From a charming 20-seater space with tropical brews on offer to a mountain-side writer’s den that inspired the likes of Rudyard Kipling and Jim Corbett – few taverns continue to champion the spirit of India’s yesteryears. Here’s our pick of the best vintage bars in the country.
India has long been brewing and distilling grains and grapes into heady concoctions. As such, there’s no dearth of drinking destinations in the country – with new spaces popping up across major cities every other month. However, a few spots serve as time capsules – with old-school rules and charming decor. These range from wallet-friendly holes-in-the-wall to elegant extensions of luxury hotels – each with a story to tell. Whether you enjoy turning the pages of history or need a new spot for a tipple – these vintage bars are a must-visit.
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Patiala Peg – Polo Bar, New Delhi (1936)
Nestled in the luxurious and iconic Imperial Hotel in New Delhi, Patiala Peg has served heady concoctions to several political and literary figures. This includes the likes of Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah and Lord Mountbatten – who reportedly sat down at the space to discuss the partition of India and Pakistan. The walls tell tales of a bygone era – with black and white images of Viceroys, governor generals, and the Maharaja of Patiala during the Second World War, amongst others. The establishment pays homage to the Patiala way of going above the standard 30 ml whisky pour to offer a serving that’s four times larger – a tradition born out of a friendly polo match hosted by Maharaja Bhupinder Singh of Punjab. While here, savour the finest spirits and cocktails.
Address: Janpath Ln, Janpath, Connaught Place, New Delhi
Contact: +91 11415 01234
The Harbour Bar, Mumbai (1933)
The first to secure a liquor licence in India – The Harbour Bar in The Taj Mahal Palace Hotel is an icon in its own right. The space underwent a major renovation after the 2008 Mumbai attacks – holding on to its erstwhile charm while offering modern fixtures. This includes leather details, pastel-red upholstery, an old-world marble bar, and artwork by Indian masters. Guests can also take in the stunning sight of the Gateway of India from here. The menu, meanwhile, is a celebration of whisky – boasting rare bottles like The Glenlivet XXV 25 Years Old, Ballantine’s 30 Years Old, and Glenfiddich 26 Years Old. The Glenmorangie Signet here is believed to be one of the distillery’s oldest, most unique expressions.
The cocktails, meanwhile, pay homage to The Prohibition Era. One story goes that an American had stumbled into the bar after learning of the end of the prohibition. He requested the bartender to concoct something spectacular to mark the moment. The result was ‘From The Harbour’ – with gin, local fruit juices, cognac, and other secret ingredients that continues to be served in a theatrical manner. Don’t miss out on options like Into The Wood with bourbon, spiced honey, and almond liqueur and Berty’s Rob Roy with Chivas Regal 18 Years Old and raw mangoes.
Address: The Taj Mahal Palace & Tower, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai
Contact: +91 22666 53366
Chhota Bristol, Kolkata (1872)
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This no-frills all-male watering hole has been around for about 150 years. It was (and continues to be) frequented by government officials, businessmen, journalists, and artists – the walls being privy to many unique conversations. The story goes that the space went without a name for a long time, going with The Shaw Brother’s (Wine) Private Limited (after the family that runs it) when it was mandatory to have one. This was later shortened to The Shaw’s Bar. Meanwhile, the presence of the popular two-storey Bristol hotel in the same building earned it the moniker Chhota Bristol. The bar is frozen in time, with rules being consistent over the years – you can’t occupy a table exclusively, waiters can only be teetotalers, payment is made while the order is placed, and every sip comes with an Indian street snack of chickpeas. The addition of air conditioning might be the only touch of modernity here. Heads up, you’re going to have to navigate quite the crowd to get a seat here.
Address: 1A, Jawaharlal Nehru Rd, Esplanade, Dharmatala, Taltala, Kolkata, West Bengal
Contact: +91 98302 89444
Joseph’s Bar, Goa (1970s)
A space that can seat just about 20 people, Joseph’s started as a one-room bar in the 70s. Here, locals could kick back after a long day with a heady beverage. However, circumstances led to a shutdown, which was later reversed when Atish Antonio Fernandes took over. Today, tables and chairs spill out onto the road, with patrons enjoying jazz music and leisurely conversations. Not to mention, local brews like People’s Lager, King’s, and feni. When in doubt, ask the wildly popular bartender Gundu for recommendations. These pair deliciously with their quick snacks which includes the likes of fish cutlets and chicken samosas.
Address: Gomes Pereira Road, Altinho, Panaji, Goa
Contact: +91 98221 28885
The Writer’s Bar, Mussoorie (1900s)
Deemed one of the oldest running hotels in the country, Welcomhotel by ITC Hotels The Savoy is a luxurious destination in Mussoorie. And its stellar reputation is only further enhanced by the vintage The Writer’s Bar – which has been around since the 1920s. The name is a nod to the scores of writers who’ve stepped foot through the doors, including the likes of Rudyard Kipling, Jim Corbett, Ruskin Bond, Stephen Atler, and Pearl S Buck. The ambiance is marked by cosy leather lounge seats, dark wood details, and a breathtaking view of the Himalayas. Combine this with choice single malts – Macallan 12 Year Old to Glenlivet 18 year old -, quick bites, and other spirits and you’ve got yourself the perfect destination for creative endeavours.
Address: Hotel Savoy Welcom, Near Library Chowk, The Mall Road, Mussoorie
Contact: +91 13526 37000
Pecos, Bangalore (1989)
Although technically a pub, Pecos stands as a symbol of Bangalore’s rock capital reputation. As such, this classic part of the city’s nightlife deserves a spot on this list. First established as a Mexican food joint, the space quickly grew in popularity for its cheap beers and live rock music. Even today, it holds on to this formula – with posters of Pink Floyd up on the walls and AC/DC playing in the background. Besides beer, locals recommend digging into the bacon delicacies here. Weekends can get busy so be sure to head here early.
Address: 34, Resthouse Road, Brigade Road, Bangalore
Contact: +91 80416 40022
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All images: Courtesy Brands
This story first appeared on Lifestyle Asia India