Why one South Goan treasure was named the ultimate new bar in Asia

Priyanka Blah - 13/05/2022

With India securing five coveted places in this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars list, all eyes are on Tesouro, the bar that has been crowned the London Essence Best New Opening and The Best Bar in India. Priyanka Blah meets the team to discover how they swept this Goan neighbourhood spot to the No.4 spot in this year’s ranking

India has been slowly but surely raising its profile in the 50 Best rankings in recent years, though 2022 marks a seismic shift, as it increased its presence from one bar to five. The subcontinent’s hostelries are making brave leaps away from a role as secluded restaurant spaces for pre-dinner aperitifs and launching with bold, bespoke identities. The most notable success story this year is South Goa’s Tesouro, which bagged the London Essence Best New Opening Award as well as the Best Bar in India title at this year’s Asia’s 50 Best Bars.

Under two years old, Tesouro is a testament to India’s burgeoning and flourishing bar culture and indeed, its world-class hospitality. Founded by Donovan Vaz, Arijit Bose and Pankaj Balachandran, this is a casual bar, beautifully styled with Goan-Portuguese design elements and an easy alfresco area to enjoy the coastal evening breeze.

Ranking at No.4 so soon after opening has instilled a great sense of pride and joy in the Tesouro team, who are equally humbled as they are ecstatic about the accolade. “A win as big as the London Essence Best New Opening Award is incredible for the team who are young and energised,” says Balachandran. “It’s great to see their hard work pay off – but it’s important that we keep our head down and continue to do great work.”
Tesouro was named The Best Bar in India and awarded the London Essence Best New Opening Award at Asia's 50 Best Bars 2022

A neighbourhood bar to end all neighbourhood bars

Perched on Pereira family land in a lush South Goan neighbourhood, Tesouro appeals to the local sensibilities as much as it does to travellers by offering a classic neighbourhood bar vibe, punchy bar food, a great playlist and technique-forward drinks presented in an approachable way. “The well-heeled and well-travelled in India are ready to take a journey that goes beyond the hundreds of ‘tourist friendly’ options Goa has to offer,” says Vaz, a seasoned bar operator. “The South Goan guest is informed, unpretentious and embraces the newness and familiarity that a bar like Tesouro has to offer.”

The bar’s location, Colvá, is a classic Goan neighbourhood that offers the best of everything: a laid-back beach vibe, a healthy social scene and a steady footfall of travellers at certain times of the year. Co-owner Bose feels that the location of the bar is critical to its success: “Dependency on tourism doesn’t dictate what we do and how we do it. This allows us to focus on the experience we are trying to deliver and stay consistent.”

Tesouro has avoided the obvious contemporary pitfalls in being located in a state where a huge proportion of the population depends on the tourist season to generate income. It has a huge footprint with local regulars, which meant it was able to pick itself back up soon after local lockdowns in India. Pivoting through those first tough months also went a long way to keeping the team motivated. “Donovan would go around on his motorbike making home deliveries of food and cocktail premixes throughout peak Goa monsoon season,” shares Bose. “That’s one of the reasons why we were able to stay open and keep the team engaged.”
Two of Tesouro's signature cocktails: the Midnight Brekkie and the G.O.A.T 

Success-driven service secrets

Co-founders Bose and Balachandran, both veteran bartenders who have been instrumental in shaping the Indian bar scene, take on critical roles at Tesouro, with Balachandran straddling an administrative position. When asked about the secret to their light-speed ascension towards the summit of the 50 Best list, the team takes a modest tone. “Guest experience stays at the top of our game plan,” says Bose. “The idea is never to upsell, but to elevate the experience and leave guests feeling cared for and looked after.”

All three founders make clear that the customer experience can only be as good as the team that powers it and the bar and floor crews at Tesouro, led by Karl Fernandes, are as sharp as the knives in their kitchen. “The team comes with a wealth of knowledge but is also equally happy to unlearn what they know and learn new skills,” adds Balachandran.

What Tesouro arguably does best is to bridge the gap between the bartender and the guest. The bar is always open to anyone who wants to taste and experience new spirits – most of which the founders bring back from trips or have friends source for them. This exposes the team and, indeed, the guests to a world of spirits they might never have experienced and leads into fresh conversation.
The Tesouro team: Karl Fernandes, Donovan Vaz, Arijit Bose and Pankaj Balachandran

Quality over quantity

As across all top bars, consistency is key when it comes to delivering the Tesouro experience: this is achieved through clever menu design that relies less on seasonality and more on availability. “We run a foraging series twice a year for two weeks because seasonal ingredients are limited in their availability and hard to fall back on for the main menu,” explains Balachandran, who designs a large proportion of the drinks programme and cocktail creation.

Tesouro favourite Midnight Brekkie (gin, bianco vermouth, peanut butter, watermelon and strawberry) is quickly gaining notoriety as the must-have drink, while Feni, a largely misunderstood and under-represented Goan-distilled spirit made from cashew or coconut, gets an honourable mention within the menu in some delicious drinks.

With guest experience and quality front and centre and an ever-smiling team delivering a unique experience in this part of India, Tesouro – literally translated as ‘treasure’ – is marked as a gem in the list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2022 and bona fide winner of the London Essence Best New Opening Award.

The list of Asia’s 50 Best Bars 2022, sponsored by Perrier, was announced on Thursday, 28th April at a live awards ceremony in Bangkok. To stay up to date with all news and announcements, browse the website and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.