An artisanal cocktail bar is mixing class with innovation in GK2’s M Block Market in Delhi and we visited Sidecar for a drink, or five. By Sumeet Keswani
The first time I heard its name, images of a wannabe-cool hangout filed with millennials sprang to mind. Another one among the scores that dot bustling Delhi’s markets. But as you ascend the flight of stairs to Sidecar in GK2’s M Block Market, it quickly becomes clear that this is no run-of-the-mill bar leaning on the crutch of Happy Hours to draw crowds on a weekend afternoon. While it does suffer the affliction of industrial walls, with the peeling-plaster look that is almost pandemic in the capital today, the rest of it sings of good taste. Suede lounge chairs with soft throw pillows flanked by quirky portraits on the walls, with handmade lamps looming over low, round tables, give the first floor of the bar a very European vibe. Extensive wood panelling and leather chairs beautifully supplement a bookstore corner, provided by Hachette India. The bookstore has 600 books, constantly updated, I’m told, and the authors range from Neil Gaiman to Michel Bussi to Enid Byton to Twinkle Khanna. But the bestselling ones pertain to fitness and food, I’m told. In true European literary spirit, there’s even a free library corner, where you can trade your used book for another.
The second floor is more communal and hip with long tables, bar seats, and a live band setup. The thing both floors have in common is a bar, which should tell you everything you need to know about Sidecar, named after a cocktail, ‘a backseat classic cocktail’ as co-owner Minakshi Singh puts it. Her partner in the venture, Yangdup Lama, is a bartender with 24 years of experience. She met Lama while looking for paid gigs behind the bar in her second year of hospitality education. With two bartenders at the helm, Sidecar takes its bar very seriously.
The menu features six versions of the eponymous cocktail–with twists of bourbon, Old Monk, tequila and etc. In addition, there are 16 signature cocktails. There are classics with Lama’s improvisations–Yang’s Old Fashioned comes with betel nut-infused bourbon, date and maple cordial, and orange bitters; G & Tea mixes equal parts gin with Himalayan pinewood smoked tea concentrate for a smokey twist to the classic Gin & Tonic–and then some completely new concoctions spring surprises on the palate–the walnut-infused Chivas Regal 12 in Nutty Betty with a garnish of grated nuts is a dessert in the guise of a drink, and Cherry Isle does not shy away from using single malts in cocktails, fusing the seaside smokiness of Talisker 10 with the sweetness of cherry liqueur, which also generously drapes some cherries dangling from the rim. If none of the cocktails tickle you, though, you can even order a customised drink – designed by the bartender after consulting you on what you like in your glass. It’s called a ‘Whatever You Like,’ and comes from the menu of the founding duo’s first venture together–a 1920s-styled bar called Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy in Gurgaon.
The improvisations do not stop at the design of the menu, as it so often does with new bars. Lama himself mixes the cocktails when he’s in the building. And he has an arsenal of in-house flavour extractions including bitters, syrups, grogs, and tinctures, to work with. In fact, the bar on the second floor looks like a mad scientist’s laboratory—with various shapes and sizes of infusion jars dotting the shelves amid all the brands of bourbon you can think of (Lama is clearly a bourbon man, but when I tell him of my affinity towards single malts, he whips up whiskey cocktails customised to my taste.) A music stage hosts a live band every Saturday. In fact, a Toby Keith song was given to the architect of the place as the brief for the design. Unsurprisingly, the song is I Love This Bar.
While the drinks steal the show in this “bartender’s bar,” the food isn’t bad either. The all-day menu designed by chef Tarun Sibal mixes Oriental and Continental cuisines to offer plates with bold flavours and fresh ingredients. Citrus Tang, a salad with tangerine, orange, and pomelo (and nearly no greens), comes with a topping of sweet chilli sauce and peanuts. Fried Panko Corn Curd is so well-rounded in its flavours–with a sweet chutney on side and pomelo flesh on top—that it quickly becomes my favourite bar snack. While Bloody Mary Prawns speak of the innovation in bar plates, a Camembert grill stands for the thought put in for vegetarian patrons. When we sit down for our main course, Lama whips up a spirit-forward, no-frills, smooth twist on the Manhattan with aged sherry and house bitters that goes well with my Oriental bowl of coconut curry with noodles and wild mushroom. No matter what you’re eating or doing at Sidecar, a drink is just a wish away.
Meal for two: INR 2,000 + taxes (including alcohol)
Timings: 12:30 pm – 1:00 am
Address: Sidecar, M-29, First floor, GK 2, M Block market, New Delhi
Reservations and queries: 9560265223, 9717102713