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A new cocktail bar in Shillong stirs up regional flavours

Shad Skye is seen as a game changer in Shillong for its experimental cocktail menu using regional ingredients

(Left) A vodka sour-style cocktail named Dong Valley; and Krypo Tzu with Nagaland's wild apple wine, white rum and Naga basil.
(Left) A vodka sour-style cocktail named Dong Valley; and Krypo Tzu with Nagaland's wild apple wine, white rum and Naga basil.

Walking through a maze of gridlocked lanes in Iewduh, Shillong’s oldest market dating back to the British times, one spots a certain rhythm to the chaos of local life. As one walks past stalls brimming with seasonal berries, wild greens and Lakadong turmeric, the alleys start getting narrower with buyers and loaders shoving past each other. You can see bundles of pinewood everywhere, which are abundant in the region and commonly used for smoking meats and as cooking fuel. Later that evening, with a sip of Living Roots, a gimlet inspired by Meghalaya’s ancient bridges of Nongriat, one feels transported back to Iewduh —the smoky fragrance of pinewood lingering in the glass. Khus root or vetiver evokes the essence of the Ficus elastica trees, which come together to form the bridges, and offsets the sweetness of white chocolate and carrot juice.

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This cocktail is part of the menu at Shad Skye, a slick rooftop bar and lounge in Shillong, situated not far from Iewduh. Launched in December, it sits atop The Shillong Address, a brand new boutique property helmed by hotelier, Larsing Sawyan, who also owns the landmark Centre Point Hotel and Ri Kynjai resort near the picturesque Umiam Lake. The name is derived from shad, which means dance in Khasi, while skye loosely translates to clouds in Celtic.

A lot has changed in Shillong since my last visit in 2019. The souvenir shops have multiplied at Police Bazar. Luxury hotel properties have sprung up in the heart of the city. Mile-long traffic jams have become a stark reality with the influx of tourists. But a thriving food and beverage scene, spurred by young chefs and restaurateurs has kept the vibrance of this hill town alive.

These new-age tastemakers are now calling the shots by offering unique culinary experiences in the form of modern interpretations of traditional flavours. “To showcase the beauty of our ingredients while preserving the cultural ethos is a challenge that we chefs from the region face. Hence the addition of Shad Skye to the local dining scene is a game changer,” says city-based chef Uttam Thangkhiew, who owns Olivia’s Kitchen, specialising in American immigrant food. 

At Shad Skye, infusions take inspiration from the eight states of the region, spotlighting their signature produce, ranging from bamboo shoot and pinewood to native herbs, seeds, chillies, citrus, black rice, and more. To design the cocktail menu, resident mixologist Rishot Laloo collaborated with Jishnu AJ, head mixologist from the award-winning restaurant Ekaa in Mumbai. Together, they went on foraging trips in and around Shillong to source wild berries, eucalyptus leaves, native bay leaf and the GI-tagged Khasi mandarin.

Local boy Laloo, who graduated from The Institute of Hotel Management, Catering Technology and Applied Nutrition, Guwahati, has previously headed the bar programme at The Oberoi Grand in Kolkata. The 28-year-old shifted to his hometown last year to join Courtyard by Marriott. A chance meeting there with Jishnu got him excited about exploring cocktail infusions, especially those from the North-East. Although a vibrant cocktail culture is now thriving in major cities across the country, the young mixologist feels that Shillong is yet to embrace experimental cocktails like the rest. “Most of the drinks we do are an acquired taste due to the use of native flavours. Given that people here prefer sweet cocktails, this can be challenging,” he points out.

Shad Skye has a cocktail celebrating every state of the region. I choose Krypo Tzu, a take on the highball, which puts Nagaland in focus. It is prepared with a delicious wild apple wine, which is a speciality of the Angami community. For the uninitiated, wild apple is one-third the size of its commercial counterpart, and is a largely uncultivated species found in the mountainous regions of Nagaland. The actual fruit is distinctly sour in taste, but produces a wine deliciously addictive. The cocktail brings it together with a heady kick of white rum and the punch of Naga basil.

The bar, which caters to 34 covers, has a relaxed speakeasy vibe. The countertop displays mason jars featuring rare garnishes. Vibrant postcards double up as coasters and serve as a knowledge library, of sorts, complete with pictorial maps of the ingredients.

Shad Skye has a relaxed speakeasy vibe.
Shad Skye has a relaxed speakeasy vibe.

Laloo further unveils his artistry with a vodka sour inspired by the Dong Valley in Arunachal Pradesh, the first place in India to witness sunrise. The drink celebrates the natural landscape through various colours and textures. The black sesame and rice mimic shades of the hills at dawn, and Lakadong turmeric and saffron add hues of the morning sky.

I also try Chire Doi Aam from Tripura, a take on the pina colada made with flattened rice water, pureed mango, whey water and rum. Laloo brings the lush bamboo cover of Mizoram to the fore through Tuaite, a highball with a potent kick of bamboo shoot and jasmine syrup.

The food menu has some exciting bar bites in the form of Northeast-inspired tapas such as Khasi putharos, or steamed rice cakes served as sliders. Bookmark Shad Skye for your next trip to Shillong, and celebrate the lovely produce of the North-East through some experimental cocktails.

Rituparna Roy is a Mumbai-based independent features writer.

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