Three months ago, a glass and thatched roof wine bar cropped up near the vineyards of Narayangaon, on Pune's outskirts.
Christened Chateau Indage Estate Vineyards Wine Bar and Restaurant, it was set up by Indage Hotels, a part of the Indage group. Vikrant Chougule, CEO of Indage Hotels, says it is not unusual to spot turbaned villagers sipping a glass of Chardonnay -- Rs 400 for a bottle -- at the Narayangaon outlet.
Two hundred-odd kilometres away, Kyndal India set up the Mulit Cocktail Lounge in the Czar Bar, at Mumbai's Intercontinental Hotel, two months ago. This bar-in-bar initiative is to promote Kyndal's premium Swedish vodka brand, Absolut.
The company has also roped in accessory designer Vrinda Gokhale and hair stylist Cory Walia to showcase paper jewellery and hairdos respectively -- all inspired by the Absolut bottle. "We talk to customers who are trend setters," says Siddharth Banerji, director, Kyndal India.
At Mumbai's Nehru Planetarium, United Distillers and Vintners has tied up with the Jewel of India restaurant to promote its Johnnie Walker whisky through the Johnnie Walker Lounge.
Here, mentoring sessions are conducted, where customers are taught the art of appreciating Scotch whisky, by familiarising them with the blends that go into the making of the brand. The mentors are company personnel who are trained in the entire brand history.
Liquor manufacturers' have not suddenly become consumer friendly overnight. They are doing it not out of choice but because there is no choice.
With a clamp on liquor advertising, liquor makers are discovering new ways to get consumers to guzzle their brew. And the lounge bars are their latest salvo.
Says Indage's Chougule, "With a clamp on advertising, lounge bars are locations that are conducive for wine drinking and wine
Yet a few liquor companies project this initiative as offering a consumer experience. Santosh Kanekar, director, marketing, at UDV India, says, "We are fully compliant with government regulations. The intention is to give customers a complete brand experience." Adds Kyndal's Banerji, "It's a way of giving consumers a different feel."
The most aggressive is Indage Hotels which embarked on the initiative almost four years ago, investing in nine food and wine outlets like Athena in Mumbai. With food, the company discreetly plugged its wine portfolio, riding on friendly waiters who educated consumers on their choice of wine. The new Wine Bar at Narayangaon makes no bones about being a drinking joint.
Says Chougule, "The objective is to make wine drinking friendly, informal and contemporary." So every wine type comes with a recommendation of three dishes. "Food tastes better with the right wine. Similarly, wine tastes better with the right food. The taste will be complete," says Chougule.
However, it's not that these bars flaunt just the sponsors' brands. At Athena, out of the 180 brands sold, only 34 are from the Chateau Indage stable.
Even the Johnnie Walker lounge sells all brands. Kanekar of UDV believes that people entering the Johnnie Walker lounge would want to make a statement and hence would rather take a sip of Johnnie Walker at the lounge.
Kyndal now plans to recreate 10 Mulit cocktail lounges in Bangalore and Delhi by October, and expand in Mumbai. Meanwhile, Indage Hotels wants to take its hotel tally to 21 by the end of the year.
A leading domestic player too is waiting and watching. From the looks of it, it appears that more brands will raise a toast to lounge bars in future. Cheers.