A little less than a month ago I received a curious message from a woman by the name of Sam Mattingly, who happened to be the publicist for a new and very elegant speakeasy that just opened up in Harlem a few months ago named SUGAR MONK. In that message she explained that she read one of my restaurant reviews in the Elegant Classy Gentleman Magazine, and would love for me to meet the owners of this new establishment and write a review. I responded back saying that I would love to arrange a meeting within a week or so. A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Sam to lock in a date and time for us all to meet, and so my mysterious journey, and initiation into the world of Sugar Monk began!
Now after being given the address on 122nd Street and Fredrick Douglas Boulevard, I recalled that I passed by this place within the last four months on several occasions, but had no idea what it was. At first glance one might take it as a Masonic or Esoteric meeting place or lodge, due to the semi-nondescript appearance. Now I say “semi”, because the circle within the square within the logo, is known by me to be associated with Alchemical and Masonic symbolism; which lead me to believe the aforementioned.
Little did I know that that my passing thoughts on this was closer to the truth, as I strolled by oh so casually many times in the past three or four months, for there was nothing to prepare me for what was to come. As I arrived at Sugar Monk at the appointed time 6pm sharp, and noticed that you just can’t walk into the venue, you must ring the bell and wait for someone to open the door from the inside (very speakeasy like) for entry. I pressed the bell and shortly one of the owners, Ektoras Binikos opened the door and greeted me with a big welcoming smile (they were expecting me) bidding me to enter. I walked in and introduced myself to Ektoras, who told me that Sam and his partner Simon Jutras have not yet arrived, and escorted me to a very comfortable seat at a table next to the bar while we wait for them to arrive.
I was stunned by the intricate beauty of the interior décor, as it was so masterfully crafted to convey an artistic aesthetic of comfort. I was almost speechless as I looked around this surreal world, and being transported to another world from the outside which I came. Smooth Jazz music was playing in the background which added to the mystique and ambience of this lovely venue.
Simon & Sam soon arrived and each greeted me very warmly. So after they sat down, I was flanked by Ektoras and Simon with Sam sitting directly in front of me which I noticed formed a circle or a square (the former alchemical reference) at our table.
After thanking all three for the invitation , I began my interview (I had so many more questions now) with these two artistic gentleman about their respective backgrounds, what they created here, and what they hoped to achieve. “We like to explain to each of our customers exactly what we do, and more importantly everybody must be made to feel welcome here, treated with respect along with being given great attention at all times” Ektoras said. Simon told me: “We have a very good staff, all the servers and bartenders here are really good at explaining the menu.
And that’s not an easy thing to do, because we have 32 cocktails and their very intricate, if someone orders something you have to make sure that they like the spirits behind it, and it can take a long time if the place is busy, but everyone takes the time to do it because it’s important, it’s part of the experience.” The very masterly done menu has about 8 chapters, with a description of the cocktails ingredients, and each “chapter” of the menu opens with a beautiful piece of Hermetic art work with the title of the chapter.
As I continued my interview with the Alchemist and Artist owners, I was treated to some of their tapas fare from the menu: The Hummus Plate: House-made hummus with toasted whole grain pita bread.
(House-made hummus with whole grain pita bread)
And next, I was offered the Pate Plate: Organic Chicken Livers Pate which was served with a delicious Pomegranate jelly and wild mushrooms, pickled kirbies, and grilled baguette.
(Organic Chicken Livers Pate)
I was also served: The Artisanal Cheeses Plate: served with Seasonal marmalade and toasted maple walnuts, and grilled baguette.
(Artisanal Cheeses Plate)
The delivery and the presentation of the food menu items was a combination of upscale showmanship and elegance, I was impressed simply by that alone, but when I actually tasted the food, the freshness and quality was up to par and the texture of the taste was delightfully sophisticated on my palette; a perfect contrast with the cocktails I was to sample next.
Now when it was time to sample the cocktails, I informed Ektoras that I would leave it to to him to decide, since all 30+ drinks were created by him. He complied but then something unusual happened! Ektoras looked me in the eye’s and asked me “well how to you feel right now?” His question took me totally off-guard, as well as disarmed me! I thought for a few second and told him, than he asked me what sort of spirit I was in the mood for (as well as the ones I don’t care for). After that he ordered me the “I Surrender Dear”: Sazerac rye, The King’s Ginger, lemon, Meyer lemon, smoked chili bitters, aquafaba. A very sophisticated, and pleasant cocktail which also caught me by surprise. I was amazed at the subtle changes as the temperature of the cocktail got a bit warmer. A truly amazing drink.
