The global trend of speakeasy bars has arrived in Delhi. One such ‘secret’ space offered fun ‘infusion’ moments to guests recently
Entry to this ‘secret’ hangout is through a password. To be punched on a phone placed inside a swank cubicle with a glass door, the kind of public phone booths you spot in Bollywood movies shot abroad. The complicated access, you figure out, is in keeping with what the joint is — a speakeasy bar. Entry through this make-believe PCO is a clue to the name of the bar — PCO.
Well, we do what’s needed and a white wooden door slides open, taking us to a landing. It suddenly turns too dark for comfort though. A flight of stairs leads to a cigar lounge. Another flight runs downstairs, to the bar — our port-of-call.
The first thing you notice is that the dim-lit bar is carefully given a careless look. The AC vents are left open, pipes and wires can be seen; some wooden wine casks are placed in a corner. The shelf behind the counter is well-lit, well-stocked. A line of bar stools in black leather waits for guests. So are a few sofa-chairs, placed on one side of the room and some wooden plank tables and picnic benches on the other. The waiters are in grey and white, flaunting suspenders.
PCO, in New Delhi’s Vasant Vihar, is as much a swank copy of the speakeasy bars of the Prohibition era in America as it is a carter of the global trend of the return of such bars to our National Capital. The new-age speakeasy avatars worldwide typically have veiled access — like PCO has — keeping the tradition of the originals which functioned covertly to avoid the law.
In Delhi you can see the model gaining ground pretty fast. Dirty Martini, Cocktails & Dreams, are some more speakeasy bars we have now. On weekends particularly, says mixologist Arijit Bose, PCO is packed. Arijit helps out in training its staff and is often behind the counter on weekends.
It is a weekend when I meet Arijit at PCO. He is preparing for an event, whipping up an alcoholic punch for guests who are to arrive soon. Though I notice that what is happening elsewhere in the room is far more exciting. On a wooden table, there are rows of small glass canisters waiting to be filled. The plank tables are full too. One is laden with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and greens; another has rows and rows of spices, syrups, bitters, and so much else! The last table has mortars and pestles of diverse sizes, spoons, glass tubes, etc.
Arijit helps me in deciphering the scene. The event is being organised at PCO in collaboration with the vodka brand Absolut by the planners of Unbox, an annual festival that happens in Delhi to celebrate interdisciplinary thought and work. Unbox features a blend of events including a conference, workshops, exhibitions, performances and of course, food and drinks stalls. This year, the four-day festival is closing on February 10. Arijit and fellow mixologist Vandana Verma are to help the invited guests (mostly from the media) create their personalised infusions by blending Absolut vodka with the laid-out ingredients. These infusions will sit at PCO for a week and then be bought by the same guests at Unbox.
Time for me to make my infusion and I seek help from Arijit. Since he loves paan, he chooses a betel leaf and carefully puts it inside a glass canister. A bit of desiccated coconut goes in plus some cardamoms, cloves and fennel seeds— “things usually put in a paan.” Arijit wants to give it “a twist” and adds a spot of sugar syrup, popcorn syrup, a dash of bitters — an important part of the Prohibition era, and three fat cherries. To it he pours about 90 ml Absolut vodka, gives it a solid shake and corks the bottle. My infusion then goes to doodle artist Kriti Monga, who artistically writes all the ingredients on a label.
“Name your drink,” prods Arijit. I fumble, the mind wanders. And then Arijit suggests, “Let’s call it Absolut Barooah.” Kriti quickly scribbles it on a paper, ties to the neck of the bottle and before I know it, it goes to a nearby rack— for all the flavours to draw from each other and generate a concoction that could be my drink at Unbox.
Well, it’s February 9 today and I have not been to the festival yet though I have one more day, to try and take a swig of a potion that I can call my own! About PCO and other speakeasy bars, there is enough time to explore, enjoy and banter about. After all, the trend has just begun.