Bangalore has worked hard to earn its nickname, Pub City. For years, the IT epicentre has been South India’s unofficial bar capital, a bustling city of chic rooftops, hole-in-the-wall bars, and dozens of venues in between. But don’t come here for the usual rounds of Kingfisher – though that is readily available should you want it – there are craft beers on tap, full-fledged wineries nearby and a nightlife scene that could rival that of any major metropolis (if only they could do something about the government-imposed 11:30 pm curfew).
Nandi Hills, a verdant wine-producing region 40km north of Bangalore, may be less famous than its northern sister, Nashik, but it is quickly catching up. The hills are home to Grover Vineyards, India’s second largest wine company. Under the advisement of Michel Rolland, a Bordeaux-based wine consultant, Grover produces a variety of whites and reds, including sauvignon blanc, viognier, cabernet and shiraz, that are as palatable with a plate of cumin-crusted lamb chops as they are on their own. They also make a special red blend, La Réserve, with cabernet sauvignon and shiraz grapes from their oldest vines. The wine matures for six months in French oak barrels, becoming smoky and complex. (Interestingly, throughout the subcontinent, grapes are sometimes picked in the middle of the night because of the oppressive heat.)
Visitors to Grover Vineyards can tour the lush facilities, thick with vines rooted in the region’s signature red soil, taste the vintages and dig into lunch at the onsite restaurant. Linger long enough and you may catch the sun setting over the hills. Less than a kilometre away on Nandidurga Road, the Nandi Valley Winery also offers tours and tastings and has rooms available for vinophiles who are thirsty enough for more than a day trip. As at Grover, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon are the standout varietals.
Of course, you do not have to leave the city to get a taste of the region’s increasing appetite for quality alcohol. On Magrath Road in Bangalore’s Ashok Nagar neighbourhood, Arbor Brewing Company (ABC) is the Indian branch of a mini chain of craft beer bars that started on the other side of the world, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Bangalore native Gaurav Sikka fell in love with the original ABC Brewpub while studying at the University of Michigan. After returning to his hometown, Sikka pitched the idea of a sub-continental expansion to ABC’s founders, Matt and Rene Greff.
The result: a Bangalore beer haven that looks and feels as though it has stepped out of a college town. The sprawling, wood-panelled space features multiple craft beers on tap, with names tailored to suit this part of the world. A recent selection included Bangalore Bliss Hefeweizen, Pineapple Blonde, Big Ben Pale Ale (a nod to India’s colonial past) and Raging Elephant IPA. Snag a picnic bench, choose a beer and tuck into the standard pub fare (ABC is one of the few Bangalore kitchens that gives nachos a permanent place on the menu). If beer is not your thing, there is also a long list of 1950s-inspired cocktails, including martinis. Elsewhere in the city, in the Ashok Nagar neighbourhood, the Biere Club claims to be Bangalore’s first microbrewery, doling out frothy mugs of signature ales, lagers, stouts and wheats. Across town, in the Indira Nagar area, Toit Brewpub serves up Basmati blondes and Belgian whites. Like Arbor Brewing Company and the Biere Club, they showcase brewing tanks as part of their decor.
As any good pub must, these bars beckon with more than just their brews. After a few rounds at ABC, the foosball table makes for a fine diversion. The plush red armchairs and couches at the Biere Club invite sinking in and staying a while. The crowds are convivial and loathe to leave as the clock ticks toward last call.
But a tour of Bangalore’s booming bar culture is not complete without a stop at a rooftop such as Skyye Lounge, on the 16th floor of the high end UB City shopping mall in the Central Business District. Here, dozens of young professionals crowd around a circular bar, surveying the bartenders, each other and perhaps the cricket match being broadcast on a giant projection screen. The cocktails are expensive (you may want to opt for Kingfisher here), but the DJ is good – current dance and electronic hits dominate – and the views are sweeping to the degree that you see both the present day skyline and get a sense of where this city is heading. Should that 11:30 pm curfew get extended, bars like this will be the place to groove the night away – maybe, if trends merge, with a craft beer in hand.