Delhi: One Thousand and One Indian Nights

Courtesy Park Hotel

Delhi’s after-hours scene—once limited to a few dingy hotel discos—has expanded mightily over the past five years. But admission rules and dress codes can be a mystery to foreigners. Despite what’s on Indian MTV, short skirts and spaghetti straps (even a woman who drinks) can attract the wrong sort of attention at the average watering hole. So stick to the upscale lounge bars and clubs, where strappy sandals and backless dresses are the norm for the city’s elite. As stylish as bars in New York, Delhi’s chicest boîtes have cocktail prices to match, due to the hefty taxes on imported liquor. Most spots don’t allow entry to single men, here called stags, and the dress code prohibits guys from wearing sandals or shorts. The hip crowd doesn’t go out until 10:30 P.M., with most places not really popping until after midnight.

For the Sophisticate

Wednesday

The elegant bar and restaurant Smoke House Grill is one of the few places in town that gets going for pre-dinner cocktails. Great for drinks or dinner on weekdays and a gathering spot for a swish 35-and-over crowd after 11 P.M. 2 Vipps Center, Masjid Moth

Thursday

At the Diplomat Hotel’s Olive Beach, a beautiful Mediterranean restaurant in the diplomatic corridor, the tapas night attracts an equal number of expats and locals for sangria and calamari. Don’t leave without trying the tiramisu. 9 Sardar Patel Marg; thehoteldiplomat.com

Friday

The velvet rope at the Ashok Hotel’s F-Bar & Lounge is where to see Delhi’s “Do you know who I am?” set. Stylewise, it’s an Indian Studio 54: black, sparkly, and glam. Cover, $70 per couple, includes one drink. At 50-B Diplomatic Enclave; theashok.com

Saturday

Larger-than-life terracotta soldiers stand guard over the mixologists at Bar Savanh at Forbidden City, which has a terrace and fine signature cocktails like the Butterfly Effect, Terracotta, and Frosted Jade. There’s good Southeast Asian food at Madame Butterfly, the restaurant upstairs, and the lounge becomes a dance club after midnight. Aurobindo Marg, behind Qutab Golf Course

For the Wild One

Wednesday

Kuki has helped inject some life into Wednesdays, playing Western chart toppers and Bollywood hits and drawing a raucous crowd of young singles. Cover, $45 per couple. At E7 Community Centre, Masjid Moth; kuki.in

Thursday

Ricks, the old-fashioned martini bar at the Taj Mahal hotel, continues to attract Delhi’s old-money set, who land here after midnight or so, when the bar at the members-only Gymkhana Club shuts down. After 1 A.M., dancing on the banquettes becomes de rigueur. 1 Mansingh Rd.; tajhotels.com

Friday

With room for 1,800 people across three floors and a terrace, Elevate is the only real clubbing club in town. The music varies depending on the guest DJ, but regardless of what’s spinning, revelers should plan to watch the sunrise from the rooftop bar. Cover, $25 per person. At Centre Stage Mall, Noida; elevateindia.com

Saturday

Refreshingly, the crowd at the Park Hotel’s Agni is less in-your-face fabulous than the one at F-Bar, but the music can be dated and monotonous. 15 Parliament St.; theparkhotels.com

For the Laid-back Type

Wednesday

The food’s only so-so at Veda, the Delhi counterpart to chef Suvir Saran’s New York eatery Devi. But the kitsch-glam bar designed by Rohit Bal, India’s hardest partying fashionista, gets unanimous raves. H-27 Outer Circle, Connaught Place

Thursday

Shalom’s see-and-be-seen days are over, but this spare, all-white Mediterranean lounge remains popular with young upwardly mobile professionals for its excellent atmospheric electronica—never too loud for conversation—and great Levantine food. N-18 Greater Kailash I; shalomexperience.com

Friday

By day Baci is South Delhi’s answer to the casual Italian café. But by night the downstairs bar attracts an expat crowd that comes for the relaxed vibe and good salads, as well as for hard-to-find European aperitifs and imported Italian beers. 23 Sunder Nagar market

Saturday

At Aqua—the poolside South Beach–meets–Manhattan bar at the Park Hotel—there can be people-watching overlooking the blue water, or romance in one of the private cabanas. 15 Parliament St., Connaught Place; theparkhotels.com