Sidecar, a bar in Delhi, is in high spirits. Last week, it was on the coveted list of World’s 50 Best Bars 2020, an annual ranking by the England-based William Reed Business Media Group. In May, Sidecar appeared on the list of Asia’s 50 Best bars. In September, their co-founder and mixologist Yangdup Lama ranked 73 on the esteemed global list 'The Industry's Most Influential Figures' by the UK-based magazine Drinks International. Lama and his team, undoubtedly, have had a splendid run in the lockdown.
On a phone call with Mint, Lama said his team is in a celebratory mood. When the news released last week, they closed the bar early, raised champagne toasts and partied till wee hours of the night with whisky and gin. “Our team is elated, yes, but what is heartening is our customers feel a sense of pride too. We have received countless congratulatory messages from them,” says the 48-year-old Lama. With multiple awards under his belt and 25 years of professional bartending experience, Lama is considered as a pivotal figure in shaping the cocktail story of India. At a time when the hospitality industry has been bludgeoned by the pandemic, news like this brings hope.
Over a phone call, Lama shares what kept the team going despite the challenges posed by Covid-19.
How can one be a mindful bar owner?
It all starts with your thoughts and how you steer them in the positive direction. As a bar owner, I have to first find out what brings me happiness. For me, it means getting behind the bar, mixing a drink and serving it to someone who will enjoy it. For another bar owner, it could be cracking the best business or marketing plan. For me, sharing stories bring joy too. Last month, our co-founder Minakshi Singh, head bartender Rohan Matmary and I started a YouTube channel named Three Barstools. We release weekly episodes on cocktails and basic know-how on bars and brands. When things get better, we plan to travel to find more stories. It is a passion project which rejuvenates us. When I am behind the bar, good music motivates me. I have created a playlist of blues and I am the DJ in my bar. So, I think the first thing to do is to pursue things that create happiness for me and then drive my team with that energy.
How do you take care of your team’s mental health?
When the bar was closed due to the lockdown, we devised ways to keep our team motivated. We started internal training sessions on a regular basis focusing on various aspects of bartending. We bought several books on bartending for the team to gain greater exposure. The idea was to ensure that after the lockdown they get better with their craft and up their game. I encourage them to pursue their interests and bring their personality while creating drinks. For instance, if someone enjoys sports, they may want to bring in an element of their fave sportsperson while making a cocktail. Now, the team is engaged and quite excited about creating a new menu that will be launched post Diwali. Revenues matter, but for a team to perform well allowing them to express themselves and helping them reinvent is equally important.
What else did you do during the lockdown?
We did regular Instagram lives on cocktail making. There were many enthusiastic participants and I learnt that people, especially from metros, are keen to learn about cocktails and educate themselves about brands. It was not so earlier. Now, they are more inclined to make cocktails at home and actively seek out what works for them and what doesn’t. When we opened for delivery, our pre-mixes gained a lot of traction.
What are people ordering and drinking now?
The good thing is our guests don’t just order from the menu; they want us to customise their drinks. We are operating at 50% of the total occupancy which gives us time to interact with our guests and create unique cocktails. Most of our regulars are quite experimental. They walk in and say whisky, then they let us do everything else in terms of mixers and flavours. In a way, it is lessening the gap between us and guests, and encouraging us to experiment. We love that.
What is an interesting cocktail that emerged from these interactions?
Pineapple old fashioned. It is bourbon mixed with a pineapple reduction. We take fresh pineapple juice, add a little bit of sugar and reduce it till it becomes a slightly sticky syrup. Then we pour some in a glass, throw in a dash of orange bitters, block of ice and bourbon. Pineapple is also considered as the fruit of happiness.
What will be a post-pandemic bar?
Guests and bartenders will comeback with a vengeance. I think it will happen for the first six months and then things will settle down. We are also longing for the crowds, the noise and the unrestrained ease to hop into a friendly neighbourhood bar.
Which cocktails define the following:
Hope — Whisky Sour. It was the most requested recipe when people were making cocktails at home. I think they were intrigued by the use of egg white in a drink and if you get that right, it means you have unlocked a skill.
Love — Gin and Tonic. It’s an easy-to-impress cocktail.
Happiness — My fave is bourbon and coke. Two parts of bourbon and one part of coke.
Party - Kamikaze shot.
Holiday - I am from Darjeeling, and for me holiday means the hills. So, a large portion of the traditional rice wine, chang. We raise a toast saying, “Goodluck and joy for the present and future.”
Turning the Tables is a series of interviews with chefs and food entrepreneurs on coping with covid-19.