Raising the bar: What makes a good bar a great bar?

Is it the bartender or the drinks menu? Or is it the vibe, location and prices, or a combination of all? We serve up the recipe for success

Team Hoots'_1
Well, today Tesouro is a bar which the whole country is proud of.

When Donovan Vaz, founder of the Firefly Bistro brand, launched Tesouro in Goa’s Colava on December 19, 2020, in partnership with Arijit Bose and Pankaj Balachandran, the idea was to have a fun bar —a watering hole that is not just limited to the influx of tourists but also to focus on the locals who are well travelled and appreciate a good drink.

“We wanted to give them a place they could call their own or simply their ‘neighbourhood bar’. A place tourists and locals plus the beverage industry folks could feel at home in the hands of well-informed bartenders working with a vast list of spirits and beverages. A place south Goa could be proud of,” says co-founder Balachandran, who was part of the Taj Hotels and later opened eatery chain Perch Wine and Coffee Bar. He is also known for his role as the ex-brand ambassador for Monkey Shoulder whisky in the Indian subcontinent.

Well, today Tesouro is a bar which the whole country is proud of. It recently ranked fourth in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars for 2022. In fact, there are four other India-based bars featuring at the top of the rankings. While one is in Goa and another in Bengaluru, the remaining three are based in the national capital.

So, what makes a good bar a great bar? Is it the unique take on boozy concoctions or the exemplary skills of bartenders? Or does it have to do anything with the ambience, the food menu, the music, interiors, services, or a combination of all?

A bartender’s bar

Driving down the plush lanes of south Delhi’s Greater Kailash II area, one arrives at Sidecar, ranked 14th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars, its third consecutive entry on the list. As one enters through its doors, a calming sensation dawns as one leaves the hustle behind. The ambience is relaxed with the sound of good music filling the air.

Founded by Minakshi Singh and Yangdup Lama, both of whom have established their names in the liquor industry, the bar is a combination of their rich experience and knowledge. Yet they call it a ‘bartender’s bar’. “Our bartenders are at the helm. They are very interactive; one can just walk in alone, sit at the bar and talk to the bartender. That’s how comfortable it is,” says Singh, who established Sidecar along with Lama in 2018.

Like Sidecar, Hoots’—another watering hole located in south Delhi’s Vasant Vihar locality and clinching a rank on the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list (26th)—likes to call itself a ‘bartender’s bar’. The compact bar has a European feel and a hint of an ancient cruise ship’s bar in its design. The slow music complements the ancient European vibe of the cosy and dimly-lit place. It has a fictional story about its founding—that of the three generations of the Hoots’ owl family—Mr William, who started the place in the 18th century and had a classic menu, and his successors Mr Albert and Mr Robert (the current generation) with the modern cocktails. All the three ranges of cocktails are served in the menu.

However, unlike Sidecar, the bartenders are not very interactive at Hoots’. They would rather cater on demand to give privacy to the visitors.Sandeep Bishnoi, who co-founded the place along with Vaibhav Singh, shares that behind every good bar are the people behind it—the bartenders—and that’s how they could become a part of the top 50 list of Asia.

A balanced menu

Bengaluru’s Copitas at Four Seasons— another rank-holder in the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list—is effortlessly chic by every means, be it its signature mixology, fine food or sunset views. The cocktails speak of their homeland with local ingredients playing a major role in their composition like betel leaf, coffee from Coorg or the use of nannari (Sarasaparilla) roots.

According to the bar, the inclusion of local ingredients was a realisation of mindful consumption amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Copitas’ new ‘Greener Future’ menu is inspired by the ethos of using every part of the plant—from seed to fruit. “We will be tackling sustainability head-on with the aim of promoting a more balanced ecosystem to support the bar industry,” shares Sarath Nair, the bar manager of Copitas. The menu is designed to spark conversations around nostalgia where one relives their childhood memories with the cooling sips of nannari sherbet on a summer afternoon or a peanut bar (chikki)—innocently gratifying sweet indulgences back then, adds Nair.

Similarly, Santanu Chanda, beverage manager, luxury collection, PVR, shares that the new drinks menu of Home— another watering hole from Delhi that bagged a position in the Asia’s 50 Best Bars list (30th)—is inspired by fermentation and the solar system—a never-heard-and-tasted-before combination. “All the drinks are inspired by the energy of solar power whereas fermentation is used for preservation in a process that produces lactic acid. Fermentation is widely used for the production of alcoholic beverages through the process of distillation and has been used since centuries,” he shares.
At Home, Oromo is a cocktail of whisky, goat cheese, cold brew coffee and orange bitter, Marsado is the coming together of beeswax vodka, jasmine sake sauternes and avocado stone. The cocktail menu gets more and more exciting with each composition.

Its food menu is equally interesting with added focus on health. Chef Harpal Singh adds that their summer menu is a culmination of popular flavours/ingredients from the Indian subcontinent.

Tesouro’s bar menu features progressive technique cocktails with a range of local craft spirits and an expansive beverage list. “We believe the cycle of drinks doesn’t just end at the bar but the homes of our customers when they see the bill and the damage in the morning. With the quality of spirits we use, the drinks we make and the food we serve, we ensure value plays a major role in our menu. This in turn improves our repeat clientele because our guests know that they are coming back for a fantastic time and not giving an arm and leg for it,” explains co-founder Balachandran.

“We created a solid team that cares about the smallest details as far as good drinking is concerned,” he adds.

Delhi’s Sidecar introduces a new menu every year and retains the best from their past. This year, they introduced a menu dedicated to Delhi called ‘Dear Delhi’ with cocktails like Delhi-6, Mehrauli, DU Special and Connaught as an ode to Delhi and inspired by these locations and their popular flavours and spices.

Pandemic hangover

From bartending to being owners of a bar, Sidecar founders Singh and Lama have come a long way amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic for them was a time of financial hurdles, yet they innovated as a team and established their own farm, Bhumi in Gurugram, to source their greens. “It in fact, it turned out to be very cost effective as now we have all organic produce and everything that is seasonal. It turns out to be tastier too,” co-founder Singh adds.

Pandemic was very challenging for the hospitality industry and for Goa’s Tesouro, it was worse, as it opened bang in the middle of it.

“We had to ride the Covid wave. Our talented team did everything possible to stay afloat including online masterclasses for cocktails, creating non-alcoholic mixers to be mixed with spirits and even being delivery boys to serve our signature dishes across Goa. Shows great strength and resilience to ride whatever was thrown at us,” says co-founder Balachandran.

“With cases coming down now, there is definitely an improvement in the number of people who can be accommodated at the bar and the turnarounds that we do,” he adds.

Copitas’ bar manager Nair has lately observed slow drinking becoming the norm post the pandemic. “Mindful drinking, focus on storytelling and sustainability are some of the definitive changes. Also, people are now more health conscious and are opting for low-calorie drinks,” he shares.

Indian bars in Asia’s 50 Best Bars for 2022

  • Tesouro by Firefly, Goa (4th)
  • Sidecar, Delhi (14th)
  • Hoots’, Delhi (26th)
  • Home, Delhi (30th)
  • Copitas, Bengaluru (44th)

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