Roku Industry Icon Award 2024

Roku Industry Icon Award 2024

Yangdup Lama

Sidecar, New Delhi

A living legend and pioneer of Indian mixology

Working in bars was never part of Yangdup Lama’s grand plan. With sights set on a career as a hotelier, he started his working life at the Hyatt Regency in Delhi, where fortuitously, he took on a stint behind the bar. After a few late nights marvelling at the lead bartender’s deftness with drinks and ease with customers, Lama asked if he could shadow him. And so began a lifelong love affair with the cocktail craft.

Nearly 30 years later, Lama has two standout bars to his name, including the inimitable Sidecar in New Delhi, which has ranked among Asia’s Best Bars for the last four consecutive years, coming in at No.84 on this year’s extended list.

Darjeeling-born Lama has never been short on ambition: after nearly five years at the Hyatt, he set up his own company, Cocktails and Dreams, offering mobile barkeeping for events. Demand in no short supply, the team soon grew to a 20-strong team working across North India, catering to an average of four events per day. Meanwhile, Lama set about launching the next venture in his growing empire, Cocktails and Dreams School of Bar and Beverage Management – one of the first bartending schools in India.

By 2010, Lama had made enough of a name for himself that major drinks brands came knocking, while regional hospitality giants Taj Hotels, Oberoi and ITC Hotels were champing at the bit for his bespoke training workshops. The corporate programmes led to a slew of investors offering to back a bar of Lama’s own, but after too many false starts, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

In 2012, he co-founded Cocktail and Dreams Speakeasy with business partner Minakshi Singh, whom he met while consulting. The aim was to open a “bartenders’ bar”, and the pair ploughed their savings into an intimate hole-in-the-the-wall in nearby Gurgaon, where the rent was a fraction of the prices in central Delhi. Specialising in custom cocktails, its success was instant, giving the duo the confidence to launch a second venture together, Sidecar.

Now in its sixth year, Sidecar is everything that Lama set out for it to be: a counter to the received knowledge, he says, that bars are raucous hotbeds reserved only for the weekends, rather than somewhere sumptuous in which to unwind during the week.

Craft, storytelling and a deep understanding of local ingredients and liqueurs are the pillars on which Lama has built the cocktail culture in both Speakeasy and Sidecar, with regulars making up the majority clientele in both establishments. His commitment to creative cocktail-making, a drive to professionalise the bar sector in India and a vision for a more progressive working environment in his home country and beyond are among the many reasons Lama is this year’s winner of the Roku Industry Icon Award as part of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2024.