"I am not a heavy drinker. I can sometimes go for hours without touching a drop." ~ Noel Coward


Wink at Taj

Maya Lekhak visits Wink, the bar at Taj President and recounts the finer joys of cocktails.

Walked in to the Wink at the Taj President to enjoy a quiet evening hour of bonding before a meal at the Trattoria, which is invariably about families and friends in jovial, almost boisterous, bonhomie. The Trat is always an evening to remember and is reminiscent of the large dining table around which families would gather to chat incessantly around a hearty meal.

The atmosphere at the Wink was quiet, cultured, an aristocracy that was familiar with the tradition of withdrawing rooms. Nothing here was overstated. Everyone and everything was in the background creating an ambience with minimum attention to itself. No-one bothered to look at the menu for the standard fare. Everyone was there for a special experience. Jiri Majerik, the Czech bartender, appeared personally at tables when cocktails were requested. I watched him ask everyone in turn for their preferences.

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Wink at Taj President

At a particular table, the personable young man in his late twenties, who seemed to be the host, exchanged pleasantries, chatted easily with Jiri. He wanted a dark rum, fruity flavour, because he had heard of the bartender's specialisation in dark rum cocktails. At the same table, the older man in his late fifties smiled, said little, "I will leave it to you entirely." The charming young lady was willing to do the same, but was easily drawn into committing a preference for fruit flavour, but citrus-y. The bartender asked, "And what will the lady have?" The older lady was somewhat difficult to gauge, and he did not want to ask her directly about her spirit of choice, and instead asked, "something sweet, aromatic?" The answer was very definite: aromatic, not too sweet, not fruity.

Jiri, the bartender at Taj President It took a quarter of an hour of involved preparation as Jiri created the four drinks with purposefulness and elan. When the cocktails were presented, they were statements in themselves - each had a different character and personality, definitely intended to match each individual's tastes as the bartender had intuited. There was no missing the uniqueness of each drink. For the older man, a banker, the classic Moscow Mule was an obvious choice. For the younger man he had made a dark rum and cointreau combination with several additional ingredients one would be hard put to imagine could blend so well and intrigue simultaneously. He had innovated on Mai Tai by changing a few ingredients to make it more adventurous, novel, distinctly a mix of heady flavours that were a bit of a risk. It turned out to be the perfect choice. The young lady received a green apple flavoured Vodka cocktail dressed with apple slices perched saucily on the rim, which Jiri later said he chose because it was youthful, effervescent. The older lady received a tea-mixed cocktail which she was delighted with, adding that she was actually not a tea drinker, nor a Vodka fan but usually preferred a straight pure malt Scotch on the rocks. Yet she thought the cocktail offered her was such a perfect match for her personality and her current mood that it was a revealing reflection. She likened it to a portrait by an artist, or a character sketch by a skilled writer.

Wink at Taj President I had to chat with Jiri. He spoke modestly of the bartenders craft as a learned skill that must be honed. When a cocktail is requested, Jiri's first question is about the spirit of choice. When that is not stated, Vodka has little distinctive flavour of its own and yet mixed into cocktails, it enhances the flavours of other ingredients and works its own magic. After that, he asks whether the preference is for something fruity, citrus-y, aromatic, sweet, to gauge the palettes preferences.

The decision of what a person would like and what to put together comes from experience and intuition, both. "When you get it just right, and someone is delighted, that feels very good", Jiri says, adding with a wry smile, "Rarely, it can go horribly wrong, too." What are the traits of a good bartender? "Passion for what you are doing, wanting to make that perfect drink that pleases." He says that bartenders have to be outgoing people who enjoy interacting, who essentially like people per se. We all have images in our heads of the bartenders of movies, books and our own experiences. Jiri Majarik at the Wink at Taj PresidentJiri explains, "A bartender should never be the one to speak first. There are different kinds of people. Someone wants to talk, another wants a dialogue, to share ideas, and yet another wants to be left alone. The bartender simply has to facilitate what the guest is looking for." And then, it varies from place to place, "The culture is different in each town, and varies according to the bar, so you have to be sensitive to the little nuances."

The evening will remain with me because it was more than an enjoyable cocktail and shared pleasantries. It gave me a glimpse into the fact that art has no limitations on medium, it is about creating something with passion that causes another to want to understand something deeper in human nature.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.