One of the disadvantages of growing older or rather growing up,is the change in the kind of restaurants and bars you start to frequent. I never thought I would find the music at the wonderful Delhi establishment Turquoise Cottage too loud or that bad acoustics could ruin an evening. Even five years ago,average food and bad service made absolutely no difference to me but lately Ive developed spectacularly low tolerance for dusty paper napkins. Ive started appreciating world-class restaurants such as China Kitchen and 360 but I cant shake off the feeling of claustrophobic stodginess that permeates through every five star restaurant in India. No matter how excellent the dining experience,the ambience remains posey and pretentious and if something more casual is your style,there are mercifully,far hipper places to be at.
Theres no sign signalling the entrance to PCO,a six-month-old quasi-speakeasy bar,situated in the leafy D-Block market in Vasant Vihar.
The nondescript facade has a machine hooked up where patrons in the know punch in a secret code to gain entrance. (The night I went,it was the very unimaginative 5678 but Im told the code is usually tougher to break.)
Once you enter,the surroundings are smoky and buzzing. The first impression is of lush interiors lots of teak wood and plush leather and jazz music in the background. There are red telephone restrooms,a cigar room and a private party space with a dining table set up to resemble a room,where you can even dock your own music.
Its the kind of place you expect Don Draper from Mad Men to strike up a conversation with a girl in a bun,black dress and pearls. Theyve got the look down pat alright framed pictures of Frank Sinatra and Marilyn Monroe adorn the walls while waiters wear quirky shirts,suspenders and ties neatly tucked in,and glide around,serving the 200-plus people in the bar on a Friday night. Its more functional to roll up the shirt sleeves and tuck the tie or it intrudes while you work, explains Vaibhav Singh,34,of their retro look. One of the three partners to run PCO,Singh has more than 10 years experience in the hospitality industry,specifically in nightclubs and bars. Hes done stints with Agni and Aqua at The Park Hotel and more recently was the general manager at Lap,better known as actor Arjun Rampals nightclub. His partners,siblings Radhika and Rakshay Dhariwal,have spent a lot of time in New York and they were keen on recreating an old-fashioned tavern. They zeroed in on 20s America. For the uninitiated,speakeasies were places for illegal boozing that began during Prohibition in the US in 1920.
The whole idea of a shadowy and furtive bar in 2013 is kind of funny since the business is one hundred per cent legal in Delhi. The concept behind the whole coded entrance,says Singh,was to work as a screen. PCO started with an SMS to a closed group who are welcome to spread the word,but Singh pointedly tells me,they shun publicity. The mystery,I think,only adds to the allure and questions all the value PR companies and publicity bring if your product is fresh and original.
The crowd is a mix of young professionals,diplomats and occasionally even families. Singh says one patron came with grandparents who could relate to the old-fashioned look and jazz music,and while devilled eggs,a great favourite in the 20s,isnt on the menu,the comfort food of grilled chicken,pasta and fries,is surprisingly good. Though food is hardly PCOs main identity,their cocktails imbibe the 20s and seem to be a big hit. I tried the very pleasant Whiskey Sour which was highly recommended by friends.
What separates PCO from every other bar and restaurant in the Capital is the fact that they dont treat smokers like outcasts. They have an enclosed smoking space within the main bar area so the entrance outside isnt blocked by smokers,a familiar sight outside every bar in Delhi. We want to respect all our clients, says Singh,who has plans to take PCO to Mumbai. Will the nostalgia factor work again ?