There is a sense of startling familiarity waiting at the top of a few flights of stairs in the building where Pauline’s Rooftop dwells. The location is the midpoint between Lazimpat and Maharajgunj, more or less at the heart of Kathmandu; the huge, open windows in the indoor area of the bar unveils the slightly dreary landscape of modern Kathmandu with its bleak residential buildings. Yet, the indoor area still exudes intimacy and cosiness with comfy, leather-bound, low-height chairs, which are illuminated by warm lights from dusk.
A recent addition to the myriad F&B industry ventures in the Valley, Pauline’s Rooftop is best defined as the bar where you feel at home, literally and figuratively. The outdoor seating area isn’t any more picturesque than the interior; surrounded by high-rise buildings, you are reminded that you are still in the middle of the concrete jungle that is now Kathmandu. Yet, the rustic layout of the bar is a conscious choice—an antithesis to the common perceptions of bars, clubs, and cafes in the Valley as a posh place filled with intricate, modern decor with a dazzling array of lights.
“Originally, we intended this place to become an after-work junction; a place where you can come, leave your worries at the door, relax, and have delicious cocktails and food,” says Pauline Driard, namesake to the bar and a mentor to the current management team.
Opened at the cusp of the start of the months-long lockdown in early 2020, Pauline’s Rooftop has only enjoyed about one year and a few months of operation till now. Yet, the initial philosophy of an after-work place has already seen cracks in it. The vibe during the weekends was turning more energetic than what was expected; from an after-work venue, the bar was turning into a lively party venue. Though the bar’s personality was heading towards destinations uncharted, now the management team has fully embraced its emerging dual identity.
“To be honest, the bar is now an after-work venue during the weekdays and a party venue during the weekends,” admits Driard. “When we started we thought that if we had good food, good staff, and good ambience, then that would have been enough. But sadly, that didn’t turn out to be true,” she ponders.
As such, the bar frequently organises different events and activities to liven up the monotony and entice customers. A daily happy hour that starts from 5 to 7pm allows a one for one offer on selected drinks and cocktails. On Wednesdays, the bar enters into a chill mood with live-music from local bands. Sometimes, activities like blind beer tasting, Saturday BBQ nights, and Friday Maki Nights shake up the atmosphere. Screenings of documentaries and movies are also done frequently; ‘Children of the SnowLand’ is scheduled to be screened on Sunday, December 5. There are also special cocktails on the menu, the theme depending upon the season, festivals, and events.
Naresh Shrestha, the owner of Pauline’s Rooftop and a long-time colleague to Driard in previous ventures, says, “It has been a difficult journey operating the bar. The unfortunate timing of the opening of the bar created a lot of stress on us but we utilised the downtime during lockdowns well to strategise our business plans.” There are always events and activities so that the regular patrons always have something new to look forward to, adds Shrestha.
The bar prides itself in its knowledge and expertise in cocktails, with a wide selection of wine and beer. However, cocktails are a foreign arrival in Nepali cuisine and the Nepali crowds had the misconception of cocktails being limited to sweet flavours, something that the bar aspires to change. Most of the cocktail ideas and experimentation are concocted by the brains behind the bar—Amrit Tamang, head bartender at Pauline’s Rooftop. “There are more flavours to a cocktail than just sweet and sour,” he says. After spending five years working at a bar in Australia, Tamang came back to Nepal and has worked at Pauline’s Rooftop for about 10 months.
The transition from working in a bar overseas to working in a bar back home for Tamang has been rocky, to say the least. “Bars and cocktails automatically have a negative connotation here. Even my family members aren’t comfortable with me working at a bar,” says Tamang. “Yet, this is my passion and I love the entire experience of working at a bar and creating cocktails. Making cocktails is also a form of art, but in Nepal, unlike in the West, bartenders aren’t given any recognition. ”
In an industry notorious for its high turnover rate, the usual trend for hospitality workers is to gain some experience working at high-end F&B outlets and to fly abroad as soon as possible. However, Tamang and Shrestha both are exceptions to the rule. Both experienced the allures of foreign employment yet returned home to crave their own place in the Nepali hospitality sector.
“In Australia, I would look through the top 100 best bars in the world. Most of them would be in Spain, the UK, Australia, China, the USA, Singapore, etc. I couldn’t find the name of a Nepali bar even in the top 500. I used to think maybe I could change that,” says Tamang.
And the passion that burns within Tamang is evident by his demeanour and aura. When he begins to describe the ideas and concepts behind the drinks, he dives into the origin of the base drink and its history, the significance of each ingredient, and the overall flavour profile. When he is behind the bar preparing a drink, he is like a child let loose into a toy section. His eyes light up and the enjoyment he feels oozes out into the atmosphere of the bar. “Anyone can make a good drink but a good bartender can connect with the people. Sometimes, people come to a bar to have someone to talk to, and I also love interacting with people,” he says.
Right now, the special’s menu is themed on the winter season with ‘Winter is coming’. Cocktails are named after the characters on the show Game of Thrones; Daenerys Targaryen/House Buttered Rum, The Lannisters/Rum Eggnog, Jon Snow/Classic Irish Coffee, etc.
Recommended drinks and snack:
Ingredients: Kiwi infused gin clarified with coconut milk, lime cordial, citrus.
One of the best selling-drinks on the menu, Clarified GnT is a well-rounded drink perfect for a sunny day. Served in a margarita glass, the drink is unclouded and produces a smooth aftertaste as the clarified gin combines perfectly with the lime cordial. The drink leans on the citrus flavours and smells with the gin, lime, and orange peel used as a garnish.
Price: Rs 790
Ingredients: Black mushroom infused vodka, Caribbean falernum, citrus.
A drink that stands out from the rest of the pack. Most of the time, cocktails experiment with sweet and sour tastes and rarely, bitter. However, this drink attempts to bring out an unexpected taste—umami. The vodka is infused with dried black mushrooms(also popularly known as the Shiitake mushrooms) which helps to add a depth of umami flavour to the drink. Served in a rocks/whisky glass, the drink is topped with a frothy layer and garnished with a dried black mushroom.
Price: Rs 790
Tea in Havana
Ingredients: White rum, dry vermouth, blue tea, apple lime Cordial, soda water
A treat for the eyes and the mouth, Tea in Havana is a drink from the limited special menu but can be made any day on order. The idea for it first originated during a tea experimenting event at the bar, confides Tamang. Served in a wine glass, the drink is a light pinkish colour and bits of leaves—dried rose petals and rose leaves, fresh mint, and pea flower—are used as a garnish on the exterior of the glass. It contains butterfly pea flower tea, which is a caffeine-free tea also called blue tea.
Price: Rs 790
Ham and blue cheese tartine
One of the popular snacks at Pauline’s Garden—a previous venture of Pauline—makes its way into the limited menu of the bar. A perfect combination with cocktails, the tartine consists of slices of toasted bread topped with pieces of ham, blue cheese and diced tomatoes.
Price: Rs 300
(The given prices are exclusive of a 13 percent VAT.)
Name of the bar: Pauline’s rooftop
Opening hours: 4 pm to 11 pm on weekdays/12 pm on weekends (closed on Mondays)