Review: Sugar Monk
If you’re even just slightly familiar with the Prohibition Era in the United States, then you know that during that time, alcohol was outlawed and a constitutional ban was placed on the consumption, importation, and sale of alcoholic beverages. During this same time period, there was an intellectual, social, and artistic resurgence in the Black community happening in uptown New York City, known as the Harlem Renaissance. The Prohibition Era and The Harlem Renaissance gave birth to the speakeasy, a discrete, unlicensed, sometimes underground bar, where patrons could drink freely under the radar. Because Americans couldn’t stay away from their libations for long, speakeasies saw a surge in popularity during the 1920s.
During what was a very segregated time in American History, the speakeasy meant different things to different people but ultimately, it was a place that the law couldn’t penetrate. The door of the speakeasy protected the people inside from discrimination, unfair treatment, and marginalization. The speakeasy was a safe space. A place where people from all backgrounds came together over a drink in the name of mutual respect. At speakeasies, differences were forgotten and everyone was equal. It was at speakeasies in Harlem, that White gay men who were not welcome downtown were free to be themselves uptown. The speakeasy became a sanctuary for those who were otherwise marginalized and excluded from mainstream society.
Fast forward to 2019, and Sugar Monk, Harlem’s newest speakeasy, is paying homage to this noteworthy time in Harlem’s history with their creative cocktail menu, sumptuous small bites, and upscale, elegant decor. In the age of gentrification, many of the new establishments in Harlem seem to keep the residents of Harlem out, while Sugar Monk built their business with the community and history of Harlem in mind. The thing I love most about Sugar Monk is that every aspect of the experience -from the art to the cocktails- is thoughtful and intentional. The name itself pays homage to the late jazz musician, Thelonious Monk. And the menu, divided into 8 chapters, are all named after Monk compositions.
At Sugar Monk, the art and the cocktails take center stage. Simon, one of the owners, hand selected and designed the furniture and art displayed throughout the bar. The cocktails, dreamt up by owner, Ektoras are complex and interesting and feature fresh ingredients one might not expect to see in a drink. Behind every cocktail, there’s a story and most importantly, the cocktails toast the religious monks, whose elixirs and botanicals are considered to be the cornerstone of modern mixology.
Above all, what owners Ektoras and Simon want everyone to know is that all are welcome at Sugar Monk and dignity and respect for every customer is paramount. Their approach to hospitality pays homage to the freedom and inclusiveness speakeasy patrons enjoyed many decades ago. This special place captures the diversity, history, and vitality of the neighborhood.
If you’re looking for top-notch hospitality, excellent cocktails, a cozy space where you can converse without screaming at the top of your lungs, pay Sugar Monk a visit. You won’t be sorry you did.