There is an equally nailbiting performance unfolding at the bar as batsmen and bowlers slug it out on the television with India battling Australia. It is 9.30 pm on a weekday at the sea-facing Vue Bar at Hotel Novotel and Suresh Damuluri, the bar team leader is firing on all cylinders. He stands behind a pyramid of cocktail glasses. He slowly pours tequila over the glasses and they are suddenly ablaze in a blue flame.
Watching Suresh is fun. A performance precedes every drink he serves. He moves the cocktail shaker and pours out a concoction of orange liqueur and lime juice which is added to the tequila and presents the Margarita with a flourish.
Obviously, for Suresh his profession is a lot more than just mixing spirits. A professional mixologist like him have to know, befriend and decode the composition of the various ingredients that go into the cocktail. He has been in this industry since 2004 and has seen the rising interest in the city for cocktails. “I believe that it was Chrome bar that popularised cocktails in the city in early 2000s. Apart from the conventional beer and whiskey, people were seen experimenting with their drinks too, at the bar,” he says. Suresh himself has worked in Chrome for over a year.
For Suresh, his day begins at 2 pm where he prepares the bar for the night. “We start by stocking up essentials. This involves getting the ingredients like fresh fruit, herbs and syrups ready for the night,” he explains. He adds that vodka, whiskey, liquors and tequila are the most preferred drinks in the city. But he has not stopped experimenting with new cocktail flavours. At the moment he is toying with Indian herbs and spices like cinnamon and clove. His signature drink, says Suresh would be the ‘Flaming Fountain’, a tequila-based drink that is mixed with coconut and litchi.
A long way to go
Kevalya Singh Rathore’s routine is also quite similar to that of Suresh. He is a mixologist at The Park. “Though we officially open at 7 pm the crowd comes in only by 10,” he says. His job also involves striking up conversations with strangers and understanding their drink preferences and serving them what they want. “Lemon juice, mint leaves and Monin syrups are some of my favourite ingredients to play around with as they go with a lot of spirits,” he says. He adds that the whole game is about taste and balancing flavours is key. The sweet, sour and bitter should be in the right proportion. But, says Kevalya, there is still a long way to go before the culture of cocktails picks up. “The most sold drinks at the bar are still beer and whiskey. Of the 100 guests that walk in, less than five would want to try some cocktail.” So while the Long Island Iced Tea, Martini and Cosmopolitan are holding their own in the cocktail circuit, there is not much scope for experimenting too much here, he rues.
City’s most preferred cocktails
- Long Island Tea
According to Arjun Kotte, Food and Beverages Manager at Four Points by Sheraton, the most important QR for a mixologist is communication skills. While a formal degree in hotel management is mandatory, the industry is largely driven by passion and a deep understanding of spirits. “You might make the best whiskey-based cocktail but if the guest likes vodka more, you have lost your game. Of course, knowing your spirits and understanding what ingredients compliment it is important but talking to your guest and understanding their preferences is much more essential,” he insists. Arjun himself has trained under renowned mixologist Yangdup Lama for six months in Delhi. His signature cocktail is the ‘Nimbu Paani’, a vodka-based cocktail that plays with the flavours of lemon and chat masala.