On Saturday evening, Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter hosted VIP diners for the soft re-opening of Monkey Bar, an 80-year-old upscale restaurant in midtown (east 54th street). On the guest list: Barbara Walters, Oscar-winner Michael Caine, Harper’s Bazaar editor Laura Brown, Guinness heiress Daphne Guinness, and others. Visitors continued to flow in from the brisk spring evening until after 11pm, and the dinner crowd did not start to disperse until well after midnight.

"Monkey" alludes to another Manhattan joint hit up nightly by a young crowd of bar swingers, but this Monkey Bar has attracted a starkly different Upper East Side crowd for almost a century. The restaurant was opened in the mid 1930s, and after nearly 80 years of service, Monkey Bar closed last summer for renovations. Last August, the New York Times reported that the restaurant had undergone some managerial changes, and it was hoping to be reopened to the public in the summer of 2009.

When he bought Monkey Bar last year, Carter partnered with hotelier Jeff Klein and London restaurateur Jeremy King. Klein reported that “from the beginning, they had intentions of maintaining the monkey murals in the bar area and Rockwell’s 1940s cabaret designs in the rear of the establishment.” To all three owners, these two features embodied the essence of Monkey Bar. It’s just not Monkey Bar without the monkey murals. The murals remained, but the rest of the restaurant changed drastically.

Throughout the evening, everyone enjoyed a menu put together by Elliot Ketley, who, up until a few weeks ago, had remained a mystery. “The managerial staff had been deciding between a few candidates, and then I surprised Carter with one of my favorite chefs I knew in London,” Klein said. Kelley has worked at numerous high-profile restaurants in New York and England before joining Monkey Bar as executive chef. The menu was untouchable: sweet barbeque-glazed black cod, Fuji apple salad and sichuan pepper-crusted salmon. At many tables, at least one member of the party had ordered the sweet chili-glazed baby back ribs, and what he didn’t finish, the rest of the table devoured.

[Photo via New York Times]

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