Delhi's bar culture is catching up to those of other world cities faster than you can say 'dry martini'.
While visitors a decade ago would have been hard-pressed to find a decent cocktail outside of a five-star hotel, now there are a number of hip independent bars. And hotel bars have in turn upped their game. Blue Bar tajhotels.com
This bar at the Taj Palace Hotel serves up delights such as the Delhi Summer Sazerac - three portions of Ron Zacapa rum blended with infusions of raisins, cashew nuts and almonds, orange, lemon and grapefruit peel, and sage.
This Sazerac, originally a New Orleans cocktail, is the creation of Hemant Pathak, who, having held the mantle of India's best bartender, has now moved to a bar in New York. The concoction won him the award for 'best classic and vintage drink with a twist' in the Diageo Reserve World Class bartending championships last year. The award-winning drink can still be sampled at the Blue Bar. The venue, with its long bar softly lit by art deco-inspired chandeliers and terrace overlooking the hotel's putting green, makes a relaxing space on weeknights, while on Friday and Saturday nights it transforms into a lively party spot that attracts Delhi's younger crowd.
There are plenty of other venues worth checking out in the capital.
Polo Lounge delhi.regency.hyatt.com
The spacious, wood-panelled bar is themed around the sport and oozes classy elegance. While the armchairs are ideal for reclining and enjoying pre-dinner drinks, we recommend claiming a stool at the central bar to benefit from a chat with the witty Mike McSorley, who is a walking encyclopaedia of all things alcoholic. The young American mixologist has created a list of distinctive cocktails that merge a traditional approach to cocktail making with creative ingredients and international flair.
Take his award-winning Saffron Julius. This features Buddha's hand citrus - a bizarre-looking fruit also known as fingered citrus from northeast India and China - infused in vodka, with jasmine and honey syrup, orange and lemon juice, cream, egg white, and saffron tincture. It's topped up with soda water, resulting in a texture that is fizzy and velvety. It's a gorgeously refreshing drink perfect for Delhi's hot summer evenings.
McSorley excels at attention to detail; he hand-carves ice balls with a traditional razor to exactly fit the size of the glass in his A Cat in Pajamas cocktail. The ice, made from repeatedly boiled and frozen water, is dense and transparent. It melts more slowly, so the drink remains undiluted longer. The Cat is a twist on the old fashioned and the Manhattan, with bourbon, softened by vermouth lillet blanc and peach syrup.
If you are feeling particularly fussy, McSorley can create a cocktail on the spot according to your mood.
Blue Frog bluefrog.co.in
This sister venue to the much-loved Mumbai live music hot spot has taken the capital's party scene by storm. The club, which opened in January in Mehrauli, south of the city, features lily-pad-shaped private booths, padded walls and blue and pink lighting.
The bar menu features a range of tempting cocktails, an expansive wine list and a mix of premium spirits. The Frog's Passion - passion fruit syrup, limoncello and sparkling wine - makes a refreshing start to an evening, while the Blue Grass Cooler - fresh watermelon with Johnnie Walker Gold Label Reserve and vanilla liqueur - offers a stronger kick. There is also a range of gin cocktails based on Tanqueray No10, and vodka-based drinks using either Ciroc or Ketel One. The Ron Zacapa 23 cocktails include the delicious Ron Frappe - a sinful shot of espresso, mixed with Nutella, rum and fresh cream.
The Library Bar theleela.com
The Library Bar at The Leela Palace, one of India's most expensive hotels, exudes classic masculinity with its rich wooden floor and leather bar stools arranged at the long, black marble bar. However, the cocktail list has enough feminine appeal to bring in the ladies.
The avant-garde 'ersatz martini' list offers a range of creative options, including a pomegranate and hibiscus grenadine martini, a coconut and kaffir lime martini, and the blue lotus martini, which is made with vodka, sake, wasabi and homemade basil sugar.
The cigar-smoked honeycomb martini, with vodka, Maker's Mark bourbon, Drambuie, and pineapple juice comes with a serving of raw honey on a silver spoon, to be enjoyed between sips. The waiter adds smoke to the martini at your table with a hand-held smoking machine, starting you off slowly, and adding more on request. The woody, cherry scents of the cigar smoke make an ideal contrast to the sweet fruit and honey flavours.
Smoke House Room smokehousegrill.in
Snow-white hightops, blob-shaped chairs and curving benches built into the walls are lit in soft pink, purple and blue. The bar excels in the avant-garde, and bartenders use spherification, foams and liquid nitrogen to create drinks that emit clouds of smoke or are topped by balls of liquid coated in gel.
The Smokin' Martini is one such impressive offering: a mix of lychee, lemon grass and Grey Goose vodka, it comes in a double glass, the lower level filled with billowing dry ice. The drink itself is equally enjoyable. Vanilla Sky layers smoked pineapple, vanilla essence and Ketel One vodka. But the highlight is the Deconstructed Watermelon Caipiroska. Served in a martini glass, it is pastel pink, and the subtle sweetness of watermelon is given a kick of citrus without the chunky pieces of lime and ice.