For a long time, Goa has been attributed with glorious sunsets, parties, and flowing liquor. It’s not only because of the low prices of alcohol in the state, but also its liberal availability in every nook and corner. I’ve often found it harder to chance upon a pharmacy than a bar, especially in the party havens of North Goa. But this excessive, unpardonable debauchery isn’t for the true alcohol cognoscenti – something my evolving urban palette aspires to be.
In my explorations of all things sublime, in India’s sunset state, I was intrigued when I stepped into the quaint and vibrant spaces of W Goa. Set upon a cliffside, overlooking the rock-speckled Vagator Beach, this property is a fantasy for a thalassophile who doesn’t like getting sand between their toes. The highlight of my visit was the exploration of the newly opened Sylvia Bar, an exclusive gin and tequila haven, touted to be among the first and only of its kind in Goa.
Gin, moths, and glass straws
Sylvia is the brainchild, muse, and testimony of the brilliant Kshitij Goel (more popularly known as @thecocktailtimes on the gram), who is the Beverage Ambassador of W Goa. Even a minute’s conversation with the man is enough to introduce you to a unique appreciation of your poison and higher regard for the way you consume it. The bar proudly dons a moth as its emblem to represent the variety you can find here, just like the many species of the nocturnal bug.
Sylvia offers quite the spread of gin and liquors from across India and the globe. You can tinker with tastes from quaint, regionally sourced desi brands or the more exotic Mezcal, Vermouth, Negroni, or even the rarer Okinawa and Roku gins from Japan.
“Gin is slowly becoming the new whiskey for younger generations”, declares Kshitij as he readies the evening’s first concoction for me. “It has so many new flavors to explore.” One must concur that gin offers so much more with its ability to be infused with any essence imaginable, and then some. He has not only handpicked the glassware of the bar himself but has also introduced glass straws to replace the clumsy paper straws that wouldn’t sit long enough in a cool drink.
Sylvia gives patrons several options to satisfy their whims. Depending on what kind of evening you are looking for, you can choose your drink, the rounds, the mixers, the bites, and more. So, if you are here to party hard, simply ask the bar. If you’re looking to sip the night away, lost in the eyes of your lover, the bar shall oblige. I loved the idea of not having to rack my brains about what exotic drink I should order next while keeping in mind the vibe of the evening.
The handcrafted curations are a specialty here, with Kshitij acing his gin-game. He proudly flaunts his most recent conjurations, which are bottled neatly and labeled. There’s always something being infused in the elaborate setup that involves a three-layered glass contraption. In one demonstration, Kshitij explained how he planned to infuse red wine into an extract of coffee powder, which would take hours to be born, drop by drop. “A chef cooks with fire. A mixologist cooks with ice,” he beams.
The Gibson Course
“If you’re on a business trip and do not like being bothered with placing an order as you near the end of every drink, we have the Gibson course to offer. It’s a 5-course drink, served with pickles. So, you can explore dry, wet, sweet, herbal, floral tones as you go along.” he explains that it’s not too different from a 5-course meal. Starting from the appetizers and going all the way to the desserts. “By the time you get to the floral drink, you’re good,” Kshitij flashes a knowing smile.
We started off with herbal liqueur and sparkling wine, which was part of the welcome ritual. It acts as a palette cleanser, where both drinks must be sipped alternately. Next, we moved on to a Peppermint Gin and Blue Pea Tea Tequila course. My third course, and my favorite, was the Popcorn Negroni. If you are at the Sylvia, this is an absolute must-have.
My partner was treated to a Floral Gibson cocktail with a pickled gherkin. This is generally served as the fifth and final course of the Gibson Course, but we were in for tasters and couldn’t wait to get to it. Kshitij explained how the pickled gherkin, bitten seconds after a sip of the Gibson, simply explodes into a rainbow of flavors. My final drink was a bespoke Absinthe Dessert Cocktail that brought in the herby magic of the liquor but also notes of fruit and vermouth. I failed to get this magic recipe out of our maestro (understandably so).
The food at the Sylvia Bar is enjoyable, but a short distance away from memorable. We loved the Burnt Dumplings that magically retained the moistness when we bit into them. The Lotus Crisps was great since it paired well with nearly every drink we tried. The bar even recommends food that can suitably complement your alcohol.
It isn’t long before the Sylvia becomes a favorite pick for the Indian Cocktail Week. The bar will soon be trans morphing into a lounge with the intention to keep patrons in their comfort zone, longer. Kshitij and his crew are set to take Sylvia on a global stage and make it among the best 50 bars in the world. Ambitious? Of course. But at the end of the 5-course Gibson treat, you’ll begin to agree.
Where: Vagator Beach, Goa, 403509