Northern India is infamous for its hedonism. Those of us who live here gently describe ourselves as khaatey peetey log—which literally translates as “eating-drinking people,” but loosely implies those with a healthy zest for living. Eating, we’ve had down pat since forever. As for drinking, though, it took a little time for us to figure out where, when, and how to best imbibe.
Actually, when was never a problem. But how and where were slightly trickier, since we lacked a proper pub culture (although the flesh was very willing.) We used to oscillate between shady drinking holes and luxury hotel lounges. For those instances in between, our dogdy secret was always “car-o-bar” (a play on the word Hindi word karobar, which means “business”): a cheeky term to describe a swig from the hip flask when you’re en route to a destination—strictly for when someone else is driving, of course!
Thankfully, New Delhi now has plenty of casual and formal drinking establishments; no more drinking on the run! Here are some of my favorites.
Moets Building at Defense Colony
Any proud Delhi-ite knows their Shack from their Stone. Both are really cool bars on the top floor of the Moets Sizzlers building, with comfy sofas to sink into and lounge, drink in hand. The whitewashed stone-effect walls impart a Mediterranean ambience; you can almost imagine you’re in a rustic Italian farmhouse instead of a bustling urban center.
If you’re hip, young, and happening (or want to be for a day), this Buddha-Bar modeled joint is where you should head at cocktail hour. Despite the huge, smiling seated Buddha statue and opulent East Asian decor, there’s nothing Zen about this place—especially once the music gets cranked up and the place fills with crowds.
The Library Bar
This bar at the Leela Palace Hotel will make ladies and gentlemen of us, if it’s the last thing it does. If you want a spot for a refined drink, this wood-paneled, vaulted-ceilinged bar is the place. Having a cocktail here, you get the distinct sense that much important business has been conducted in this same room, among regal company.
Dramz Whiskey Bar
If you know whisky from whiskey, this is the bar for you. Done up in the style of a Scotland cottage, it’s warm and cozy on the inside—just like how you’re likely to feel after a few of their finest single-malts. There’s also something extra here that the Highlands, Lowlands, Speyside and Islay don’t have: a moonlit terrace view of the Qutb Minar.
Chamanlal & Sons
Even though Barsoom and Rumbar are the new Hauz Khas Village favorites, there’s one reason you should still visit Chamanlal & Sons. Legend has it that a lawyer called Chamanlal (who was partial to his booze) drowned in the Hauz Khas lake in his quest for one last drink. Now, if you ever look away from your table and find your drink missing, it’s apparently the spirit of the thirsty man that’s quaffed it before you could say “spooky.” So…other people’s drinks can legitimately disappear here? Okay then!