The Bar @ Amar Vilas
The Bar, Amarvilas
Paktola, Tajganj, Agra
Timing: 12 - 12
The Taj Express gets us in to Agra at a decent time, and after we're done with our work day, we're left with 3 hours to kill before we head back to Delhi. Having visited the ITC last time around, this time we decided to visit the Amar Vilas, the Oberoi group's flagship in Agra. The Amarvilas website boasted off a view of the Taj from the balcony of the bar, and we thought it was important to verify this claim. Our only concern was, that given the reputation of the Vilas properties, we wondered if we'd get past the gate of the hotel!
Having successfully made it through the front gates, the gent in the reception area, divined that we could either there be there for the bar or for lunch, and with a winning smile he escorted us through to the bar. Our attention by then had already been taken away by the breathtaking sight of the Taj, framed through the windows in the reception area. As we walked into the bar, Kamal the bartender, asked us if we'd like to sit outside, and escorted us to a table, one of about 8 on the balcony, which overlooked the pool, and gave us a great view of the Taj, not a frontal view, but a side view, but still..
The service at the bar was top drawer with wide smiles the order of the day, belying the forbidding positioning the Vilases have and also the signs on the balcony, which said, "for hotel guests only". I guess, revenues are revenues, wherever they come from.
The bar itself is fairly small with about 6-8 tables inside, apart from it's al fresco section. One side is taken up by the bar counter, above which is a beautiful cloth painting showing a top view of the entire Taj Mahal area.
Lovely winter sunshine bathed the balcony, as we settled down into our chairs, and perused the menu. The prices seemed no higher than what a 5 star hotel in Delhi may charge, and thus came as a pleasant surprise. Most cocktails were priced at INR 520 and the Amar Vilas special Martinis were priced at INR 670. The BoB was 3.1 (for a pint of Kingfisher).
And as we later realized, prices were inclusive of all taxes. My colleague ordered a Mint Julep and I chose a Negroni. The pouring brand for the Mint Julep was however a scotch whisky and not a bourbon, and apparently if we chose to replace the scotch with bourbon, we would have to pay double for the drink, which struck us as strange, and so she stuck with the Scotch.
Kamal soon came back to tell me that as Campari was out of stock, he couldn't make me a Negroni. I chose a watermelon martini instead, and he assured me that it would be made using fresh watermelon. As we waited for our drinks, we nibbled on the bar gratis, which disappointingly for a Vilas, were peanuts and crisps. I remember the Polo Bar at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur. A salver of dry fruits came first and along with my cocktail, they served me a complimentary starter also.
It's amazing to feel the exclusion zone occupied by the Amar Vilas. It's almost as if the moment you enter the hotel, you enter a vale of silence, and you hear no other sounds in spite of the fact that the road to the West gate of the Taj, lies right alongside the boundary of the hotel.
The bar's balcony over looks the swimming pool, which is situated in the middle of reasonably sprawling grounds. A couple leisurely swim in the heated waters, as families sit around the pool snacking.
Our cocktails arrive and at first glance are pleasing to the eye. The watermelon martini has a slice of watermelon perched on the rim and the Mint Julep has enough mint to justify its name. The watermelon martini tastes great, except for the fact that the drink hasn't been double strained, leading to chips of ice, being left in the glass. The drink however tastes fresh and is well balanced. My colleague felt her Julep, could have done with a touch less mint. The martini glass quality was also not what one would expect from a Vilas property. Perhaps you may feel we're quibbling a bit too much, but we hold the Vilas properties to higher standards, than we would do most hotels in India.
I was at an and upcoming 5 star luxury property on the outskirts of Jaipur, about a month ago, and the F&B manager told me that their prices would be expensive, but they would ensure that the service experience more than made up for it. Given the number of luxury chains setting up shop in India, I think the Oberoi will also have to raise their F&B game, especially for their top drawer properties.
However, what more than made up for any quibbles we might have had, was the awe inspiring location we were sitting in, and the fact that we could spend 2 hours over a single cocktail, with no pressure of any kind. As dusk began to fall, we heard the call of the muezzin to prayers, and we reluctantly finally bade farewell to the balcony, just as it began to fill with hotel guests.