The Hotel Elysee’ bar was just another piano bar when it opened during the great depression. With a backdrop of monkey themed wallpaper and mirrors, patrons mimicked one another playing a child’s game of monkey see, monkey do. Frequented by musicians and playwrights, its reputation grew until the “easy-lay” became the “in” place.
Mid-century, caricaturist Charlie Wala replaced the wallpaper and mirrors with hand-painted murals. Then it was officially christened The Monkey Bar. That began its golden age, home to ad men of Madison Avenue, media moguls and politicians looking for fun. At its zenith, it was known as New York’s most popular cocktail lounge.
It had fallen into disrepair by the turn of the century, and was purchased by a group of investors in 2009 . Led by Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, they planned a full restoration. They commissioned illustrator Ed Sorel to paint a large mural commemorating the jazz age giants that once frequented the premises. That mural covers the entire rear wall and Ed also painted several murals in private dining booths. The Carter partnership fully refurbished the banquettes as well as the bar area, restoring everything to its former glory.
The Monkey Bar is one of those places that I must visit while in New York. It is still the quintessential piano bar with beautiful artwork and fine cocktails such as the Monkey Gland with a story of its own.