New Delhi-based Sidecar is the only bar in the country to make it to Asia’s 50 Best Bars’ list
Walk down South Delhi’s swanky Greater Kailash II N-block market with its rows of coffee shops and retail stores and you come across a small, unassuming signage – Sidecar – right next to a bank. Climb a flight of stairs and you are welcomed by a cosy room with comfortable armchairs, wood panelling, a book corner and mood lighting, almost like a personal drawing room. Another flight of stairs and you set eyes on the beautiful bar on the second floor, with its rows of bottles, glasses, many exciting ingredients and concoctions. All of which result in some spectacular artisanal cocktails made using in-house flavour extractions including bitters, syrups, grogs and tinctures.
Welcome to Sidecar: India’s only entry on Asia’s 50 Best Bars. It was number 40 in 2020 and rose 24 places to number 16 in 2021. It was ranked number 91 on the World’s Best Bar list in October last year – India’s only entry in the top 100 and only the second bar in India ever to be selected.
“It’s our dream bar. A bartender’s bar,” says Minakshi Singh about Sidecar that she established in 2018 along with her partner, award-winning mixologist Yangdup Lama. “The fact that we got on the list was massive. We didn’t open the bar with the intention of getting on any lists. But it’s great that we are getting recognition, especially now,” she says.
Spread over two floors, Sidecar is a classic, all-day venue. The first floor, with its drawing room feel, is a great place to eat and chill or just hang around for coffee or read or write that masterpiece while sipping a cocktail. On the second floor, the bar is complemented by a small stage which hosts live gigs most of the week. On most evenings, the place is buzzing while the atmosphere is casual and relaxed.
Yangdup and Minakshi are old hands in the beverage industry. While Yangdup has over two decades of experience and is known for shaping the spirits and cocktail culture in India, Minakshi has worked with global giants Pernod Ricard and Diageo as part of their marketing team.
In December 2012, they got together and opened their first bar – Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy – in Gurgaon. With its artisanal cocktails and jazz music, it was way ahead of its time. But with a new segment of consumers looking for an international, cosmopolitan experience of cities such as New York and London, Speakeasy soon became extremely popular.
“We opened in Gurgaon then because frankly, we couldn’t afford the rentals in Delhi. But opening a bar in Delhi was always the dream,” says Singh.
High on the success of Speakeasy, the duo went all out to set up Sidecar. “From the kind of ambience we wanted to the kind of drinks we decided to offer, to the food we wanted to serve, we went all out. I am a bibliophile. We tied up with Hachette to set up a book store on the first floor. We got a coffee brand to collaborate with us, we served artisanal teas. We wanted to create that experience for our guests. Sidecar has truly been a realisation of a dream bar for us,” says Minakshi.
When it launched, it had a massive inventory of spirits with one of the largest collections of gins and rums. “Our idea was to expose our guests to better and bigger things. Try and give them a more global and international experience,” explains Minakshi.
The first floor is open lunch onwards. “We wanted to give the guests a more day experience. I really feel a good international bar should be serving you great coffee, tea and non-alcoholic beverages as well,” she adds. The first floor also works as a space for private parties and events.
Another thing that makes Sidecar stand out is the series of entertainment activities and events that they plan throughout the month. From jazz evenings to quiz shows, from cocktail workshops to book events, there is something always happening. “Sidecar is our personality extension. So we do a lot of things that we enjoy. But the idea was to create a space where our guests would keep returning for a new experience every time,” says Minakshi.
The opening menu which focused on bar plates was conceptualised by chef Tarun Sibal who, a year later, established Titlie, a culinary bar and restaurant in Goa. Since then, the menu has changed with a greater focus on grills and barbecue.
“Our menu is always seasonal. We also try and talk about sustainability. There is a lot of competition in the market and we knew that food was not going to be our main forte. The food had to complement the drinks, in terms of quality and service,” explains Minakshi.
Sidecar’s highlight is obviously the cocktails. Its menu is full of classic cocktails with a unique Indian twist. Take the G&T, for example: gin, orange-infused water and a tea concentrate, smoked with Himalayan pinewood. Or Yang’s Old-Fashioned, which has betel nut-infused bourbon. A new menu launched in October last year is called ‘A Literary Bar Crawl’ and is dedicated to 19th and 20th century playwrights and authors. So you have cocktails inspired by Jane Austen and Hemingway.
While last year during the lockdown, the Sidecar team did various innovative things such as launching cocktail pre-mixes which were home delivered, to online cocktail workshops and even launching their own Youtube channel, this year has been tougher. “The second wave has hit us all hard and our team has been scared. So we consciously shut down completely for a month.” It’s only recently that they have reopened for food and cocktail pre-mixes delivery.
As Delhi starts reopening slowly, we hope that Sidecar will be up and running in a few months once restrictions have been eased.