This piece of good news filtered in. After being shut for more than five months, bars in Goa have reopened from September 1 as the state government eased COVID-19-enforced restrictions under Unlock 4.
Goa is known for its bar and taverna culture. It is home to as many as 10,000 licensed bars. Needless to say, one gets spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing where to have a tipple. So, how does one pick the best bars in Goa?
Read: Feni For Your Thoughts
To make it easier for you and help narrow down your options, we spoke with locals from Goa and asked them about their favourite bars.
Here’s what they recommend.
Srijit Kumar, a business consultant by profession, likes to frequent a mix of smaller, more intimate bars, and larger ones. His first choice is the famous Joseph Bar in the heart of Panjim’s picturesque Latin Quarter, Fontainhas. Run by Atish Antonio Fernandes, it was an old one-room bar from the 70s which was due to be closed until Atish took it over and renovated it into a reimagined version of a traditional Goan tavern. The place is known for its bartender, Gundu who is a bit of a legend in Goa’s hospitality scene. The bar sources local snacks made by women in the neighbourhood and is replete with oodles of old-school character. “I love meeting new and regular people at Joseph Bar. It’s a great place for a leisurely feni cocktail in the evening. They play popular fados by Goa's legendary singer Sonia Shirsat before they switch to smooth jazz as the place fills up with wandering tourists after they finish exploring the Latin Quarter, and regulars like myself who come to chill after a hard day's work."
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Next on Kumar’s list is Hideaway in Anjuna. Run by three young guys Nathan Dcosta, Sheldon Abranches and Siddharth Bandal, it is a breezy, open space with good music. “I am going to harp on the music here because they used to have amazing live gigs before the pandemic with stellar international bands performing intimate sets." The owners of the bar used to work as music programmers, which is why they have a good ear for music. The place attracts a young crowd. Hideaway has a full-fledged kitchen offering fantastic food, great coffee and cocktails (including coffee-based cocktails). “I like Hideaway if I'm looking for a leisurely afternoon drink while I read a book or chill with a friend, but it's also nice in the night when things get busier." The three hosts are very involved in the place and will go out of their way to accommodate your requests, like sneaking in a birthday cake for a friend's surprise party.
Read: Eating Out in Goa
Next on his list is Black Market above the Fab India outlet at Dr Braganza Pereira Road. It's run by Prahlad and Sabreen Sukhtanker. Kumar recommends the stellar cocktails here. “They have a list of original recipes with local ingredients in a fancy Art Deco-styled space. I like to go there when I'm feeling indulgent. They never disappoint." The bar has joined hands with Black Sheep Bistro (BSB) of Panjim which used to be a separate bar and restaurant. The two now operate out of the larger Black Market location. Kumar is really happy that they have added his favourite items from the BSB menu to the Black Market menu.
Lifestyle blogger and fashionista Sinead McManus gives us a list of her favourites which include Cuebebar in Assagaon and the newly-opened Casa Tito’s in Arpora. Big American-style sharing platters, chicken wings, classic burgers, local craft beer and smoked meats; that's what Cuebebar is all about. Cuebebar serves six different craft beer varietals on tap as well as in bottles. Selected homemade cocktails from scratch are a speciality here, and of course a selection of whiskeys to go with the slow smoked meat which Chef Arjun smokes for upto 16 hours.
The restaurant is set up in an American-style barn with loads of vintage bikes and plants. You’ll even find one on the bar. Apart from an amazing smoked meat platter, they are known for their steaks.
Next up is Casa Tito’s by Ricardo. McManus says that the bar is ideal for weekday lunches. Housed in a 200-year-old Goan house with a bohemian café, bar and taverna, Casa Tito serves some of the best mimosas, sangrias and the best local and international alcohol in Goa. You must also try their own liquor brand. Opened in July 2020, this recent entrant has already become quite a popular hang out.
Sapna Shahani, who runs a social media marketing agency in Goa, is a regular at Goa’s nightlife scene. She recommends the recently-opened Miguel’s in Panjim. “I simply love the Art-Deco style of Miguel’s. Their cuisine is unique, especially the Portuguese tapas." Their drinks also have interesting ingredients and mixes. “I have only tried their mocktail versions since bars were not allowed to serve until now, but I can imagine it would be just as tasty with alcohol.”
