Last year, a young New Delhi bar grabbed headlines when it ranked 40th in Asia’s 50 Best Bars. This year, Sidecar has outdone itself and scored an unprecedented No. 16 spot. It has also been named the Best Bar in India. We speak to the founders to find out how they turned the tide in a devastating year for the industry. By Sumeet Keswani
In a year that saw the F&B industry suffer body blows, how did Sidecar improve its ranking on Asia’s 50 Best Bars?
Minakshi: Oh yes, this year has been tough, to say the least. When we went under lockdown in March 2020, we utilised the time to reflect on our new menu, tastings, and trails. We spent a lot of time training and upskilling our staff via online classes with internal as well as external trainers. I feel it was this single-minded approach that got us recognised. We also conducted a lot of guest programmes via online workshops and [launched] exciting cocktail premixes. When bars finally opened in September 2020, we were geared up with a new cocktail menu and many exciting offerings for our guests.
Does the title of the Best Bar in India (and Asia #16) change anything for you or your plans?
Yangdup: While this recognition gives us an immense boost in such challenging times, it also brings with it a whole lot of responsibility. Being the finest bar in India means higher expectations of guests. And it becomes our prime responsibility to deliver the finest experience to our patrons by maintaining the highest standard of quality and innovation and extending a bar experience that will wow the patrons. Being the only bar from India on the list, we are also paving the way for others.
While we’re on that, why do you think there’s so little representation of India on the list?
Y: All these years, bars in India have been focused on nightlife. Most bars are weekend bars where the mood is that of partying. Except for hotels bars, few are focused on the cocktails or drinks experience. The change has already started to happen with more bar owners and promoters now focussing on the beverage programme and trying to create a unique experience for their customers. Also, the bars in India have to be bartender-driven, just like restaurants are chef-driven. When bartenders lead from the front, Indian bars will shine on the global cocktail scene.
You said you designed a new cocktail menu and offerings for guests during the first lockdown. Tell us about what’s new at Sidecar.
M: Yes, that was the result of ample time on our hands. When you’re running a bar, you get engrossed in the day-to-day operations and don’t get time to focus on the bigger picture. The lockdown gave us a breather. The new menu was a result of that. I have always been a bibliophile; in fact, our first floor has an operational bookstore thanks to our friends at Hachette, so we thought it’s only fitting that we dedicate the new menu to the 19th- and 20th-century authors and playwrights who loved their tipple. We chanced upon a book called A Sidecar Named Desire and paid homage to the greats. It’s a literary bar crawl that you won’t forget easily. We have used some new and classic techniques, and also kept a balance of Indian and international flavours. Subtle things like tea, timbur, and cumin have been used to accentuate the provenance [of the new drinks].
How do you plan to forge ahead from here—especially in the light of the second wave in India?
Y: Once the situation stabilises, we will hopefully be able to get back to what we know best. We are excited to host a bunch of guest shifts, which have been stalled forever, and also some exciting collaborations with brands and people we have always wanted to work with. While we are currently at home, we have been working extensively on new ideas to be able to create beautiful experiences for guests.
How do you see the bar scene evolving from here?
Y: It’s a tough one to predict. The important factor is trust. How much would a customer trust their favourite bar in terms of hygiene, quality, and overall experience? The offering has to be beyond the present [one] for a customer to make the journey to experience it. If the offering is unique with high standards of safety and hygiene, I am confident the bars will be buzzing like before.
Your favourite bars around the world?
Your favourite cocktails?
Y: I love a well-made Manhattan straight (preferably with rye whiskey).
M: Oh, I love a well-made Margarita on a holiday and a Negroni at a bar.
MIX IT LIKE YANGDUP (Sidecar Special)
- Peanut butter-infused blended scotch whisky (12 years or below) – 60ml
- Fresh ginger juice – 10ml
- Fresh lime juice – 10ml
- Pineapple jam/preserve – 1 tsp
Pour all the ingredients into a shaker full of ice, and shake well. Strain into an old-fashioned glass filled with ice. Garnish with ginger candy, or a dehydrated or fresh pineapple slice.
To make the peanut butter-infused whisky, infuse 50g peanut butter into 150ml whisky in a glass beaker/decanter/glass jar, and let it rest for 24 hours. Freeze the infusion to remove the buttery cloudiness and strain.
Have you been to Sidecar yet? Let us know on social media.
Editor’s Note: Keeping the current situation of the pandemic in mind, T+L India recommends every reader to stay safe, and take all government-regulated precautions in case travel at this time is absolutely necessary. Please follow our stories on COVID-19 for all the latest travel guidelines.