Born into a traditional family in the dry state of Gujarat, Pranav Thakkar has had an unlikely rise to becoming a hotshot star barman armed with coyote skills.
Dressed in a black shirt and branded denims, Thakkar has made peace with his father who was initially skeptical about his son's choice of career. "I also have to let them believe that I'm a teetotaler," Thakkar confesses.
The 24-year-old had his first vodka coke at 18 and has lost count of how many he has served since. "Bartending happened by accident. I was intending to be a chef, as my mum is an inspiring cook but my vegetarianism got in the way," says Thakkar, who was asked to leave his first cooking session at the Rizvi Hotel Management institute on refusing to eat a boiled egg.
After several flair tutorials and six months of intense bartending experience from Stir Academy of Bartending, Thakkar took a job as bartender at the Bed Lounge, Bandra, two years ago and he has not looked back. "I've never had to work as a trainee or bar back," he says.
Glancing at Thakkar's modest frame, it's hard to imagine him (all of 5'3) holding court at the city's most illustrious parties. He has exhibited his skills with the cocktail shaker at The 7-city, Bacardi Blast Be Live series, The McDowell Derby, the Roger Waters and Beyonce concerts and the Sahara family wedding in Lucknow.
"A bumping bar and great drinks are so crucial in determining the success of a party now that people want to hire bartenders for the most intimate house parties, sangeets and such," says Thakkar.
After Bed Lounge, Thakkar was hired as flair instructor by Kishore Thapar and Vijay Pal Rawat's new bartending academy, Cocktails and Dreams (C&D) in 2005.
"From 80 students a batch three years ago, we now have 220 bartending students graduating annually, besides the 2000 candidates we train through the year on-premises. Bartending is a recession proof industry and thus such an attractive career option," says Thapar.
Mixing it with the best
Thakkar does not only train bartenders and work as an expert barmen himself, he is also credited with inventing the Bacardi Bounty, a heady combination comprising molten chocolate, hazelnut and coconut. The drink went down so well that he earned a seat at the Bacardi Martini Grand Prix finals in Italy. "When I got home the trophy from the national finals, dad finally came around to my career," says Thakkar.
Then 23, the senior bartender leaped to the role of bar manager at Wong Wong, catapulting his starting salary of Rs 5000 + tips to Rs 30,000. "I got a lot of flak for this promotion. Some bartenders spend years in the same designation before being promoted and my jumps drew a lot of criticism," Thakkar recalls.
As events head at Bar Solutions, a sister concern of C&D, Thakkar draws Rs 40,000 a month with additional cash benefits and tips. His profile requires him to juggle multiple events in one night and party hop to supervise multiple teams in the field. "It's a high stress job. There are times I just want to walk away from a raucous mob expecting us to serve them all at once. My record is 6 drinks a minute," says Thakkar who charges Rs 30,000 for occasions like New Year's Even, or Valentine's Day.
With a 16-18 hour work schedule during the seasonal months from August to March, Thakkar is accustomed to having no social life. His spare time is spent with academy colleagues. Even though a job overseas could fetch him a lofty paycheck of almost Rs 1.5 lakhs a month, the commerce student prefers to make a mark in India. "The industry is developing here. That's exciting for me," he says.