Shahani’s second recommendation is Rockwater in Morjim. “It’s very spacious and although they charge for entry, I love the music." The bar invites international DJs to play at their techno nights on Sundays and they have a popular funk night on Thursdays too. Shahani also mentions Prana in Ashwem, because it serves their food and drink in eco-conscious containers. “What I love about Prana is the world music which is a different vibe from the electronic and retro music elsewhere. The cocktails are good here, and the food is well presented. There's a good choice of cuisine from around the world.”
Rajiv D’Silva is a famous architect in Goa. He prefers Escobar in Assagao for a quiet drink with a friend or two. Set in an old old structure with seating that spills over into the outdoors, it has more of the ambience of a traditional Goan taverna. “One big reason I go there is their excellent caju feni. They stock the straight caju and also the masala, ginger and jeera-infused versions which are all very good. The feni quality in Goa can be inconsistent, very up and down. So I'd recommend this is the place for anyone who wants to get their first taste of feni."
His second recommendation is The Rice Mill in Morjim, run from a renovated building which once served as a rice mill. “A big attraction for me is their jazz nights. They bring together an eclectic collection of musicians from different parts of the world. They have a wide selection of alcohol and their bartender is always ready to serve you something that’s not necessarily on the menu. It can get quite crowded on some nights, so if I feel like being in the bustle of a crowd, that's where I'd head."
Writer-turned-entrepreneur Rene Verma loves Sundowner at Palolem Beach and FTR Vinyl Bar in Panaji. If chilling on an island with a bonfire is your idea of holidaying in Goa, then Sundowner in Palolem is where you should be. Set under the starry sky, it offers amazing sunset views along with sumptuous wood-fired pizzas and martinis. “Sundowner is one of South Goa’s best bars and an absolute must-visit,” says Verma.
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She has also developed a liking for the recently opened For the Record Vinyl Bar. It’s the first-ever vinyl bar in India and offers its patrons a dose of good jazz, courtesy its enviable vinyl collection, alongside some artisanal cocktails. “It's a place to catch a whole bunch of musicians, artists and music lovers, huddle together and bond over feni concoctions that'll blow your mind."
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Wholesaler Allan Pereira tells us that South Goa usually caters to a laidback crowd. “You’d see fewer innovative concepts barring a few exceptions like Cazulo by Pedritos, who constantly innovate on their cocktails." When asked to choose his top two, he names Sheela Bar in Vasco and Firefly by Pedritos in Benaulim. The latter is into a lot of innovative bartending and provides a dynamic experience for the customer, he says. “And food is always on the mark.” Pereira likes Sheela Bar which overlooks the St Jacino Island for the ambience. “I also love their uniquely mellow reproduction of Goan cuisine."
Nupura Hautamaki, a marketing and events consultant recommends Paulo’s Antique Bar in Chapora village. It has incredible rock and roll music playing at any given time and makes for a perfect place for indulging in laidback conversations with friends. She loves the overall hippie vibe that still exists at the bar. “You must visit the bar at night, which is when it comes into its own.” Her next preference is Baga Beer Garden in Calangute because it serves three of Goa's microbrewery beers: Arbor, Goa Brewing Company and Susegado. "They have these three on tap as well as commercial liqour brands."
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DJ Umar Khalifa was born and brought up in Goa and has been a great fan of the state’s taverna culture. He fondly tells us how his father meet his old friends for an afternoon drink. “Apparently they don't discuss politics, money or religion. They just talk about ideas about how to make our diverse country better and more inclusive. And which were the best bars they visited since they last met."
The disco jockey’s personal favourites include Starlight in Assolna and Bharat Bar at Baga. Beautifully located on the banks of river Sal, Starlight serves delicious seafood at amazing prices. “I just love their crab masala, calamari rava fry and fish cutlets. I wash them down with a chilled Kings Beer. That’s my go-to order when I visit Starlight." He is also a regular at Bharat Bar located on the Calangute-Baga road. He recommends trying out their baby kingfish butter garlic and king prawns sizzler.