Minakshi Singh: breaking boundaries

(Drinks International)

A true pioneer of bartending in India, Minakshi Singh tells Sorrel Moseley-Williams how she managed to make her passion her career – in the face of all the odds.

When Minakshi Singh first got behind the stick in 2004, it was illegal for women to sell alcohol or even work behind a bar in India. But she didn’t let being Indian or female hinder her blossoming passion for the profession – today, she’s co-owner and chief executive of 50 Best Bars regular Sidecar as well as Cocktails & Dreams Speakeasy, two of India’s most renowned establishments.

The first time we meet, she’s trailblazing as the first Indian on a World Class jury. The second time is a few weeks later at a guest shift at Raffles’ Writers Bar in Singapore, where she’s proudly championing colleague Apoorva Kohli, freshly anointed as the benefactor of 50 Best Bars’ 2023 The Blend Scholarship. With almost 20 years in hospitality, Singh’s middle name should be ‘groundbreaking’: she’s overcome countless hurdles, including constitutions and (temporary) family estrangement, empowering herself and other women along the road that led her to become the first Indian owner to rank in 50 Best Bars.

‘Better than waitressing’

Singh says: “I studied hospitality and was set to take the traditional path of becoming a hotel manager. But in 2004, I started freelance bartending, and it paid well – much better than waitressing.

“I realised it was an amazing world that I wanted to be part of. When I reached out to people about pursuing it professionally, I found it wasn’t actually legal for women to sell alcohol or be bartenders in India because of an extremely archaic British law. But I was very fortunate in meeting key people at that time who didn’t let me leave the industry, and discovering at a young age the passion for what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

While the law was finally overturned in Delhi in the late noughties, Singh also had to deal with parents who didn’t support her dream. “They hated my bartending and were very upset because I was a college graduate who, in their eyes, should be in a white-collar job. The class system is very strong in India and my family didn’t talk to me for a while. “But nine months later, they saw my passion. I was 28 when I started my first bar in 2012, traditionally the ‘right’ age in India to be married.

But my father, in a 180° transformation, said: ‘Don’t wait until you’re too old to live your dream.’ I quit a well-paid job to start my bar – and he supported me.” And with that, she waved goodbye to the spirits corpo world.

For the rest of this please visit Drinks International, March 2024.

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