As the second edition of India’s 30 Best Bars draws to a close, we spoke with Vikram Achanta of Tulleeho that organises the awards to shed more light on the awards, expectations and trends in the bar industry. Excerpts from an interview.
1 – Tell us more about 30 Best Bars and the current edition
30 Best Bars India was co-created in 2019 as a platform to award and recognise the top bars in India, thereby also helping raise the profile of these bars and their teams at a global and Indian level. The first edition was supported by multiple drinks brands, all coming together on a common platform to help support the bar industry. These and several more have come forward in 2021 to renew their association.
In 2021, these awards have come as a welcome burst of excitement and a burst of morale for an industry that has been amongst the worst affected by the pandemic.
As we had to call off the 2020 awards due to the pandemic, we instead created a crowd-funding platform to support India’s bars, which was supplemented by a whisky auction. Together, both these initiatives raised INR 10 lakhs for the bar industry.
2 – How do you ensure the selection criteria picks the best bars in the country?
I think it’s not the selection criteria per se, but our overall methodology. It starts with hearing the voice of a pool of around 70 key people from the industry across India who helped us build a long list of 300 bars in the country. This was then whittled down to 100 bars.
These 100 bars were then opened up to vote to our pool of 200+ carefully selected jurors pan India. We shared with the jury evaluation criteria for the various awards, but we relied primarily on their acumen and impartiality. For 2 categories, Best Bartender and Bar Team, we had a technical jury of 25 people.
Our jury is comprised of leading individuals across the following backgrounds – F&B, Alco-Bev, media, and drinks connoisseurs. This year we also put in place 10 jury chairs from across India. These jury chairs gave us an extra lens both on the selection of jurors from the region as well as ensuring we picked the right set of bars in each region.
3 – What are some surprises that came up in this year’s edition of 30 Best Bars in the list of final 50 bars?
Goa rising! Not really a surprise though. Also, a flurry of bars in cities like Hyderabad, Chennai and Kolkata that are gaining greater representation.
4 – You were the first to recognize the potential of Sidecar that went on to win many international bar awards. Is that the ultimate endeavour with 30 Best Bars?
I think our endeavour is to enable the discovery of great bars and bartenders not just outside India, but also within India, so that consumers in India seek out the bars on our list when they travel. It’s also to highlight the amazing bar talent in the hope that one day our bartenders will be as well-known as our chefs.
5 – How has bartending changed between 2019 and now in your opinion?
I feel the bartending craft has improved in leaps and bounds. Technically, we have some very good bartenders in India, and it’s definitely helped that a lot of our top expatriate talent like Santanu Chanda, Santosh Kukreti and Roger Gomes to name a few, are back in India.
6 – Which are the new cities that are throwing up some really good bar options? Why?
Goa for one definitely. For a while, Goa has had some really good restaurants, and that definitely helped set the stage for the bars to follow, as well as seeing quality bar and beverage programs in existing restaurants. The onset of the pandemic helped further fuel the flowering of the F&B scene in Goa, as it was the one destination, that at least for a long time, seemed immune to the ravages around it. Goa also saw a lot of people moving there to take up temporary or permanent residence, and amongst them was some of India’s top bar talent. Lastly, with Goa being a hot bed for the Indian craft spirits industry, it’s helped the whole ecosystem evolve.
7 – What are the main challenges for the industry currently?
To name the top three, one would be to create bars that are unique and live and breathe their own concept and philosophy. Second, embrace great hospitality and not just bartending and thirdly, diversity; we need far more women, members of the LGBT community etc to be a part of the industry.
8 – There is a new category called ‘Best Pandemic Response’. Can you tell us more about it and whether it’s a one-off for 2022?
This is hopefully a one-off 🙂
It’s a special award instituted this year for the bar or microbrewery that had the Best Pandemic Response. This is an award for a bar or microbrewery whose owners and managers used the best of their creativity and innovation to keep their business running during the dark days of the covid-forced shutdown in the last two years. These measures saved jobs and helped the bar stay connected with the community. We are aware of many instances where the innovations perfected during the pandemic days have become a permanent part of the bar’s revenue stream.
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Priyanko Sarkar is the Founder Editor of Gurgl.in. He has been a writer for over 15 years and this site is his attempt to document India's growing beverage sector with impactful and interesting stories. His favourite drink is Vietnamese Coffee and his favourite spirit is Turkish Raki.