Once a place known for its addas and old-school places such as Trincas and Olympia, Kolkata’s cocktail culture is seemingly thriving especially after the pandemic came calling when most new places opened up.
To many people outside, Kolkata seems like a place stuck in time. This thought extends to the metro’s f&b culture as well where the most popular places are also some of the oldest. Think KC Das for sweets that first opened in 1930, Aminia for biryani and Mughlai food that first opened in 1929 or India Coffee House that gave the city its famous adda to sit and discuss world affairs from 1942 onwards.
Which is why it’s been refreshing to see a bunch of restobars challenging the old-school narrative and serving some delicious cocktails using modern techniques that locals seem to have taken to with gusto. Most of these new places are just about a year or two old and some like AMPM and Little Bit Sober opened a few months ago, but they pack in the crowds. Add to that, a younger drinking audience willing to experiment, owners who’re investing in bar programs and availability of more spirits options in recent months have contributed to a growing cocktail culture in Kolkata.
So much so that you can now pick a cocktail place depending on your mood. We list seven bars that you must check out on your next trip to Kolkata.
1.Mood: Old World Charm
Place: AMPM Café & Bar
For those who’re looking for sophisticated old world charm in a brand new setting, AMPM in Park Street is the place to be. Co-founder Rajan Sethi says the two-month-old place is an ode to the city’s clubs of yore, like Calcutta Club, Tollygunge Club and more. The place itself is elegantly designed to draw you in with its Victorian white gold hues and tastefully decorated interiors meticulously divided into neat sections.
lf is a café during the day where speciality coffee from Ngurum Coffee roastery based in Nagaland waft during the daywhile cocktails make an appearance by sunset with jazz and other carefully curated music bands playing through the night. Eden Gardens made with blue agave, green tea cordial and grapefruit, and the Before PM Martini made with tequila, Ngarum espresso and Bengali Chilli liqueur were among the cocktails I loved.
The twists on classics such as an Old Fashioned with nolen gur and orange, a Negroni with coffee-infused whisky were other hits. With something on the menu for every type of diner, AMPM is one of those places that is impossible to leave without a smile on your face.
Price starts at ₹ 995++
Another newly opened bar, Little Bit Sober in Chowringee Road’s Elgin area doesn’t shy away from its purpose – being a cocktail forward bar that uses at least one element of Bengal in its drinks that are explained beautifully through poetry on its menu.
The Nolen Coffee cocktail is described thus:
In a glass, where magic comes alive,
Smooth vodka and charm do thrive,
Cold brew’s depth, a taste so sweet,
Peanut’s crunch, a delightful treat.
Expect cocktails with ingredients such as ghee rice, Gondhoraj lemons, kasundi, nolen gur and other familiar ingredients from Kolkata’s kitchens.Also expect stellar cocktails from the bar team led by Md Shahbaz and Shantanu Shaurya who was one of the fifteen finalists at last month’s World Class India cocktail competition held in Gurugram. Paired with the location’s noir retro glam vibe, Little Bit Sober is for those who want to experiment and aren’t afraid to try something edgy.
Price starts at ₹ 650++
If you’re looking for a drinking experience that surprises you with each cocktail, then Italian restaurant Sorano, opposite the US Consulate at Ho Chi Minh Sarani Road,is definitely the place to be at. The bar program led by Manoj Singh Rawat, another Top 15 finalist at World Class India, has been using techniques like clarification and fat washing to create delicious libations. Drinks such as Lil Gladiator with fig jam clarified bourbon, Galangal Negroni with rooibos infused rosso, Limon Meringue with housemade Limoncello definitely caught this writer’s attention for being technique-forward as well as delicious.
Price starts at ₹ 545++
Park Street-based Olterra’s long bar, which measures about 100 feet in length and is Kolkata’s longest island bar, can be a little intimidating at first but the place quickly grows on you, thanks in no small part to head bartender Subhobrata Majumder and his team. Their new #InSearchOfBengal menu, that seeks to tell stories of the city and includes ingredients found in the state through cocktails, will further put you in a happy moon. Some drinks that caught our attention include The Port 1498 that uses whisky washed with local Bandel Cheese, The King of Nature that includes Panch Phoron Fizz (yes, the same five spices used for cooking) and Jalpai, a native olive grown in North Bengal that gave Jalpaiguri its name. Let Majumder take you on a history lesson whilst you enjoy Olterra’s drinks.
Price starts at ₹ 609 ++
5. Mood: Relaxed & Easy-going
Place: Soba Sassy
Asian restobar Soba Sassy at Ho Chi Minh Sarani Roadis one of those places that instantly puts you in a relaxed mood. The duo of (sober) Swastik Chattopadhyaya and (sassy) Sarbani Mukherji behind the bar churn out refreshing drinks from their menu. Soba Sassy is also one of the few places with sake cocktails making it almost mandatory to try one of them from their menu. I had For Sake’s Sake made with sake, chardonnay, seltzer, cherry bitters and house rose syrup. Their twisted classics, such as Clarified Pina Colada and Truffle Washed Negroni among others, and signature menu, peppered with Asian ingredients such as fermented Gochuzang, matcha and wasabi air and yuzu, also deserve a look-in. I recommend Miso Sassy made with tahini butter fat washed whisky, acidulated miso, seltzer and umami cordial.
Price starts at ₹ 695++
If you’re on the hunt for a good cocktail place that not many in the city talk about,Salt House at Shakespeare Sarani is where you need to be at. Their signature menu covers the entire flavour spectrum and then some. Atpoure, for example, is named after the traditional Bengali saree and features gin, bitters and jasmine and citrus infused vermouth served with a jasmine flower as garnish that you are bound to inhale before you have a sip. Other cocktails such as Caramelo featuring Bacardo Ocho 8YO rum, Taki Toki with Suntory Toki whisky and Harmony Highball made with Dewar’s 12YO whisky are also worth trying.
Price starts at ₹ 425++
LMNOQ is already a well-regarded among party lovers who cannot get enough of this rooftop bar in Park Street. It’s also a bit of a shame because most regulars probably don’t pay too much attention to the drinks that have some hidden surprises. Despite the crazy Friday crowds, the bar team led by Biswajit Barua surprised this writer with more than decent cocktails in the form of Bengal Princess made with dark rum, guava juice, bitter orange and strawberry; Jade Goddess, a cucumber and cilantro margarita and their twist on a Negroni that came with an icy citrus sphere instead of regular ice.
Price starts at ₹ 580++
Once you scratch beneath the surface, it's clear that Kolkata’s cocktail scene has some serious game that has come in recently. And now with this ready guide, you know where to go depending on your mood. Just remember to carry a curious mind and a thirsty palate along as well.
Priyanko Sarkar is a Mumbai-based writer covering the F&B industry.