A shot of San Fran
Founders of California's trendiest bar arrive in Mumbai for what promises to be an exciting one-day takeover of the bar at a Lower Parel restaurant
There is a bittersweet paradox underlining the story that Yash Bhanage, partner at The Bombay Canteen (TBC), is reiterating. He's explaining how a Canteen Cocktail Takeover at his freshly redone restaurant transpired. The seeds for a collaboration with trendy San Francisco-based bar Trick Dog were planted two years ago, shortly after Bhanage found out about the founders through a common friend. But their virtual interactions will finally find meaning tomorrow, when Morgan Schick, Josh Harris and Caitie Connolly, founders and bartenders of the drinkery, which is listed on the World's 50 Best Bars, take over the bar at the Lower Parel diner.
"This has been in the works for some time now, but the dates kept changing. The general elections further pushed it, because we knew there would be a dry day and we didn't want to take the risk, considering they would be flying all the way down," Bhanage shares. And here's the paradox — on one hand, we have a growing community of industry folks and patrons who're open-minded enough to try, say, a kokum-infused rum, and on the other, well, we have dry days.
Mighty aphrodite and spirit in the sky
"I'll be blatantly honest. Five years ago, when we opened, we had a great cocktail menu, but it was an assimilation of ideas Sameer [Seth, partner] and I got from our time in New York and Singapore. We had these amazingly alcohol-forward cocktails, but India was just not ready for it. We have all grown up on sugary drinks, like LIIT and mojito, and here, we were serving a cinnamon-spiced martini with gin and vermouth," he adds.
Things are changing, though. Even if the industry is yet to come up with something entirely unique that is not borrowed from the West (or adapted into an Indian template), at least the quality of food and drinks available in the city right now has improved. Inter-and-intra industry collaborations, such as this one, are part of this evolution.
They open up your perspective. For example, this year, Mumbai has witnessed the opening of at least two speakeasy-themed bars. At the outset, this seemed interesting. It turns out, it's a trend that has trickled down from the US. Incidentally, in 2013, when Harris laid the foundations of Trick Dog, he did so with a clear goal in mind. "At that time, we were seeing a lot of formal and speakeasy-inspired bars in San Francisco and New York. We didn't want to have bow-ties and passwords, but wanted people to see the same kind of creativity in a space they could walk into in a T-shirt," he remembers.
Josh Harris and Yash Bhanage
Their ingredient-focussed concoctions convey this deliberate casualness, through drinks like mighty aphrodite (Rs 675) made with gin, vermouth, watermelon and basil, or estate sale (Rs 675), which is a simple mix of vodka, aperol, sesame, banana and lime, served on the rocks. Even their India-inspired spirit in the sky (Rs 675) — made with whiskey, spiced rum, Coca Cola reduction and garam masala bitters — adopts the same fluid and flavour-forward approach.
And much of the past few months for folks on either side of this tie-up have been about finding the balance between their philosophies — knowledgably made cocktails and focusing on local Indian produce. "Our drinks, in general, are much more influenced by culinary combinations rather than by cocktail history. We use historical cocktail structures as a framework, but we don't start out thinking, 'Oh, we'll make something like a martinez,"' Schick explains, adding that having never visited Mumbai before, his associations, food-and-drink wise, with India were "entirely fictitious". To help bridge that gap, the team at TBC provided Harris, Schick and Connolly with a list of ingredients and flavours to work with, including garam masala, coconut and sweet lime, which they will further fine-tune during their time here, in a more hands-on manner. And the overarching idea — both behind this singular event and the larger trend in the alcohol industry — is to stir things up.
ON Tomorrow, 8 pm
AT The Bombay Canteen, Kamala Mills, Lower Parel.
A heady jugalbandi
Watch Connolly and Schichk compete in a cocktail-making face-off using local ingredients on mid-day.com. In it, Connolly uses rum, kokum-infused rum, pineapple, honey, lime and garam masala bitter for a heady morning monk; while Schichk's nimbu sour has gin, aperol, jasmine tea, lime and ginger.
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