(I Surrender Dear)
The second cocktail (“The Absolute Kelly “) was a very unusual drink as well. This cocktail was Pitch Black, and a bit visually apprehensive. However once you get past the almost off putting look of the cocktail and take a sip, you are rewarded with a very well put together drink that taste’s amazing!
(The Absolute Kelly)
This cocktail is made with Absolut Vodka, Becherovka, Chios Mastiha, shiso, yuzu, black sesame, gum arabic, bergamot bitters. The garnish added to this drink is not something you get your hands on quite easily, it being imported to keep with the integrity of the cocktail. I was told by Ektoras that they have the services of a “forager” which picks certain herbs for him to use in the creation of some of his cocktails.
At one point during the interview, Ektoras said to me: “Since you are the elegant classy gentleman, allow me to tell you about our “elegant ice”. We have an Ice Master which make’s beautiful and elegant “ice spheres”.
(Elegant “Rose” Ice)
“It is a sphere in which there is a rose frozen inside of it, so when you serve the clear sphere it shows the red rose within.” Simon added.
Now as I explored the backgrounds of these two, things began to make perfect sense of this intoxicating almost surreal world that is Sugar Monk. Each of the owners is a master artist and alchemist in their own right!
The Alchemist and the Artist:
Ektoras Binikos: Has honed his craft at establishments, such as Aureole, Oceana, Michael’s New York and Michelin star restaurant, Gabriel Kreuther. Ektoras was the creative force and managing partner of the renowned 2nd floor on Clinton downtown. Ektoras is recognized among his peers as a master mixologist who believes mixology is “art in a glass”. Ektoras is also a visual artist.
Simon Jutras: Is a photographer and an interior designer of furniture.
“The fusion of art, mixology and alchemy is the connective thread that runs through every aspect of this intimate venue. Everything at Sugar Monk is meant to indulge the senses and delight the palate.”
After a bit of taking all of this in, I got up to avail myself of the restroom. I strolled to the back where the bathroom was, and was “Enchanted” by the sliding door of the restroom. They say that if it’s to good to true, it actually is. So I tried to find something about this place that I couldn’t praise. However my attempts were futile.
I found the bathroom to be just as chic and inviting as the main seating place, so much I found myself lingering just a tad bit to long.
The patrons are from all walks of life, but each brings with them, their own elegance and love of the art’s.
The 3rd and final cocktail I had before my departure was the most intriguing drink of all!
The mysterious Marie Laveau. This curious drink is made with Elderflower & Bitters: Basil Hayden bourbon infused with fliscouni, Averna amaro, elderflower, black & green cardamom, orange bitters. This one drink I could not define or cross reference with any sort of cocktail I ever had (No common frame of reference) which put me in a very pensive thought. This drink too changes as time passes. further perplexing me with it’s complex composition created by the Alchemist!
(The Marie Laveau)
My conversations with these two “Masters of the Craft” and Sam was not only intellectually stimulating, and profoundly enjoyable, but also fun and erudite, filled with a wit and humor that I have not enjoyed in quite some time.
(Ektoras, Mike Strange, Simon)
Sugar Monk is so exceptional that I cannot even rank it using the five star rating system, for this place far exceeds in all categories, so therefore I cannot rate it, because the service, food, drinks (the one’s I had) and décor, as well as style and sophistication is off the charts! I can only recommend Sugar Monk (very strongly) to anyone and everyone.
Sugar Monk is Located at: 2292 Frederick Douglass Blvd, NYC, NY, 10027
Hours: Sunday – Monday 6:00 pm – 1:00 am
Tuesday – Saturday 6:00 pm – 2:00 am
The kitchen is open between 6:00 pm – 12:00 midnight, serving small savory dishes and chocolates.
Do yourself a favor and visit this enchanted speakeasy, and try a couple of their Alchemical Elixer’s, I mean Cocktails.
I wanted to stay a bit longer but duty called, and I had to leave this mystical world of Art and Alchemy back to the drum mundane world of the outside. And as I made my way to my next destination, all I could think about was the mysterious and elusive Marie Laveau, as the complicated after taste of bitters and elderberry lingered on my palette.