Traditional tequila may be the signature of Mexico, but Travel+Leisure India & South Asia got a taste of its true flavours, cocktails, and craftmanship at Juju, Pune and Elephant & Co. India, (both, Pune and Goa)– thanks to a tequila masterclass and bar takeovers by Jose Luis Leon and Pamela Lopez Mendoza, the leading bartenders at Licoreria Limantour in Mexico.
The bartending scene in India is an evolving one. What was once considered a space reserved for the upper crust has now trickled down to the youth, all while paving the way for more innovative cocktails and drinks to flood into the buzzing bars. Add to this a surging number of new establishments that are fighting the innovation battle. According to a 2020 report by Indian Express, Mumbai alone had 2,500 bars. Bengaluru, quickly clinching the top spot as the microbrewery capital in India, is believed to have over 72 breweries (as of 2022) reports iNews. Other destinations such as Goa, Pune, and New Delhi are also jumping on this mushrooming bandwagon.
However, often these spaces offer the same usual drinks — tangy cosmopolitans, herbaceous mojitos, heady Long Island Iced Teas, or even a Bloody Mary ideal for laidback Sunday brunches. Branded beers, whiskeys, and wines add to the options, while good tequilas are rarely given even a cameo. Cue in: Juju, Pune.
Introducing Juju, Pune
After a hugely successful stint with Elephant & Co, the people behind Pune and Goa’s bistro bar have opened Pune’s maiden tequila bar, Juju. The centre-stage cantina lends to the sprawling Mexican vibes; the high chairs and seating overlooking Kalyani Nagar’s green spaces add to the beauty. Overhead, origami lanterns add to the festive cheer, while moody lampshades bring a sense of subdued elegance. Throughout, Mexican artworks dot the space, with hints of Aztec and Mayan tribes to complete the look. But the marker of a good bar is its ability to bring together a host of people, and the central table here dons this role seamlessly.
A Mexican Touch
In keeping with this spirit of bringing together cultures and communities, Elephant & Co, Pune organised a special masterclass by the masters of the game — Jose Luis Leon and Pamela Lopez Mendoza, the leading bartenders at Licoreria Limantour in Mexico. As number four on the World’s 50 Best Bars list for 2022, there’s no second-guessing that the tequila creations by the two mixologists were delicious. What, however, came as a surprise is the sheer humility with which the two conduct themselves.
At Elephant & Co, Pune Mendoza kickstarted the tequila masterclass with a deep dive into the history and making of tequila. She may not be comfortable in the English language, but her knowledge of the distilled spirit runs deep. During the next hour, she educates curious bartenders and budding mixologists on agave and its cultivation, its harvesting and production processes, and how the plant is distilled into a delicious spirit. Leon takes these theoretical learnings and repackages them for the modern-day mixologist. The next leg of the session was dedicated to learning how to craft different drinks —from traditional to experimental–and understanding the ingredients of becoming a good, if not the best, mixologist. Post this tequila masterclass, the journalist in me almost switched professions!
But merely a masterclass in tequila making doesn’t suffice. Putting bookish knowledge to the test, Leon and Mendoza quickly took over the bar at Juju, Pune and turned the tides for a more Mexican flavour. Truly a fitting way to open Pune’s first tequila bar to the world! Out came skillfully crafted drinks, each featuring the light and balanced undertones of Don Julio Tequila, a double-distilled premium luxury spirit from Mexico.
Paloma paired the tequila with watermelon cordial, grapefruit, and pink peppercorn salt. Things took a spice-infused turn with the Old George Sour, a blend of absinthe, cucumber syrup, lime juice, basil, and cardamom. While the Margarita Al Pastor (Cointreau, lime juice, and taco mix) was an obvious celebration of the South American nation, the Oregano (ancho reyes verde, pineapple, oregano, black tea) left me inspired. Who would have thought tea and oregano pair so well with tequila!
To complete the trip to Mexico, the kitchen at Juju, Pune also crafted quintessential Mexican dishes. Think delicious tacos, freshly cut watermelon with lime, homemade chips with chipotle guacamole, and more. Simple, flavourful, and oh-so-yum!
The Party Continues
Juju, Pune might have opened its doors recently, Goa’s Elephant & Co. has been doubling as the ultimate party destination in the sunshine state since 2022. An offshoot of the Pune outlet, this Goan outlet is susegad meets infectious energy. Aptly credited as a friendly neighbourhood bar, this Anjuna-based space comes decked with the vibes of a beachside shack amid Goa’s signature paddy fields. A centrally-located tiki bar–complete with wood and bonsai greens–steals the spotlight. On my visit, the gravelled outdoors is best avoided; the rain Gods have decided to join in for the party.
As did all of Goa. While the evening’s tequila masterclass by Leon and Mendoza sees a full classroom by 05:00 pm, the after-hours leaves the place chock-a-block. The drinks, once again poured by the two master mixologists, are churned out at lightning-fast speed. The live Latin beats add to the party vibes. Amid the madness, though, Leon makes time to keep me hydrated. “Where’s your drink?” grins the Mexican as he hands me three shots.
“This is inspired by the colours of the Mexican flag. First, you take a shot of tequila which is white; next, drink the fresh lime juice, which is green; and end it with sangrita, a bright-red spicy tomato chaser.” As I down the shots, I’m awash with all kinds of flavours. It’s earthy, tangy, and spicy — all at once. And yet, there’s no heaviness after this successive chugging. Maybe three shots are better than one after all!
Even hours after midnight, Elephant & Co was wide awake. Through the night, the two mixologists twirl me from one end of the dance floor to another, assuring I’m holding a drink at all times. The drinking holes showed no signs of drying up; the dance floor stayed lit.
The following morning was calmer. “So, how was last night?” I ask Mendoza as she sipped chai.“It was crazy! I’m exhausted after making all those drinks, but I’d love to do it again. Indians sure know how to party!” she smiles. And luckily places like Juju, Pune and Elephant & Co –both, Goa and Pune–sure know how to throw one.
Price for two: INR 2,000 (approximately; exclusive of taxes)
Address: Road 15, Nilanjali Society, Kalyani Nagar, Pune
Timings: Tuesday to Sunday: 06:00 pm to 12 midnight; Monday closed.
Elephant & Co., Pune
Price for two: INR 1,800 (approximately; exclusive of taxes)
Address: 18, Survey 213-214 & 215/2, Kalyani Nagar, Pune
Timings: 12:00 noon to 12 midnight
Elephant & Co., Goa
Price for two: INR 1,500 (approximately; exclusive of taxes)
Address: House 1049/2, Survey 16/1, Grand Pedder Field, Anjuna, Goa
Timings: 12:30 pm to 12:30am
Featured image/Hero image: Jarritos Mexican Soda/Unsplash
Photo for representational purposes only.