Friday, April 19, 2024

She Calls The Shots

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Bartenders can turn a good evening into a great one. And, if it’s a woman behind the bar, it’s even more amazing! Here are some of the best who are 
shaking and stirring to give you a good time

Ami-Shroff-pic-by-Taushik-Mandal-Ami Shroff

There’s a shake-up happening at the best bars in India and it has nothing to do with ice. Bartending, which is still widely considered a man’s world, now has a slew of women helping you raise a toast.

You don’t have to be a man to make a mean mix, believes Shatbhi Basu who has been in the business of mixing drinks for over 32 years and also runs STIR, a professional bartending academy. “Plenty of women bartenders are not only mixing cocktails, but creating new and exciting concoctions to impress the most seasoned of cocktail connoisseurs.”

Ami Shroff, freelance flair bartender

Where to find her: Theme nights at luxury hotels, 
high-profile destination weddings and corporate events.
Specialty: Infused iced tea with spirit of choice.

From her towering stature, modelesque features and piercing gaze, Ami Shroff could easily be walking down someone’s runaway. But it’s our luck that she funnels her talent into making damn good cocktails! Having worked in the hospitality industry since her teens, Ami knows her way around a bar and has an identifiable ease with guests. For those of us who can’t even juggle a few oranges, the concept of tossing five 750-millilitre bottles in the air, catching them behind your back, bouncing one off your elbow, and then pouring from an insane height into a jigger to make a Negroni seems like an impossible feat. That’s exactly the allure of impossibility that attracted 17- year-old Ami to flair tending, thirteen years ago.

“As a bartender, we do more than serve drinks—we serve people. Flair gives me the freedom to express myself freely,” she says.

Hailing from a family of lawyers and professors, it wasn’t easy for Ami to reveal her bar ambitions to her parents. “Being a flair bartender meant that I would be working at a bar or pub and performing in front of drunk people, at late hours. My parents were more worried about my safety than anything else. So I told them much later and they weren’t very happy about it.”

Being a flair bartender meant that I would be working at a bar or pub and performing in front of drunk people, at late hours. My parents were more worried about my safety than anything else. So I told them much later and they weren’t very happy about it.

Though her personal favourite is a chilled beer, Ami loves to infuse her drinks with unusual ingredients like spices, jams, marmalades, jaggery, honey, etc.

Feruzan-BilimoriaFeruzan Bilimoria

Feruzan Bilimoria

Where to find her: Romano’s, JW Marriott, Sahar, Mumbai Specialty: White Lady—a cocktail of gin, egg white, lime and orange liqueur.

Anyone lucky enough to have enjoyed Romano’s—the rustic, home-style Italian restaurant housed at JW Marriott Sahar—will doubtless have seen Feruzan Bilimoria in action. With her dry wit, calm attitude and killer drinks, she’s the perfect host. Originally a chef, this 22-year-old got interested in spirits, fell in love with them and hasn’t looked back. A course in bartending cemented her interest. “Initially, people thought I was just another pretty face behind the bar and that I’d give it up within a few months. I was having so much fun proving them wrong. I love to experiment and introduce people to new flavours. The look on their faces when they take that first sip is priceless.”

Feruzan believes bartending is not all glamour and garnishing. The trick to being a great bartender is to create experiences for people. A whisky lover, Feruzan is also an accomplished dancer and dreams of setting up her own restaurant and bar in Mumbai.

prisha-Devender-Prisha Devender

Prisha Devender

Where to find her: The Korner House by Vicky Ratnani. Mumbai Specialty: Smoked Whisky Sour

If you haven’t yet visited The Korner House by Vicky Ratnani, you’re missing out. This fine-dining restaurant offers some of the best exotic concoctions we’ve had. What we love most about Prisha is her carefree personality, edgy style and skilful take on classics. She also shakes up a killer Orange and Pomelo Martini, a molecular drink with caviar pearls.

“People are happy to see me behind the bar as there aren’t many female bartenders around. So, many of our regulars appreciate that. At the end of the day, I want guests to enjoy their drinks,” says Prisha, who often has men asking her for a dance. While she enjoys the attention, she flaunts her wedding ring to those who won’t take no for an answer. When she’s not pouring her concoctions for guests, Prisha likes to indulge in a glass of Riesling.

While she thinks nothing of happily sacrificing countless hours of her life taste-testing spirits, researching drinks, altering recipes over and over until they’re absolutely perfect, she offers only lime shots to those who have had a drink too many.

shakuntalaPrisha Devender

Sakuntala Pulithara

Where to find her: St.Regis, Mumbai
Specialty: Flaming head banger, a cocktail with 
whisky and peach liqueur.

She might be fairly new to the Mumbai bartending scene, but Sakuntala has already garnered a loyal following, thanks to her vivacious and infectious personality—not to mention her slick bartending skills at St Regis.

“Everyday is different and you learn something new. Some people drink to be cool, some are experimental, some are stingy and others total show-offs,” reveals Sakuntala, who has been making a splash with her impeccably crafted libations for the past two years.

While the men are appreciative of their drinks and skill and effort put in, women aren’t. “They think I don’t know how to mix drinks; they give me suggestions about quantity and complain often.” Men show appreciation in different ways right from showing interest in the process of cocktail making to asking for her number. As for the tipsy ones, Sakuntala offers them hot water with honey and lime or at times just listens to their stories. “In the end everyone tells a story. If you love one, it’s at the bar where you hear them.”

Rubina-RaiRubina Rai

Rubina Rai

Where to find her: Capiz Bar, Grand Hyatt Goa Specialty: Susegado (palm feni, vanilla vodka, fresh pineapple juice, muddled fresh apple, lemon juice, passion fruit syrup)

Rubina can take the tired edge off the end of the day with a vigorous shake, a few flicks of the wrist, and a glorious cocktail made just for you. Originally from Darjeeling, Rubina took the road less travelled as she always wanted to be a bartender. She is known for her inventive and immaculately-crafted cocktails at Capiz Bar, Grand Hyatt, Goa.

I enjoy creating and mixing new concoctions. Goa has a lot of unique flavours like cashew, coconut, tamarind, guava and more; every day is a new experiment to try something out of the box.

“I enjoy creating and mixing new concoctions. Goa has a lot of unique flavours like cashew, coconut, tamarind, guava and more; every day is a new experiment to try something out of the box.”

While it may look glamorous on the surface, getting to the top of your game as a bartender requires a flair for true innovation and working antisocial hours. “I get a lot of questions on how I manage the late hours, but it’s just another job, a different one; but a fun job as well.”

And while she personally enjoys a classic martini the most, this 24-year-old makes a killer Pomberry with red berry vodka, freshly muddled pomegranate, pomegranate juice, green tea and lime juice.

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