In a city where venues shutter almost as frequently as most people get waimai, it’s always heartening when concepts bounce back. Such is the case with Monkey 3.0.
Originally hidden down Donghu Lu in 2009 under the moniker Monkey Lounge before later morphing into Monkey Champagne (think top 40 hip hop and, well, Champagne), which shuttered last autumn, its latest iteration has sprung up in the new Julu Lu 758 complex.
The core DNA – a speakeasy with a hip hop soundtrack – remains unchanged. Enter by way of a fluorescent-lit burger counter slinging prodigious chilli cheeseburgers and fries through an unassuming, stainless steel door marked ‘Cocktails & Hip Hop’. Inside, it’s class injected with a hit of funk, more cocktail lounge than club. A bank of sophisticated black leather booths runs the length of the space for table service, an excerpt from Biggie Small’s ‘Juicy’ illuminated in red glows brightly from one wall and black-and-white Keith Haring-esque wallpaper brashly covers the bathroom. The soundtrack leans mainstream; on one evening, the speakers oscillate between late ’90s throwbacks (when did you last think about Ludacris?) and recent top 40 (Jason Derulo feat Nicki Minaj, for one).
While hip hop has prevailed, Monkey’s drinks programme has matured along with the space in its latest evolution. Bottle service and cocktail towers are an option, but the focus lays in a sextet of signature cocktails developed by old hand in the Shanghai and greater China bar scene, Jackie Lo.
Cocktails play cleverly on classics. The smartly balanced Monkey 3.0 riffs on a Cuba Libre – Thai tea-infused rum swirled with a spiced cola syrup reduction and a splash of lime juice – at once sweet and sour. An ultra-fruity gin and tonic, Welcome to the Jungle garners its personality from strawberry gin and a spritz of a ‘house-mixed tropical fruit aroma spray’ that smells of cotton candy something fierce.
For salad in a glass, Lo’s take on a highball whirls Chivas Mizunara scotch with perilla leaf and cucumber honey soda, garnished with a sprig of dill and desiccated coconut. Slightly sweet and bursting with an herby bouquet, it’s basically an elevated cucumber water – just in the same way the new Monkey is an elevated iteration of itself.
The cocktails aren’t reinventing the wheel completely and neither is Monkey 3.0, but it’s the kind of evolution we like to see.
By Cat Nelson