My journey starts with one inescapable truth in life, the sun has set somewhere in the world. And that means it is time to get a drink. Not just any drink but one of the classics… I love searching for classic drinks, it is a fun obsession and one that takes you through an intriguing maze of bars, drinking culture and interesting people.
For the sake of tradition, let’s start with the ubiquitous Martini, not the bastardised version with vodka but one of the 6 original drinks, with gin! An interesting read on this is ‘The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks’ by David Embury. For those really interested one can buy it on www.amazon.com for about `1800 including shipping.
Interesting fact, Martini® is actually a brand name for one of the world’s most visible bottles. Regardless of where one is in the world the chances are you will see a bottle of Martini® on the back-bar. It is essentially a 120-year-old European brand, selling in millions of bottles across Europe and fast becoming one of the largest brands in Russia (Fun reason why Russians are fast adopting it, more on that later) If you are an advertising fan, here is an example of classic Martini® turn of the century work.
Martini® is vermouth (dry, extra dry or red), drunk mainly as an apéritif, similar to how we drink tea in India! It is also a key component in the classic Martini and used well gives balance to ensure the drink does not come out too dry. It comes in a couple of varieties, Extra-Dry, Bianco, Rosso etc.
My journey starts in Delhi, not because it is the political capital of India but because I believe Delhi is fast over-taking Bombay in terms of quality of both bars, and drinks. Bombay still has some of the best hotel bars in the country, but cocktail culture is best absorbed in a more intimate, younger environment, which most hotel bars do not provide. Being someone who has drunk all over India at almost all bars, one of the perks of my job, trust me on one thing, you would rather spend time at a buzzing bar than one stuffed with old fogies! On an aside, Delhi has the least amount of bars & retail licenses per square feet/population density. There are approximately 450 odd bars in Delhi, conversely Bombay has over 1800!
While there are a lot of good bars, the best are those that can consistently serve you a great cocktail, and those are unfortunately rare. It’s time owners realize that we come to bars to enjoy our drinks and there is nothing better than seeing a great stocked bar with the bartenders making classic and modern cocktails. Most bars rarely move beyond whiskies & standard white spirits. Cocktails are normally made with the cheapest spirits available and masked with liberal doses of sweet & sour mixes. That’s the beauty of trying out a Classic Martini, the nature of the drink means it is impossible to make a good one without premium alcohol.
The best cocktails in Delhi are made at Smokehouse Grill, Shroom, Shalom, PCO, Setz, Magique, Ricks, Blue Bar & Shiro. Not surprisingly all these bars have experienced managers and forward thinking owners pushing the envelope. So you will find quality brands, interesting infusions and Sake varieties! The glasses are right, drinks are cold, infusions interesting and the flavors and fruits fresh and inviting.
The first stop is Smokehouse Grill at GK-2…I have to admit, I am an unabashed fan. I am not going to delve into the food, which incidentally is among the best meats in town, but stick to talking about the bar. There is a good choice of premium alcohol and some very good wines…it is not rare to see a `50,000 bottle of wine or champagne be popped for an occasion and without the pomp and fuss that one detests in Delhi! What I really like about the bar is the pricing, it’s affordable and it means one doesn’t have to stand around with a bottle of beer in their hands the entire evening. Eclectic mix of people, some extremely pretty women and a couple who are happy to wrap themselves around a couple of the strategic poles placed near the bar post midnight!
Referring to my point on the phenomenal rise of Martini® in Russia is ironically because most Russian women are drinking bottles of it at nightclubs and parties. It looks elegant, much less kick than vodka or champagne and there is an innate elegance about it.
The newest advertising campaign is all about Martini® being the world’s most beautiful drink, and to communicate the messaging they have roped in the gorgeous Monica Belluci & Jude Law to promote the brand. In the past George Clooney & the gorgeous Charlize Theron have worked their magic on television for Martini®, the Clooney campaign is particularly good, a take-off on the golden age of cocktails, with Clooney sporting a Clark Gable mustache with his customary savoir–faire. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81OmtxZHJVA
Continuing my search for great drinks, to quote a classic from Jim Morrison…Take me to the next whisky bar!