Whether Delhi trumps Mumbai as party capital of India, or vice versa, is a topic of endless debate, defended heatedly by Delhites and Mumbaikars alike. But whoever tops the stakes, Delhi has a well-deserved reputation for its boisterous nightlife and frenetic party scene – discotheques in premier hotels, chic stand-alone bars, neighbourhood watering holes, themed lounges, you name it.
Here are our picks of Delhi’s best bars, clubs, discos and late-night hangouts, where night-owls come to sip on classic cocktails, guzzle pints, shake a leg, or indulge in a little bit of nostalgia. (It's worth noting, most spots in Delhi are done by 1am, so if you're used to a longer session, start early – or pick your venue carefully.)
For the love of music at Summer House Café
Spread across three floors in a leafy Hauz Khas nook, Summer House Café is an easygoing escape and a huge hit with those devoted to live music. The enviable gig roster ensures weekends are jam-packed with regulars (calling ahead for a reservation is a good way to avoid disappointment and an interminable wait). Drinkers seeking a breather from the din and DJ-conducted dancing can head to the terrace and trippy rooftop, where giant bottles flank an al fresco bar counter masquerading as a camper van.
Opening hours: midday to 12.30am
Retro chic at Rick’s
Frequented by Delhi’s forty-somethings, this stylish bar at the Taj Mahal Hotel was once the toast of the town, and while things have calmed down a tad, it continues to ooze nostalgia. Styled like a film set from the 70s, complete with disco hits of the period wafting in the background, Rick’s old school demeanour has stood the test of time. Saturdays are earmarked for live gigs, attracting a swish crowd who love to sip on an Old Fashioned or a Message in a Bottle (gin and ginger ale). An excellent selection of wines and single malts keep purists in high spirits, compensating for the slightly less exciting nosh that comes as finger food.
Opening hours: 4pm to 1am
Sufi soul and sangria at S Bar
S Bar & Restaurant (aka Shalom) in N Block Market, Greater Kailash I, is the quintessential friendly neighbourhood lounge, the sort of place where you’re likely to bump into familiar faces each time you visit. An air of congenial sophistication radiates and the vastly popular Sufi nights on Wednesdays and Fridays, featuring atmospheric Sufi tunes, have been drawing a steady stream of loyal patrons for years. Spread across three levels, the bar has a Middle Eastern look, feel and flavour. Most nights, pitchers of sangria and margarita fly thick and fast – as do the mezze platters – while a soundtrack of old and new lounge hits thumps in the background.
Opening hours: midday to 1am
Sup European lager at Chatter House
Nothing says ‘pub’ quite like old-world interiors, vintage posters of British bands, buckets of beer and foosball tables. You’ll find a convincing facsimile of a European boozer at both branches of Chatter House in Khan Market and Nehru Place. Come Thursday, the Nehru Place branch hosts karaoke nights for the unabashed. Keeping the Witlingers, Desperadoes, and Affligem Blondes company is a spiffy list of real ales and ciders that keeps Delhi drinkers happy late into the night, year-round. For a place focused on hops and grains, the nosh here is surprisingly good with onion rings, blue cheese naans and lamb galouti sliders being our top picks.
Opening hours: midday to 1am
Of beans, berries and grapes at Perch
Since Delhi’s first wine and coffee bar opened for business, the city's vino enthusiasts and java connoisseurs have never had it so good. An unpretentious and informal ambience keeps Perch packed through the day and busy late into the evening. Think white walls, sturdy wood furniture, wine racks, and hanging greenery, accompanied by a soundtrack of easy listening and jazz greats. There are two branches now, one in Khan Market, and another in Vasant Vihar. Live performances at weekends turn the place into a bustling cultural melting pot, as locals gather over wine glasses and coffee mugs. Vintage and new world wines are prominent on the menu, and drinks are available by the glass, bottle, and pitcher. The signature 'Coffee Sangria' – a heady mix of coffee, wine and vodka is available for those who like their libations by the litre.
Opening hours: 8am to 1am
Dance until dawn at Privee
If you want to go late in Delhi, you'll almost always need to head to a club housed in one of the city's luxury hotels. There's a few to choose from, and, in all honesty, not always that much to tell them apart; but if you're after thumping music and a dance floor that'll stay packed until dawn, Privee is a good bet. It's unashamedly upmarket – housed in the Shangri-La's Eros Hotel – choosy with its clientele (dress smart) and certainly pricey, but the music (usually electronic interspersed with chart hits) is loud, and its central location, near Connaught Place, makes access easy. Performances by famous name DJs up the buzz factor on a regular basis. Matching the energy is a top-notch bar brimming with premium brands. Generous pourings of which help distract from the less-than superlative service.
Opening hours: 10pm to 4.30am
Other notable nightlife haunts:
Piano Man Jazz Club – a dim-lit speakeasy with live jazz performances.
Unplugged – a laid-back bar with giant courtyard garden in the heart of CP.
24/7 – the lobby bar at the glitzy Lalit Hotel is always open.
Toy Room – alternative to Privee (though less central) in Aloft Hotel. There's often a man on the dance floor dressed as a bear. Open until 3am on weekends.
Still not satisfied? See our full list of bars, pubs and clubs in Delhi.