India’s Best Bars
Vikram Achanta of Tulleeho.com give us an authoritative listing of the best bars
Aer, Four Seasons
The terrace bar at Mumbai’s Four Seasons has the most spectacular location imaginable, overlooking the entire city. Combine that with the skills of award-winning bartender Varun Sudhakar and his team, and it’s hard to beat. A favourite of Mumbai’s party crowd, Aer has quickly spawned many imitators. Hopefully, they too will take advantage of Mumbai’s skyline. Though, I’m guessing Aer will still rule the roost.
Arbor Brewing Company
Located in the heart of Bangalore, Arbor offers the freshest brew in town and great food too. With over 15 microbreweries across the world, Arbor stands out. It’s crowded through the week and you can always expect to bump into someone you know. Their Belgian Blonde and the Raging Elephant IPA are definitely worth trying.
Bar Palladio, Narain Niwas Hotel
Tablu at the Clarks Amer, The Polo Room at the Rambagh Palace and Bar Palladio at Narain Niwas Hotel have made Jaipur a rare city in India with three go-to bars. Designed by Marie Anne Oudejans, Bar Palladio has an indoors and al fresco sections too. It also has one of the most extensive cocktail lists in Jaipur, and a wide selection of wines and spirits. We would suggest you try Chandrahaas, a heritage liqueur made from over 80 herbs, spices and dry fruits. It’s exclusive to the royal house of Kanota, to whom the Narain Niwas hotel belongs.
Cocktails and Dreams, Speakeasy
The name’s quite a mouthful, but you can just say Speaks for short, and co-owners Minakshi and Lama won’t mind. Probably one of the early few bars to be set up and owned by a bartender, Speaks bears witness to the bartender’s passion. Much like its Prohibition-era counterparts, Speaks is also a beacon of hope in an otherwise deserted Gurgaon marketplace. The barstools are normally occupied by a growing army of ‘cocktailians’, who are learning to distinguish between their negroni and their Manhattan, while occasionally philandering with the Clover Club.
The craft of the cocktail is slowly taking form in India, with an increased number of bars around the country focussing on high-quality cocktails made with precision and passion. Ellipsis is one of these places. Unfortunately, the lounge area has some of the most uncomfortable seating known to man, so if you’re visiting Ellipsis, I recommend you stay at the bar. Ellipsis is a classic cocktail place with uniformly brilliant drinks. What you want from a cocktail is a harmonious balance of ingredients, and all promised flavours to be shining through. You also want integrity, so if you’ve been promised a certain quality and quantity of alcohol, you’re not short-changed. The cocktails at Ellipsis delivered on all counts, and Tobias Carvalho, who was behind the bar that evening, was in his element.
The Flying Elephant, Park Hyatt,
More a restaurant than a bar, it still belongs in this list for the sheer beauty of its design. Five interactive live kitchens across five levels, with an old fashioned elevator connecting them all. Designed by acclaimed hotel designer George Wong, The Flying Elephant is one of the best places to eat in the city and the only one from Chennai to have made it to this list. That in itself is a testament to how good the cocktails are.
Hakkasan takes it up a level when it comes to their cocktails. I have a special affinity for the place because I was invited for their first anniversary party, and as soon as I entered, I saw a bottle of Camprano Antica Formula, an Italian vermouth. I couldn’t resist the temptation of a negroni, which was perfectly made. As it turns out, the bartenders are mind readers too. Recently, I was in the mood for a rum old-fashioned, and had just stepped out with some friends for a chat. On my return, there was a rum old-fashioned waiting for me, without having mentioned a word.
Over the Moon
With an amazing view of the city, lounge seating, delicious food and great cocktails, Over the Moon (OTM ) is also blessed with an extremely friendly and courteous staff. Be sure to visit on a Saturday night to experience the nightlife of Hyderabad. OTM comes from the team that opened one of Hyderabad’s first nightclubs, Bottles & Chimney, and they know what they’re doing.
High Ultra Lounge
Flying high to the 32nd floor, High Ultra Lounge is the place to be when you want to experience fine dining and a great cocktail experience together. Guru Prashanth leads a team of excellent bartenders. Asian cuisine is served and the Sunday brunch is another major attraction.
PCO, Vasant Vihar
PCO is probably the first genuine speakeasy in India, where entry is via the time-honoured New York speakeasy tradition of sidling into a phone booth, lifting a receiver and punching a four-digit code. With award-winning Manmohan Singh behind the bar, you’re assured of only the finest. We hope that the recent departure of co-owner Vaibhav Singh, one of the driving forces behind PCO, won’t dull its glow as it’s hard to find a good cocktail joint.
Another speakeasy, PDT stands for Please Don’t Tell, and is probably named after the iconic New York speakeasy of the same name. It’s secretly tucked near Kamala Mills compound, hidden behind an old building, whose only distinctive feature is the logo of a paan shop. Once you enter, there’s a phone booth and dialling the number 5 (there, I’ve told you the code) gets you in. A rustic bar greets you, with a nice cocktail menu with variations on classics such as the Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy. I had their take on the Dark and Stormy, which was served with home-made tamarind syrup and candied tamarind as a garnish. The staff knew exactly what they were serving. The food complements the alcohol and the deconstructed Ramen burger is a must try.
Someplace Else, The Park Hotel
I can’t help but like a place where every time I visit, they give me something free. You can try your luck at the bar also because all the Someplace Else (SPE) merchandise is lined up behind the bar. One time, I got a rock legends coaster set and the other, an SPE coffee-table book. SPE has gained iconic appeal primarily due to its focus on live rock music and its championing of local acts. As long as they survive, Hip Pocket, one of India’s best session bands will be associated with SPE. Of course, they’re only one of the bands that play at SPE through the week. Beer is the best bet here. If it’s cocktails you’re after, head to Roxy or Aqua, also in the same venue. A good pub is about enduring through the times and about creating a strong sense of community with a core of regulars who come back again and again. SPE is all that and more.
Black Sheep Bistro
On Sabreen Sukthankar’s return to Goa, she bemoaned the lack of nice bars where women could feel comfortable. So, along with her husband Prahlad, she set out to rectify the situation. It helped that both were hoteliers who had studied and worked overseas for many years, with Prahlad also being a certified sommelier. Their focus at Black Sheep is on hand-crafted cocktails, and a fine selection of wines and beers. Rather than letting a select few companies dominate their wine list, they’ve chosen to handpick wines, which they feel would be of unique value to their customers with up to 50 varietals across 26-odd wines. The cocktail list is a mix of their signatures and twisted classics.