"The dawn breaks orange . . . The peacock sings . . . And Delhi still swings . . ." go the words to an uplifting dance track by one of Delhi's top ethno-electronic-music outfits, the MIDIval PunditZ. Despite the capital's reputation for early nights (stand-alone restaurants, bars and clubs within Delhi proper must close at midnight) and boring diplomatic gatherings, you won't want for a buzz these days. That said, bars and nightclubs in Delhi can be extremely popular for months, or even years, and then suddenly and inexplicably the crowds stop coming. All the establishments listed below have been popular for a significant period of time and are unlikely to turn into has-beens by the time you get there, but fads and trends guide people's movements.
The trick is to sniff out the latest fad or craze before it's died out; your best bet -- and where you'll find the most extensive news about current events and entertainment -- is the twice-monthly Time Out New Delhi, and also check out the score at www.delhievents.com. And, if contemporary music is your thing, do try to catch the PunditZ live.
Music, Dance & Film
Dances of India is an organization that regularly stages classical and folk dance performances, showcasing styles from around the subcontinent; call tel. 011/98-1012-5772 to find out what events are lined up. Call the India Habitat Centre (Lodhi Rd.; tel. 011/2468-2001; www.indiahabitat.org) for information on theater, film festivals, and other cultural events held almost nightly. Nearby is India International Centre (tel. 011/2461-9431; www.iicdelhi.nic.in), which also hosts a variety of cultural performances and film screenings (mostly in the cooler months of the year), as does Kamani Auditorium (1, Copernicus Marg; tel. 011/4350-3351; www.kamaniauditorium.org). Entry to most events is free or nominally priced. Like in other big cities, you will find Max Muller Bhavan (tel. 011/2332-9506; www.goethe.de), Alliance Francaise (tel. 011/4350-0200; www.alliancefr.org) and Italian Cultural Institute (tel. 011/2687-1901; www.iicnewdelhi.esteri.it) organizing regular film screenings among other activities. Other than the bigger newspapers like the Times of India and Hindustan Times, cultural events are listed at www.delhievents.com.
Bars & Pubs
Cultural attractions aside, Delhi is in many ways most interesting at nighttime, when the "conspicuous consumers" to whom William Dalrymple refers in his City of Djinns head out and schmooze. Note however that, unless they're in hotels, most restaurants and bars (many of which double as both) close around midnight.
Fancying itself Delhi's most exclusive pub is Dublin (ITC Maurya; tel. 011/2611-2233; www.welcomgroup.com), although with its Irish theme, we can't imagine why. It does have a dance floor, however, as well as the largest selection of single malts in Delhi; on Friday and Saturday regular DJs spin popular commercial tracks -- a mix of fast-paced rhythms from hip-hop to '90s rock and even London bhangra. For a more genteel and upmarket atmosphere, head to Rick's at the Taj Mahal Hotel (1 Mansingh Rd.; tel. 011/2302-6162), where you can sip some of the best cocktails in Delhi while watching the city's fashionable set unwind. A DJ (Wed-Sat) plays retro music from 10:30pm onwards. Far more formal, and perhaps a tad demure, is Club Bar (The Oberoi, Dr. Zakir Hussain Marg; tel. 011/2436-3030); relaxed and spacious, and good for cigar smokers, it's the sort of place where you'll overhear patrons discussing the latest business deals. 1911 Bar in The Imperial (tel. 011/2334-1234), with its horseshoe-shaped bar, quilted leather Montana chairs, vintage portraits, and stained-glass roof, is an elegant place to enjoy an evening drink; despite the TV stuck on sports channels, it attracts a discriminating clientele that includes expats, celebs, and political bigwigs. All the rage among the jet-set crowd is Aura, the sublime vodka bar at the Claridges (tel. 011/4133-5133); schmoozing on the black leather armchairs here is greatly enhanced by the 72 varieties of vodka on offer.
Beyond the hotels, another popular watering hole and lounge is Q'Ba (E 42-43, Inner Circle, Connaught Place; tel. 011/5151-2888; www.qba.co.in). It features a funky island bar on the lower level and dining upstairs -- a good place to hang out with travel companions and swap stories; there are two terraces from which to admire the mayhem down below. After 8:30pm the DJ plays commercial music. Nearby is sister outfit, another restaurant-cum-bar, called @Live (K-12 Connaught Place, Outer Circle; tel. 011/4356-0008), which dishes out -- you guessed it -- live music. Our old favorite Turquoise Cottage (first floor, Regent Sq., DLF City, Phase-II, Gurgaon; tel. 0124/280-4070), may have shifted to Gurgaon, a satellite town closer to the airport but people still head out here because they loved the TC when it was in Delhi and it's still a great place for rock music. Thankfully you no longer walk into a haze of nicotine smoke (due to the national smoking ban that came into effect in 2008) and the decor is pleasant, with candlelit tables. If you prefer a venue that looks and feels a bit more local (we're talking Khajuraho-inspired erotic sculptures and wall-mounted Harappan seals), head to South Delhi's Urban Pind (N-4, N Block Market, Greater Kailash I; tel. 011/395656; www.urbanpind.com); you can sip Masala Martinis or cocktails infused with Indian spices while tapping your feet to commercial tracks spun by resident DJ Praveen. The crowd is as eclectic as the decor; although it's a rather sedate eatery by day, there's dance floor action at night. Another decent option for a night of unwinding is Baci Bar (23 Sundar Nagar Market; midway btw. Central and South Delhi; tel. 011/4150-7445), which is also an authentic Italian restaurant and joining the ranks is the new Ikko resto-bar/lounge (6/48, Malcha Marg, Chanakyapuri, east of Khan Market; tel. 98-1109-4448), which draws in those craving the "real stuff" -- Russian vodka and vintage wines to go along with South Asian cuisine served with impeccable sophistication -- you'll be sure to find the Delhi diplomat circle buzzing merrily.
Delhi has its fair share of nightclubs, though most play standard commercial music. Because stand-alone bars and clubs are required by law to close at midnight, you'll find most of the late night carousing at hotels, or alternatively, witness the major after-hours exodus to Noida and Gurgaon (suburbs which are actually in different states), especially on weekends.
There's no getting around the megalithic popularity of ultrachic and trendy Agni (tel. 011/2374-3000). The Park's hugely popular (and undeniably sexy) bar -- with a small dance floor for bhangra swingers -- designed by London's Conran & Partners; it's worth popping into, not least for its funky decor, beanbags, and leather sofas, and nifty bar staff in designer gear by Rohit Bal. On weekends there's sure to be a crowd you won't be able to take your eyes off, although things shut down around 3am. If you want to party into the wee hours (5am), make your (rather long) way to Elevate (fifth floor, Centre Stage Mall, Noida, southeast of Delhi; tel. 0120/436-4611 or 97-1100-0728; www.elevateindia.com), a spacious three-story club that plays a variety of sounds including commercial, R&B, and electronic music, with some trance/psychedelic stuff thrown in for good measure. Strictly for those who need to feel the music pulsate through their bodies, the club regularly has an international DJ playing the latest world trends -- the 1-hour travel time from the heart of the city is the only drawback. With its black walls and pink lights, Decibel (Hotel Samrat, Kautilya Marg; tel. 011/2611-0606) in Chanakyapuri (east of Khan Market, easily accessed from anywhere in south or central Delhi) is another trendy nightclub with a large dance floor that draws a jet-setting crowd here to sip fine cocktails and dance away the calories to the fairly commercial music.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.