Michael Chen and Adam Ong met in high school, and went on to university together. While there, they established themselves as party-makers by organising events for their friends and the societies they belonged to. They also developed a love for Melbourne’s bar scene just as it was beginning to burgeon in the early 2000s.
After pursuing graduate roles in finance and accounting respectively, they decided to return to that first love – planning for good times. That materialised in Golden Monkey, which first opened in 2005.
The bar is in a basement just off Hardware Lane (upstairs is Chen and Ong’s new venture, rum bar East China Trading Company). Its theme evokes a nostalgic, if slightly exaggerated, version of the decadence of Shanghai’s opium dens during the early 20th century. Chen and Ong completed a major refurbishment of the site with the goal of refreshing the venue for a long future. Frequenters needn’t be alarmed though, the atmosphere and feel of the place is identical.
The basement is still cast in a deep-red light, with booths and stools divided by a labyrinth of folding shades. There’s space for a band or DJ in the centre and the bar looms large in the corner. The bartenders serve up cocktails from three slyly named menus – see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil – which run the gamut from classic cocktails to in-house specialties. Golden Monkey can also prepare punches, if you come with a larger group. Have a spare $900? The Imperial Scorpion Trunk punch bowl will wet 20 of your friends’ whistles.