Delhi gets a serious bar


7 Apr 2011
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Finally Delhi has a serious bar outside a five star. Not just a designated corner in a restaurant where you gulp down drinks while waiting for a table. Nor a place that leaves you aurally challenged with head banging music. And yes, not even one of those eating joints that masquerade as a bar, where you down your drinks but the main business is the meal.

Keya is the kind of place you will think of when you want to chill with friends and enjoy good conversation over just a drink. It is also a place to meet up with friends before proceeding for a formal function or dinner. Keya is the bar you will head towards when a party ends too soon and some of you still think a nightcap is in order. And it's also a bar where women would feel safe coming alone or in a group. The ambience is relaxed and welcoming, while conversation flows without having to shout over loud music.

When a husband-wife team runs a fairly successful restaurant (Magique) where they have been present on the premises every night – observing, absorbing, learning – their next venture is sure to be something worth the wait. And Anusuiya and Marut Sikka's new bar Keya is certainly that! Keya, they say, is an aromatic flower in Bengali, and Marut stresses its stimulant properties. Hence the aptness of the name!

The ever-smiling, petite Anusuiya is excited about their new venture. "We wanted a peaceful place with an international feel where friends can meet up over a cocktail or a nice martini... we want women to feel very safe, hence women servers, an elaborate cocktail menu and tight gate control," she says.

Enter the bar and what strikes you first is the quiet energy and the vibrant, classy interiors. In that Keya is indeed very international, with its wide, open spaces around the highly interactive island bar, which dominates the place. The lit-up bar top that winds around the irregularly shaped bar invites you to perch atop the stools. Stare into your drink, talk to your companion or strike up a conversation with the bartender. Joining the Indian bartenders soon will be Manuel from Belgium and Zippo from Australia, mixologists who will add their own innovations to Marut's cocktail arsenal.

With the experience of Magique behind him, Marut has tried his hand at a number of interesting cocktails, though he insists his ultimate cocktails menu will be very international. For the time being, he is amazed at the success of his Paan Martini and Cucumber Caprioshka. Ladies starved for choice have taken to these and to the Bubbilicious Daiquiri, Pucker-up Peach or even the Raw Mango and Basil with Vodka (most cocktails at Rs 400 each). The challenge would be consistency, where even changing the leaf of the paan can drastically change the taste of your drink!

The menu is interestingly shaped like a circle quartered with tastes such as sweet, sour, dry and bitter. Cocktails are laid out in a manner that you can decide the taste you desire for the moment and head in to that corner. Something bitter? Try the dry martini or the vodka martini! Sweet? How about the Bubblicious Daiquiri with all the flavours of gum? For munchies, choose your bites from a range of cuisine such as Japanese, Chinese, Thai, Morroccan, Lebanese or Italian!

If you're not adventurous enough to sit at the bar or if you are part of a larger group, occupy the seating that lines the walls, giving you a vantage view of the bar and the wall that frames it. That wall is indeed a masterpiece with its amazing mix of mirror and cut-outs of representations of the Keya flower. The bar and table tops are made of white alabaster lit from within with carved figurines inside that show up in relief, adding a punch to an already vibrant table.

A cave is what Marut visualised when he conceptualised Keya. An eclectic modern cave that cocoons you in comfort amidst stunning natural beauty – stone as represented by alabaster here, water as reflected by the generous use of mirror surfaces and soft lighting. Insignias taken from Peruvian and Indian caves have been used effectively but sparingly as part of the decor. Says Marut, "My partners Anusuiya, Aniruddha and I visualised a total chill-out zone where people can come at leisure and party like nobody's business. Delhi never did have a space where one could just go for a drink. Rick's used to be one such place, but it became loud and so lost on that aspect. We are a far younger place, but I do believe we fill that gap. At one time, Delhiites would drink at home, then venture out for dinner, then came a time when you stepped out to drink and eat at the same place. Now I feel a lot of people like to have a light meal at home and then step out to chill and catch up with friends over a drink or two. Keya is just the place for that."

Music played at Keya is primarily house and lounge; no nightclubbing happening here! The DJ console is elevated and hidden from view. Once in a while you may encounter a flutist or saxophonist taking over from the DJ and soon Marut plans to introduce Jazz, Retro and Youngster Nites.

Keya certainly scores on energy and ambience, something that fast seems to have become the forte of the Sikka couple (Magique is the present holder of The Times Nightlife Guide's Bar with Best Ambience Award). Marut, with his celebrated chef status and stress on creating the right environs, and Anusuiya with her focus on detail and decor and her fervour to make her bar a good experience for women, have come out with yet another winner. Try it!

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