Speakeasy bars are illicit bars that gained prominence in the United States in response to the prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s. The term itself is older still; Oxford dictionary cites an 1887 article on an illegal bar in NY as the first published usage of this word. As per folklore, the term was coined by Mrs. Kate Hester, the operator of an illicit saloon. She’d request her customers to ‘speak easy’ to avoid attracting attention from law enforcement. After the end of prohibition, speakeasy bars faded away as the need to drink in secret disappeared.
Towards the beginning of this decade, however, something strange began to happen. In a trend that baffled experts, a new set of bars began to crop up that purposefully made it difficult for customers to locate and access them. While restaurateurs were losing sleep trying to tame social media, these bars remained unlisted on popular platforms and relied solely on the word of mouth. Entrances to speakeasies are famous for being difficult to spot. Some require you to walk through the kitchen, others use public toilets or phone booths. And even once you locate the entrance, you might be required to punch in a secret code to gain access. The truly puzzling thing though was the fact that these bars not only survived but also thrived.
The popularity of speakeasies in cities like New York and London encouraged their proliferation to the other parts of the globe. In India, the speakeasy concept arrived through establishments such as PCO in New Delhi and The Local in Mumbai. However, once the initial hype of going to a secret bar wore off, many were forced to change plans and drop the shroud of mystery. The Local now accepts online table reservations while PCO is a Zomato Gold partner. If the idea of an exclusive retro-themed drinking space seems alluring to you, are two new speakeasy bars in Hyderabad you should seek out.
The group behind Gigglewater is no stranger to speakeasy bars, having experimented with a speakeasy space in Delhi in 2012. The entrance to this Jubilee Hills speakeasy is hidden in plain sight. There are no fancy telephone booths or dark alleyways. But, I overlooked the entrance until someone pointed it out to me. The entrance is protected by a passcode that’s changed every week. After keying in the right code you’ll have to walk up a dark set of stairs and a short corridor to finally step into Gigglewater. I’ll avoid spilling the beans on the exact location since these guys are serious about maintaining secrecy.
GW might not be shady and dingy like the real prohibition-era speakeasies, but it faithfully recreates the charm of an old-school bar through dimly lit table lamps, comfy vintage sofas, and old-school framed photographs. During the evening, when other bars in Hyderabad are inevitably belting out chartbusters or playing trippy EDM, GW remains cozy and inviting with mellow yet pleasant music and attentive service. The menu is just a couple of pages long and features classic cocktails like Old Fashion and classic bar grub. I tried the burger featuring a juicy and flavourful ground beef patty and a side of excellent banana chips.
Pudding and Mink
‘We’re not a speakeasy! We’re world’s first ayurvedic cocktail bar’, exclaimed Tejaswini Chowdhury, the brains and the soul of Pudding and Mink, when I enquired if PnM is a speakeasy bar. A dull office space at Radisson Blu has been jazzed up under the watchful eyes of Mrs. Chowdhury into a plush vintage bar. Draped in red and black, the bar radiates an almost ethereal scarlet glow. At the entrance, you’re greeted by an ominous looking skull constructed from mirrors. This installation called ‘The skulls of Yahel’ was created by Goan artist Yahel Chirinian. The other walls boast of intricately designed Jamdaani fabrics.
PnM might not officially be a speakeasy, but it shares some of the traits of a modern speakeasy. The bar can be accessed only through an obscure backdoor entry protected by a passcode. It’s a member only lounge, and membership is either by invite or by referral. However, unlike a true speakeasy, PnM isn’t publicity shy – as evidenced by the blogger and media tables that they’ve hosted over the past month. PnM opens in the evening and operates as a relaxed lounge for several hours, before morphing into a buzzing nightclub towards midnight.
Members have to fill up an extensive questionnaire that determines their dominant traits or doshas. Every dish on the menu also mentions the trait for which it’s most suitable. I found PnM’s connection with Ayurveda to be tenuous at best. The drinks rely on home-made juices and extracts, while the food focuses on organic and fresh ingredients. However, what can’t be doubted is that the cocktails are absolutely delicious. There are plenty of unique blends and recipes to make you want to come back for more. The food selection includes a bit of everything – from the soulful Thai Green Curry to a sinful Cheeseburger. While I’m not the kind to pay much attention to my ‘Doshas’, the bite-sized goat cheese and beetroot definitely brought out my gluttony.
Pudding and Mink hopes to sign up around 700 members and already have over 300 patrons. On being asked what it takes to be a member, Tejaswini Chowdhury explained that she hopes to sign up thought leaders and passionate people from all disciplines of life. If you think you fit the bill, call up the bar and drop your credentials.
Are there any other secret bars in Hyderabad? Let me know in the comments section.