye chilli with tequila and agave.
Can Monkey in its new avatar bring back an era of small, snug bars that don’t overwhelm one’s senses with size and sound? Singh even promises that the music will be kept at conversation-friendly levels at the new pub, a long-standing pet peeve of a pub-goers of a certain vintage in Bengaluru. “The new Monkey Bar is aimed at a more mature audience as not only have our regulars grown up so have we,” he says.