Speakeasy: Delhi, Gurgaon take cues from the ‘Prohibition Era’

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Can you keep a secret?

‘The Prohibition Era’, fuelled by criminal gangs, bootleggers, unlicensed barrooms, and gin joints, running afoul of the federal liquor law, known as the Volstead Act, was referred to as the most ill-kept secrets of America.

The constitutional ban on the US’ production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages gave rise to ‘Speakeasies’.

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The ‘speakeasies’ were fancy clubs with a sight of jazz bands and ballroom dance floors to dingy basements and rooms established covertly inside apartments. Men and women wanting to drink often catered to illegal bars operating on secret passwords in an attempt to not be overheard by law enforcement.

Mirroring this American era of the 1920s, Delhi-NCR has opened a few secret bars or ‘speakeasies’, where one can sit back and enjoy the highlights of The Prohibition Era.

Here are three speakeasies from Delhi-Gurgaon, that you wouldn’t want to miss:

1. The Secret Garden

The bar counter at Secret Garden. (Photo: Ananya Jain)

The Secret Garden is a rooftop bar located in Greater Kailash’s M-Block market, Delhi. However, with no boards and signs outside, try not to get puzzled by its inconspicuous presence. The key to reaching this bar is to go past Sakley’s and out the door at the very end, head up the flight of stairs and enter the very secret, ‘Secret Garden’.

The ‘1920s Prohibition Era’ inspired bar with an adequate classy bar counter, assembled vintage dark wood furniture, along with wall art displaying celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Leonardo DiCaprio, etc., is surrounded by dim lights and Deephouse beats, which exhibit an outlook of a classy bar lounge.

The wall art at Secret Garden. (Photo: Ananya Jain)

Parul Pratap, the chef and the spouse of Amit Rekhi, founder of The Secret Garden told indianexpress.com that the main intention of establishing the bar was also to build a place that is female-friendly.

“The profile of bars generally changes at night. Being a woman, I feel there are not many choices where I would feel safe when I go out drinking, which is exactly what our intent was behind opening a Speakeasy and keeping it obscure,” she stated.

Moreover, when you are about to enter this secret bar, you will notice a quote saying, “I drank so much Vodka Last night, I woke up with a Russian accent,” which is likely to tempt you to try every drink on the cocktail menu.

Talking about the cocktail menu at the bar, Pratap said, “‘The Bartender Blues’ is a must-try at this bar. We make it with Jameson whiskey, cold-pressed apple juice from the mountains, and a couple of secret ingredients which will blow your mind!”

Along with an innovative cocktail menu, the bar also serves a fusion of Italian and Continental food. “The slow-roasted pork belly, served with honey mustard and homemade potato mash is the most exquisite dish here,” informed Pratap.

However, the story of the bar does not end here. The Secret Garden also extends to a balcony gracing you with lush greenery and a comfortable seating area. The garden’s grass in this bar ironically grows on its wall, adding to its extraordinary exteriors.

2. Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy

Secretly located in the basement of Cafe Lungta in Sector 15, Part 2 market, Gurgaon, the Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy is the only speakeasy in Gurgaon.

As you walk down the stairs of the basement, you will notice a typical dim-lighted 1920s-style bar with stunning interiors comprising trestle tables, a chic bar counter stocked with alcohol bottles, and a variety of glasses lined up, along with some loud jazz music in the background.

The bar counter at Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy. (Photo: Ananya Jain)

Tanya Kumar, the marketing and community manager at Cocktails and Dreams said, “We tend to provide a warehouse yet a very modern vibe to our visitors through this Speakeasy, which I believe makes it a true Speakeasy.”

Talking about the cocktail menu of this speakeasy, Kumar shared that Cocktails and Dreams serves customised cocktails based on the moods and preferences of the customers. “It is purely an old-school interactive experience, where you can talk to the bartender about what you feel like drinking… start with a base and build on it with the kind of flavours you want,” she told indianexpress.com.

Lastly, Kumar mentioned ‘seasonality’, a very distinguishing feature of their bar. “We really embrace the seasonality of fruits and vegetables in our cocktails instead of relying on syrups. We make most of our shrubs and cordials out of fresh and seasonal produce,” she said.

“Right now we are serving melon mania which has a musk melon base. We are also working on ‘Jamuns’ and Plums,” she added.

Unlike many other Speakeasies in the business, Cocktails and Dreams serves authentic Himalayan food as their prime cuisine. Kumar told that “Our cuisine is very specialised and very different from what is usually served in bars. Our Darjeeling momos and Shyapta are to die for!” she added.

The wall art at Cocktails and Dreams Speakeasy. (Phot: Ananya Jain)

Lastly, the walls of the Speakeasy also speak of ‘The Prohibition Era’, displaying influential figures like Al Capone, an American gangster, and Louis Pops Armstrong, an American trumpeter, and vocalist, among many others, adding much character to the speakeasy.

3. PCO 

The interiors of ‘Passcode Only’. (Photo: Ananya Jain)

PCO, also known as Passcode Only, is an American-style Speakeasy bar located in Vasant Vihar, D-Block market, Delhi. If you ever visit this place try to avoid being misled by the entrance!

PCO is a truly hidden world, with its entrance leading up to nowhere but an odd machine with buttons. In a bid to stand true to its name, ‘Passcode Only’; the bar authorises entry to visitors who possess the secret password. As one enters the passcode, the visitor is allowed entry to the hidden bar.

As you enters the bar, you feel the sense of a comfortable and warm place where one can sit laid back and also enjoy the modern intricacies.

“Surrounded with pictures from the 90s era, the bar takes me back to the journey of Prohibition-era,” stated Karan Shukla, a visitor to the bar, while sipping on his Tommy’s Margherita.

Vikas Kumar, the bar manager at PCO stated, “Whenever one thinks of a Speakeasy bar, it resonates with classic cocktails, jazz music, and we attempt to stay true to it.”

The bar, in order to diversify the cocktail menu for its visitors, has a ‘mood wheel cocktail board’. The mood wheel consists of a variety of moods along with alcohol preferences. As the customer spins the mood wheel, the bartender serves a drink based on the mood it lands upon. Covering the cocktail menu, Pratap stated, “Apart from our savoury barrage cocktails, martinis, which are served here, our gin and tea drink is the best cocktail here and is a must-try.”

The mood wheel. (Photo: Ananya Jain)

Moreover, PCO also serves a range of delicious cuisines such as Tex-Mex besides finger food.

Nitya Khandelwal, a first-time visitor to the Speakeasy bar stated, “The one thing I love about this place is that it is cozy and peaceful where one can relax and talk with your friends.”

(The writer is an intern at Indian Express)

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