The Rise of the New Indian Drink Menu
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because when mixology meets Indian spice, we’re sure to have sweeter, sassier and more saffrony cocktails to choose from.
By Aayush Soni
Historically, a drinks menu at a restaurant or a bar in India looks a little like this: spirits (whisky, vodka, tequila etc.), wine-and-beer, cocktails. This latter category includes Western staples like a Long Island Iced Tea, Bloody Mary, Screwdriver and a Piña Colada.
If the bar wants to up the fanciness quotient, it’ll offer a caprioska or a daiquiri for some beachy appeal, too.
But as Indians travel around the world, they hit the hippest bars and sample the best cocktails of Singapore, Paris, London, New York, Chicago, Bangkok and Colombo. Upon their return home, they want a Singapore sling, a Sidecar from Paris or a Hurricane from New Orleans.
So thank the cosmopolitans (no pun intended) for the hottest Delhi bar, PCO. The spot is the work of Arijit Bose, a 31-year-old bartender-cum-“cocktail evangelist” who traveled around the world, sipping cocktails — classic and contemporary — before bringing them to PCO. The speakeasy-style bar in Delhi recreates the ’20s with jazz music, leather mahogany chairs and concoctions from New Orleans, Russia, Japan and even Sri Lanka.
PCO’s signature Old Cuban — a drink by Audrey Sanders
- Aged rum: 30 ml
- Bacardi gold rum: 30 ml
- Mint leaves: 8–10
- Lime juice: 15 ml
- Sugar syrup: 15 ml
- Angostura bitters: 2 dashes
- In a shaker add the rums, mint leaves, lime juice and sugar. Add 2 dashes of Angostura bitters.
- Shake hard and double strain into a Champagne saucer. Add sparkling wine or Champagne.
- Garnish with mint leaves.
“For example, I went to about 7–8 bars just in New Orleans and we picked up a few drinks from there — one of them being a Vieux Carré [a bittersweet cocktail of rye whiskey, cognac, vermouth, Benedictine and bitters] which roughly about .0001 percent of Indians would know about.”
Bose’s drinks stand out among the crowd of cocktails because they’re inventive and, more importantly, are consistently high-quality in a bleak drink landscape.
“It’s why my drink of choice is a gin and tonic, because there’s no room for those self-appointed mixologists to muck it up with simple syrup,” said food critic Vandana Verma.
PCO re-creates a fantastical era that no young Indian has ever experienced: the Prohibition days. Most Indian bars have bright signage and their owners like them to stand out — in a prominent market, neighborhood, or mall. PCO is the exact opposite. It’s located in a relatively unknown market of a South Delhi neighborhood. There’s no signage outside the white door — just a keypad on which you type a four-digit access code. Once you’re inside, you’re in a place that’s purposefully clandestine: low lighting, jazz music, black-and-white photos on the walls and leather mahogany chairs, — all hallmarks of a speakeasy (except of course they’re legally allowed to sell booze).
To go there is to be transported into the 1920s, with a cocktail in hand. One among them is The Last Word, a concoction of chartreuse (French liqueur), maraschino liquor, Bombay Sapphire gin and lime juice — first created at the Detroit Athletic Club. There’s also an Old Cuban (recipe above) — a more contemporary classic that’s a signature drink of New York’s Pegu Club — which Bose is re-creating at his speakeasy bar. So the next time you need a drink (or three), head over to PCO in Delhi. Bose and his team will give you a taste of the world that was once prohibited.