As a layman, my perception of cocktails in Nepal was that it’s a sweet, colorful drink, high on syrup with slight alcohol content. It’s a fancy drink for the ladies in posh situations. It’s not a masculine drink. These are the types of misconceptions and malpractices that mixologists Rovin Gurung and (partner) Mona Bajracharya want to debunk. At their recently launched bar Bitters and Co. they primarily serve cocktails, with more than fifty classic options, with the goal to cater to fine cocktail drinkers and initiate Nepali customers into the cocktail culture.
Rovin has more than ten years of experience working as a mixologist in Hongkong. His training was mostly on the job, fueled by his passion to learn. On his last visit, a few years back, he scoured the bars of Kathmandu in search of a good cocktail. He failed. What he discovered was that the perception of what a cocktail is, is starkly different in Nepal in comparison to the international market. This led him to the realization that, if nobody was doing anything about it, he should take up the mantle of changing the cocktail trend in Nepal.
The trend in Nepal is to serve Signature cocktails. The problem with signature cocktails is that it can be inconsistent. There’s no room for customers to complain because the taste is subjective and the maker has a valid reason to defend. They can get away with a sentence like - ‘oh it’s our signature, it’s supposed to be like that’. Signature cocktails are not a bad thing in themselves, it’s just the stapled practice of inconsistency and reluctance to adhere to a strict recipe that hampers its cause. That’s where classic cocktails come in. With classic, the taste is consistent and universal, whether you order it here in the Himalayas or in the beaches of Brazil. With classic cocktails you have to be very particular about the choice of spirit and syrup. Bitters and Co.offers more than fifty options of classic cocktails. The goal is to serve a consistent taste and thus acquaint the Nepali people with classic universal cocktails.
At Bitters and Co. they don’t serve the best of the house and instead try to figure out the best drink for each customer. They cater to the individual’s needs. That’s another cultural shift that the founders want to engender. In their observation the current culture in Nepal is to order the best of the house which is not the ideal way. Every customer has a different palette, a different tolerance level, choice of spirit - some prefer vodka, some gin, some whisky. Our bodies react differently to different spirits. Each customer’s mood and even the time of the day must be factored into the choice of cocktail. Some like it bitter, some spicy, sweet, sour or fruity.
They’ve even categorized drinks according to bases so the menu is easy to peruse. Bottom line: there are a lot of elements and the combination of the elements depends on the individual customer. For Bitters and Co. ,the ideal scenario is if the customer knows their choice, otherwise talk to the customer and try to get closer to what he or she would prefer. Their stand is that all their cocktails are the best; it depends on what the customer likes.
The first thing you’ll notice as you enter Bitters and Co. is the minimal, yet elegant interior design. They’ve used neutral colors and muted tones, the furniture is simple yet sleek; they don’t have decorations except plants. With a high roof, the place is open and airy. It has a calm and laid back atmosphere and invites you to just relax and have a drink - job done right I guess, considering it’s a bar. The highlight of the whole place is the bar itself. It’s expansive and right at the center. You can see all the branded spirits and syrup they use; it feels like part of the décor. It’s fun watching people make cocktails - moving around shaking and stirring, fast hands pouring different liquids - it almost has a performance element to it.
Even the interior of the place is designed with a view to bring about some change in cocktail culture. There are a lot of bar side seats because they want people to see the whole process and learn. Transparency is given priority as they want customers to know about what they use and let judge for themselves. The founders felt that Nepal lacked the culture of interacting at bars which I completely agree with. The type of seating the place has, they also want to encourage more interaction and networking among their customers.
The founders Rovin and Mona have taken up a big challenge. Redefining the cocktail culture in Nepal is an ambitious task. They've only got a niche clientele to work with but they deliberately chose quality over quantity. Still there's an obvious market gap and they’ve hit the nail on the head. With the quality they serve and the principles they adhere to, Bitters and Co. is here to change the way people perceive cocktails.