One conversation is all it takes to know that Yangdup Lama is a people’s person. The 50-year-old bartender from Darjeeling— and one of our cover stars of the month—is the co-owner of Sidecar, a Delhi-based cocktail bar that has been on the coveted list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars for three years in a row. Twenty-five years into the business, Lama talks about the evolving bartending scene in India and why he loves being behind the bar. By Rashima Nagpal
Yangdup Lama talks to T+L
Is it true that you don’t like being called a mixologist?
I’d prefer to be called a bartender because I come from a time when the word mixologist didn’t exist. I call myself a bartender purely because I love being behind the bar. I’m the best when I’m behind the bar.
Why did you decide to become a bartender?
The intention was to be a hotelier. In 1995, when I used to work at Hyatt, I was sent to work at the back of the bar or upfront serving tables. But I was very impressed with the tasks of the bartender, with what he did, and how the guests knew him. So, I approached him and started working with him. The reason why I love being behind the bar is because I love good conversations. Whether it’s a restaurant or a bar, I love talking to people. Alcohol is only a medium.
What is a lesser-known fact about bartending?
People think that the life of a bartender revolves around alcohol. It does not. Actually, it revolves around people. That’s what a good bartender, and a good bar is all about.
Has being on Asia’s 50 Best Bars list for three consecutive years (2020–2022) shaken things up for Sidecar?
It’s great to be recognised as a cocktail bar but it also brings greater responsibility. There’s been a visible change in the last one year. Seventy per cent of our guests are regulars.
What kind of shift have you observed in the bartending scene in India over the last 25 years?
I also run a bar school that I started back in 2002, and I can say that until 15 years ago, bartending was chosen by kids who were not academically sound or by parents who thought they had a useless child. Now you see well-qualified people who want to be bartenders.
What’s the most exciting thing about the mixology scene in India right now?
The bartenders in India are at par with bartenders anywhere in the world. For the first time this year, we had eight Indian bars on Asia’s 50 Best shortlist of 100 bars. That’s a big achievement. There’s also a drastic change in the consumer space, especially in the last five years, so bartenders are constantly upgrading themselves.
Who are the bartenders and mixologists you admire?
The King of Cocktails, Dale DeGroff, was somebody I definitely looked up to when I started out. In the present day, I admire people like Simone Caporale. He’s much younger than I am but a really big name in the industry. I went to his bar in Barcelona and what I really liked about him is that he’s very grounded.
Which places do you love for their bar scene?
Singapore, Hong Kong, Barcelona, Sydney, London, and New York.
What is your go-to drink?
I love American whisky, therefore I love a well-made Manhattan with 50 ml of rye whisky, 10 ml of bourbon, and of course, aromatic bitters.
A place you would love to run a bar at?
I’d love to run a bar in Edinburgh. It’s a nice, cool, and easy city. I’d love to have an easy-going bar that serves casual cocktails—nothing too fancy—with good conversations.
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