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Why great cocktails often fail the bar

Three Indian bars figure in the World’s Best Bars lists. Why didn’t more bars make it?

The winning combination is a mix of approach, location, ambience and luck. (Istockphoto)
The winning combination is a mix of approach, location, ambience and luck. (Istockphoto)

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For mixologists in India, December’s festivities shone brighter when three bars gained international fame during the month. Goa’s Tesouro claimed the 65th position on the World’s 100 Best Bars List, while Delhi’s Mr Hoot’s secured the 95th spot. And, for the first time ever for an Indian bar, Delhi’s Sidecar ranked 47th on the World’s 50 Best Bars List.

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But, as Carrie Bradshaw would say, “I couldn’t help but wonder” why more bars from India did not make it to these lists. Comorin in Gurugram, Haryana, showcases innovative cocktails with home-grown ingredients, Mumbai’s The Bombay Canteen has a dynamic beverage programme, and Bengaluru’s Toast & Tonic crowned G&Ts as the country’s trendiest cocktails. But they are not on the list.

Like most things, the winning combination is a mix: approach, location, ambience, consistency—and luck. “A lot of good drinks places in India fall under the category of restaurant-cum-bars. Food is at the centre, with a complementing beverage menu, like Masque in Mumbai. To be on the World’s Best Bars list, one needs to have a cocktail-forward approach,” explains Vikram Achanta. He is the co-founder and chief executive officer of the beverage training and consultancy company Tulleeho and co-curator of the 30 Best Bars in India—the first such list in the country, being compiled since 2019.

There are exceptional mixologists. When Neil Alexander was with Windmills CraftWorks in Bengaluru, he created a flawless cocktail menu for the microbrewery. But their bar has never been on global best bars lists. “Alexander is very talented but Windmills is a microbrewery first,” notes Achanta. It circles backs to his insight on the principal parameter for judges—being cocktail-forward.

Location and luck matter too. “One might like the cocktails at Windmills but it’s far away from the central city and the distance is a deterrent,” says Magandeep Singh, a sommelier and drinks columnist. A good bar calls for repeat visits but even the best drinks won’t trump an inconvenient location.

Singh believes rankings are also influenced by luck. “No matter who goes up on that list, there will always be people who would feel it wasn’t right,” he observes. Drinks, like food, cannot please everyone. Different judges may rank a bar differently. “There is an element of ambiguity and that’s when luck comes in,” he notes. Just one or two judges for India may not be enough to comb each city, or maybe they didn’t have enough time to sample a fair representation—the criteria remain confidential. “In the end, what matters is, three bars from India are now there,” says Singh. “It shows that we are worthy of being considered. There are Indian bartenders abroad, like Hong Kong’s Devender Sehgal, who has received several awards, but even that hasn’t drawn attention to India. For me, it’s rankings like World’s 50 or 100 Best Bars that put India in the limelight.”

So, regardless of whether they make it to the lists, what makes for a great bar? Consistency matters, notes Achanta. While cocktails are the final frontier, the experience—design, music, hospitality— accentuates it. To maintain consistency, and the overall experience, you need a stellar team. “Some bars launch with much hullabaloo but things die down when they lose some key team members. How they treat their people also shows in the drinks,” says Achanta.

For Singh, a great bar is comfortable and transportive in equal parts: “When you are there, you don’t realise how fast time passes. And when you leave, it stays with you.”

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