For the uninitiated, speakeasies cropped up and thrived in the 1920s during the era of Prohibition in the US, which meant that there was a nationwide ban on the manufacturing, selling and consumption of liquor. These bars were buzzing with the thrill factor of being hidden, with secret entrances that warranted a password into a world of debauchery, in the form of free-flowing liquor, dances and conversations. Of course, it was illegal and gained notoriety. But the idea lingered on. Concept restaurants are all the rage, especially now after a year full of the pandemic-induced lull. And so, living a whim is what many of us crave. Which is why, there's a new speakeasy in town, called the PCO (Pass Code Only). Nestled in a bustling spot in Lower Parel, PCO is run by siblings Rakshay and Radhika Dhariwal of the eponymous hospitality brand and they have had a successful stint at running its counterpart in the capital.
"Of course, we're calling it a speakeasy," as Jughead of Netflix's teen drama Riverdale said in the episode when Veronica Lodge launches her own speakeasy beneath Pop's Chock Lit shop called La Bonne Nuit. The concept of speakeasies in the modern day is fairly simple —old-fashioned cocktails with a limited menu of eats. And does PCO live up to the hype? Read on.
Pass Code Only Cocktail Bar, Mumbai
While La Bonne Nuit is dimly lit and opulently decorated, PCO's ambience will instantly put you at ease. An open sky, minimalistic seating, green-hued decor, a central bar area and a window that provides a sneak peek into the kitchen, all greet you congenially. You can spot ferns, monstera, palm and philodendrons on their manicured wall. Instrumental music that soothes you without interrupting your conversation adds to the classy touch.
PCO Cocktail Bar - Jungle Bird and Bouquet cocktails
The food and drinks
We were handed a clipboard menu of drinks and food. On the drinks menu were signatures like Bouquet, Jungle Bird, Bumble Bee, Diospyros Fizz, Into The Barrel and Duronto Express. Then there's a twist on classics and we tried the Mood Cocktail, which allows you to choose a poison of choice and a mood. We went with 'refreshing' and gin as the base. We also tried their mocktail, Berry Collins and a tepache, which is a fermented drink! The former was a sweet punch with just a dash of orange zest, much to our liking. The tepache on the other hand, had an overpowering pungency, which. the bartender promptly took to fixing with honey and an orange rind, right on our table. And guess what? It worked.
The menu had everything from ceviche, crudo and carpaccio to sushi, tapas, pizzas, dim sums and baos. We called for the spicy Thai mushroom dim sums that were soft, light and easy on the palate with a definitive bout of umami. Our colleague, the only meat-eater on the table, had their eyes set on the pork char sui bao. And if their feedback is to be relied upon, one could say, it was a hit.
Their garlic tossed kale pizza featuring a thin crust, came loaded with artichoke, confit garlic, and the herby greens. We liked it for the mild tangy sauce and because it wasn't too heavy on cheese.
Of course, if a menu has sushi, it's criminal not to try one. We opted for the emperor roll, which had takuwan cream cheese, unagi carrots sushi and truffle avocado with crunchy quinoa on top. Being a sushi virgin, trying them was a novel experience, especially because they were vegetarian, which eased my raw-fish panic. They say, big wonders come in small packages and I now get why. They were surely talking about sushi. Plus, trying the wasabi dip was a knockout blow to the senses that was followed by watery eyes. The presence of pomegranates atop the sushi was strange, but also familiar. So I guess that checks out.
So we're letting you in on a secret, by telling you that PCO is nothing like Riverdale's speakeasy. Right from accessibility to the passcode that's never sent to you on mobile once you reserve a table, this cocktail-forward bar is a laidback take on the concept of speakeasies. So, if a thumping heart and a thrill is what you seek, then let us clarify: you'd be surprised to find a calm and collected place. Even so, the menu does justice in terms of working with high-quality produce and innovative drinks, though both are on the higher side. And if that's not a concern for you, then well, go forth and enjoy.
IFN paid for this meal and reviewed the restaurant anonymously.
Journeying a whimsical tale from being a microbiologist/scientist to being a creative writer, Nirupama loves to scrutinize trends, food and fashion alike. A gardening enthusiast, she is a full-time mom to a toddler. Her passions include tinkering away on a wanderlust, cooking up a storm in the kitchen for her food loving bub and curating street style looks!