A few watering holes in the country come with vintage leather-filled lounges, breezy tunes, and carefully-curated concoctions – complete, in a space confidential enough to demand passcodes and camouflaged doors. Harkening back to the era of Prohibition in the United States, these spots offer an experience far removed from the ubiquitous breweries and cocktail bars of the drinking world. Here’s looking at India’s finest speakeasies.
Illegal drinking establishments have long served as cloak-and-dagger spaces in England and Ireland. However, they truly gained steam in the 1920s when the 18th amendment to the US constitution prohibited the consumption of alcohol. Termed speakeasies, these spots began occupying basements, deep recesses of glitzy nightclubs, and quiet nooks of residential colonies across America. A major allure? They offered refuge from both the law and the bustle of everyday life. Cut to a few years later and alcohol is no longer outlawed. However, the magic of cosy corners, enigmatic ambiance, heady libations and exclusivity remains.
Channelling them all (while offering a host of other conveniences) are all new bars across the country, tucked behind paan shops or nestled in dark corners of verdant gardens. These range from popular 50 Best Bars features to all-new establishments and are near impossible to find and access. That is, unless you know exactly where to look or whom to reach out to. Best part? They offer the most delicious cocktails with a marked yesteryear spirit (pun intended). Here’s a few that are hidden from plain sight but are on our radar.
Speakeasies in India that serve the enigma of yesteryear illegal spaces
Harp by Maruchi, New Delhi
Adding a touch of elegance and enigma to the capital city’s bustling nightlife — this theatrical speakeasy bar promises the most exquisite experiences. Only accessible through a secret code, the ambiance is underlined by luxurious leather and velvet upholstery as well as dark wood details. Complete, with a cigar lounge and a 20-seater outdoor space. The menu pays homage to the 1920s with eight signature Prohibition-era concoctions that follow the musical scale and are named after iconic tracks. These pair deliciously with their eclectic bar nibbles — Portobello Kebab, Mezze Platter, the works. Best part? Every Wednesday through Friday, the space hosts live music performances, stand-up comedy specials, and more. If that doesn’t spell exciting we don’t know what does.
Address: First Floor, Sri Aurobindo Marg, Qutab Golf Course, Lado Sarai
Contact: +91 99104 25070
PCO (Pass Code Only), New Delhi
Leading the pack is India’s first speakeasy-style cocktail bar. Listed in Asia’s 50 Best Bars – the popularity does little to take away from its enigmatic ambiance, which is accessible only via a passcode. This changes two-three times a week and is sent out to a private set of patrons. Inside are long leather lounge seats and a towering bar with dark wood details – complete with low lighting. The cocktails here are the major draw, encompassing a range of moods and flavour profiles. Of these, the Lavender Tonic, Whiskey Smash, and Mint Julep are quite popular. Pair them with their quick bites like mashed potatoes and grilled chicken. Round the experience out on a sweet note with their banoffee pie or chocolate cake.
Address: D-4, D Block Market, Vasant Vihar, New Delhi
Contact: +91 95993 56186
Cocktails and Dreams, Gurgaon
Listed in the country’s 30 Best Bars – this space is helmed by India’s finest bartender Yangdup Lama. Deemed a ‘bartenders’ bar,’ there isn’t a determined drinks menu here, requiring patrons to talk to those behind the bar and have them whip up something unique and fresh each time. The food on offer, however, is quite extensive with a range of momos – pork and chicken come recommended – as well as chicken wings, paprika fries, sliders, fish creations, and pasta. Spotlighted are Tibetan delights and the portions are massive so be sure to talk to the servers before placing an order. Upping the ante on it all is the selection of tunes – jazz primarily – and the electric yet laid back ambiance. Don’t miss out!
Address: SCO 23, Sector 15, Gurgaon
Contact: +91 76830 47945
Gin Joint, Goa
Hidden amidst hills, this quaint, stunning speakeasy boasts of an easy, rustic ambiance. The menu spotlights – as the name suggests – Indian small-batch gins, exclusive to the sunshine state. As such the range of cocktails here is unique and delicious – complete with floral syrups and locally-sourced ingredients. This is the perfect space for a tipple before or after dinner. Or an intimate round of birthday cocktails with a group of loved ones. You could also sign up for gin experiences here. Need we say more?
Address: Above Verandah, Calist House Ashvem Mandrem Road, North Goa
Contact: +91 95031 05092
10 Speakeasy, Bangalore
Bangalore’s first speakeasy is located right behind a paan shop called the Paan Studio. Discreet and suave, the space features large chandeliers, tungsten lighting, and a breathtaking bar. The menu, meanwhile, features Peruvian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and pan-Asian delicacies with pulled pork tacos, prawn and avocado salsa tacos, and mango and palm heart ceviche being quite popular. The cocktails – curated by revered bartender and the owner of Cocktails and Dreams Yangdup Lama – are the main allure, exploring a range of spirits. However, the whiskey concoctions are a must-try.
Address: No. 76-63, No.10, BBMP PID, 10, Wood St, Ashok Nagar, Bangalore
Contact: +91 96060 69006
ZLB 23, Bangalore
Nestled within the lush, verdant gardens of the exquisite Leela Palace Bengaluru, ZLB 23 is an exclusive space that’s marked by upholstery work by Sabyasachi for Nilaaya, large crystal chandeliers, and a stunning grand piano that fills the space with breezy tunes. The menu is a Prohibition-era celebration with unique concoctions like The Pale Man and Monkey Gland. The Japanese Old-Fashioned, which is smoked at the table, is a delight to sip. That aside, there’s a delicious range of gin, tequila, and single malts to explore. Pair these with quick bites that are an ode to Kyoto’s flavours – of which the Sea Bass Ceviche is a seafood knockout. Access is granted only through direct messages on the establishment’s official Instagram handle, which puts patrons in touch with the gatekeeper named Zia.
Address: Leela Palace Bengaluru
Hidden within the heart of the city, Gigglewater is marked by long, dark-wood details, classic leather lounge seats, dim lighting, and the sound of breezy music (often jazz) playing. The food here is a delight, with popular options being Kheema Pav Toasties, Kerala-Style Chicken, Iranian Flatbread, and Smoked Butter Chicken. These pair like a dream with their range of signature and classic cocktails. The former includes rum and grapefruit-based Scarface, bourbon and saffron-based Bourbon Deulxe, and gin and jager-based Jager Negroni. Don’t miss out!
Address: Unit 4, Ground Floor, Niharika Jubilee 1, Road 1, Jubilee Hills, Hyderabad
Contact: +91 98499 77611
Which of these speakeasies do you most look forward to sipping at this weekend?
All images: Courtesy Shutterstock/Brands