Iconic Bars: Panaji’s Joseph Bar — a dive with a vibe
Let Priya Pathiyan take you on a guided dive into Joseph Bar, one of the most popular local Goa establishments!
Goa has always been the party destination for India and even more so today, when many of the country’s best bars and restaurants have opened in this vibrant location. But there are some timeworn and yet timeless places that go beyond the trendy and trending. Joseph Bar in the colourful elite residential area called Altinho in Panaji’s Saõ Tomé Latin quarter has been around since Portuguese colonial times.
Its charm lies in the fact that nothing must has changed in all its years of existence. Signs, photographs, and liquor bottles crowd the main bar room artistically, the closely spaced rickety tables and tiny stools in the two dimly lit anterooms with dark, grungy corners force you to share elbow room and conversations with fellow patrons, the easy-going staff that gets you into the proper laidback Goa mood.
Joseph bar was originally opened by a certain Senhor Joseph Pereira as a hyperlocal bar serving the local liquors, namely feni, uraq, and maad, with spicy gram as bar bites. It still does the same today, although its menu and clientele have both expanded considerably.
On my last visit to Panaji, my beautiful boutique hotel was literally two minutes away from the atmospheric Joseph Bar, so I checked it out on my very first evening and even managed to go back another time in the day. Doesn’t it say a lot that in a place that’s overflowing with enticing establishments, I went to this one twice?
The Joseph Bar experience
Red seemed to be the colour of the night, from the reddish lighting of the bar, to the tiny red rose that they gave to each of the women guests, and the deep red cocktail called Tambde Rosa I ordered. Made with local kokum and Cazulo feni (distilled from local cashews by Hansel Vaz), it’s tart with a true Goan heart, and packs a punch.
No wonder it could be seen at every table, no matter whether the patrons were simple Panaji shop owners out on a binge or influencers from across the country in candy-coloured co-ord sets competing for the best camera angles. During the tourist season, it’s also filled with foreign tourists that are keen to get a taste of the ‘real Goa’.
My significant other and I were there for Goa date night but soon had to share our high table in a cosy corner with a chatty couple. But we didn’t mind, as that’s the nature of Joseph Bar. You go in there for a drink and you come away with new friends. Or at least a funny story to remind you of your time there.
Exploring the menu
His Mango Chilli Feni cocktail was as hot yet refreshing as the evening. From their Goan Classics, I enjoyed the chicken cafreal, pork vindalho, and the sour-spicy pork sausages, mopping up all the sauces with freshly made poee. My vegetarian companion loved the healthy chickpea salad and didn’t mind the paneer chilli fry. What’s interesting is that they manage to encompass dishes made by the four original Goan tribes, Saraswat cooking, as well as those from the Catholic community in a compact menu.
In season, they offer a variety of delicious snacks sourced from homemakers in the area, said the manager and chief bartender. His real name is Prabhakar Yashwant Prabhu Azgaonkar, but the award-winning bartender prefers to be known to everyone as Gundu.
He proudly showed off the plaques in his name and talked knowledgeably about all the offerings on the bar menu. I love that the tiny gem of a bar is so authentically Goan in character and yet is in tune with the times, serving local and sustainable food, and including a host of drink options.
From regular beers to Goan brewed People’s lager to Eight Fingered Eddie (the IPA that kickstarted the craft beer revolution in Goa). They also serve the entire gamut of Moonshine meads, some of the country’s best gins, Paul John Nirvana Single Malt, Makazai Gold Rum, Desmondji Agave and Mahua shots. Quite an impressive list for any modern-day bar, let alone one as affordable and accessible as Joseph Bar.