The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A toast to tradition
The classic cocktail bar is back

The scorched-ash and river-rock detailing of Next Door Nobu in Manhattan's hip Tribeca district, owned by Robert de Niro, among others'

Or Philadelphia's mod Pod and its lozenge-shaped bar counter of translucent amber resin embedded with white neon lights'

Or the spatial simplicity of Roxy on Park Street, with its installation of polished-aluminium ovals that form a shimmering texture against the contrasting exposed-brick-finish masonry wall'

Classic cocktail bars 'never mind if couched in contemporary adornment ' are hip across the globe now. And Calcutta, flowing with old-fashioned Manhattans and Cosmopolitans, Daiquiris and Between the Sheets, the Collinses and Cobblers, and other classic pre-dinner drinks, is raising a toast to yesterday again.

Rising above the clamour and din of lounges, resto-bars and high-decibel elbow-to-elbow nightclubs, is a defined demand for smooth highland malts, a rich array of world wines and fine Cuban and Havana cigars, in serene settings.

More and more Calcuttans ' not the least the 30-plus brigade ' are yearning for a place where they can sit back and savour a classic cocktail without being swept away by a sea of thumping feet or their conversation getting drowned by a beat blast.

'From fine dining, the gaze is now shifting to fine drinking, and at Roxy, which is a pure cocktail bar, we are trying to cater to that clientele for whom an ambience of unhurried elegance matters,' says Anirban Simlai, director, food & beverages, The Park, Calcutta.

And this clientele, usually preferring the relative quietude of early evening to the late-night intensity, doesn't need a dance floor to jive away the blues. What would sway these posh people instead are subtle textural and visual surprises 'elements like banquette-back cushions and banners custom-quilted in plush fabrics of vibrant colours and patterns'

Early praise for Calcutta's newest watering hole, with its retro furniture offset by the contemporary steel-and-glass mezzanine, has been loud. 'Roxy is an extremely well-appointed place, beautifully designed. I would like to go back to it again and again. And you can at least be heard,' says Sanjiv Goenka, vice-chairman, RPG Enterprises.

Talk of the town

The spirit that The Park has so emphatically thumbs-upped with Roxy, has been assiduously upheld through the years by chill zones like The Junction at Taj Bengal. Since its inception in 1989, the true-blue British-style bar has stuck to its classic wood-and-leather combo.

'The understated grace at the traditional bar, coupled with our versatile Filipino band, makes it a favourite with expatriates and the well-heeled, and we have never felt the need to do anything differently,' says a Taj spokesperson.

Regulars at The Junction don't have to ask for their preferred Talk of the Town (whisky, kahlua, Bailey's, cinnamon, ice-cream) or Long Island Ice Tea (vodka, white rum, gin, tequila, Cointreau), thanks to the 'highly personalised service standards'.

Amitabh Rai, general manager, The Oberoi Grand, too stresses the need for this 'caring, attentive service and respect for privacy'. The heritage hotel's new bar, The Chowringhee, was launched in March 2000, 'raising a toast to a very important person ' The Gentleman of our times'. To match this distinguished theme, architects Zeiler-Lim Associates were briefed to create a refined ambience.

Says Rai: 'A bar is a place where one can unwind, and for the connoisseur, it's important to have 'people like us' at the next table.'

The Chowringhee's Italian marble-topped tables, cane and soft upholstered chesterfield sofas are complemented with artefacts from the Raj era like telescopes, cameras, hourglasses and clocks'

Raising the bar

Not just design elements, the myriad mix of Mojitos and Mai Tais the city has on offer is as heady, concoctions straddling the classic-contemporary divide with fizzy flamboyance. If it's Margaritas and single malts at The Junction, The Chowringhee has its Harvey's Wallbangers and Black Russians, while the infused vodka platter is already a rage at Roxy.

Then, of course, there are the bars at the quintessentially Calcutta clubs. Bengal Club's spruced-up Nagraj Bar still serves evergreen blends like the Caruso (gin, dry vermouth, sugar syrup) and Whisky Sour (lemon juice, sugar syrup, egg white). Saturday Club's Light Horse Bar is another preferred pad for old faves like a classic Kamikaze (vodka, cointreau and fresh lime juice).

With the fine art of bartending back in flair, getting the mix right is of the essence. 'Quite often, just any concoction served in a martini glass is labelled a Martini, exposing the ignorance with reference to classic cocktails. Hopefully, with the introduction of more cocktail bars, this will change,' observes Irfan Ahmed, among the city's most sought-after bar-mixers.

If the Dom Perignons and Blanc Chardonnays are essential brews in a classy bar's arsenal, it's equally important to throw in the right accompanying munches on the menu. So, be it the Lebanese platter and golden fried risotto balls in Roxy, the succulent kebabs at The Junction or the prawn-on-garlic toast at the Nagraj Bar, the snack pack helps make a bar.

West View Bar and Grill at the ITC Hotel Sonar Bangla Sheraton and Towers has also backed this brew-and-bite blend. So, to go with its fine wines, there is the tableside flamb', cheese trolley, the interactive charcoal grill with a selection of imported meats and vegetable and crepe suzettes cooked right on your table.

Hyatt Regency's The Bar, with its 'bold artwork and theatrical lighting', also woos Calcuttans with its single-malts and vintage wines, draught beers and innovative cocktails.

'Soon we might have the city's old favourite after-dinner drinks like Brandy Alexander, the Grasshoppers, the Golden Dream, The Godfather, After Eight, Irish Coffee and its variations being served at most places,' hopes Irfan.

All this to go with chic cigars like Cohiba, Fonseca or Romeo Y Julieta or a Bellini #2, a concoction of peach schnapps and sparkling wine.

Look around and pour yourself one ' the bar has clearly been raised.

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