A toast to India House: After winning coveted liquor license, longtime restaurant created a new bar and menu


Staff Writer

Published: 01-06-2022 9:59 AM

NORTHAMPTON — Last year India House won the lottery — for a liquor license, a coveted item for many downtown restaurants.

“It was like, did it really happen?” said Alka Kanoujia, who owns the restaurant with her husband Omprakash Kanoujia.

Now, the iconic Paradise City restaurant at 45 State St. downtown has a bar for the first time in a history that dates back to the 1980s. The bar is also a prominent feature of a renovation that the restaurant underwent when it was closed to indoor dining because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Omprakash and Alka opened India House in 1984, when Northampton only had a handful of restaurants.

“Five restaurants, that’s all this town had when we first came in,” Alka said. “Everything opened afterward.”

However, while the popular Indian eatery has had a beer and wine license since it opened, it lacked a full liquor license until it acquired one in 2021 via lottery.

“I never thought they literally meant that,” sad Amit, Alka andOmprakash’s son who works at the restaurant, in speaking about the lottery.

Annie Lesko, the clerk for the city’s License Commission, picked India House out of a bingo spinner in February of last year.

HighBrow Wood Fired Kitchen + Bar, the Majestic Saloon, The Dirty Truth, Belly of the Beast, Paul and Elizabeth’s, and Moshi Moshi were the other entries in the lottery.

Alka, Amit and his sister Anjula Kanoujia all said that the establishment received congratulations on getting the award.

The license India House was awarded reverts to the city when it’s no longer in use, which is how it became available after the Sierra Grille’s closing.

A new look

From March of 2020 to October of 2021, India House closed for indoor dining and underwent a renovation, which included putting in the establishment’s new bar.

Amit said that the bar “was a way for us to signal to the community that we’re still very much family-owned, we have a commitment to the local community, and we’re not going anywhere.”

The renovation included carved wooden pieces from India.

“These were all pieces from our personal collection at home, which we put together to make the facade of the bar,” Amit said.

New light fixtures from India were also added as part of the renovation.

A dedication to highlighting products from India isn’t the only part of the bar’s decoration, as it stocks a number of liquors from the world’s largest democracy — including gin, whiskey, vodka and rum.

“Whenever we can source Indian, we do it,” Amit said.

Both Amit and Anjula were involved in creating the bar portion of the restaurant.

“My sister and I both enjoy drinking,” Amit said, although he also noted that the bar “was all really a group effort from everybody.”

Anjula said that she enjoys going out to establishments to drink and has a number of friends in the restaurant industry.

“I’ve seen a lot of things through them,” she said.

Amit, a lover of scotch, said that he made sure that the restaurant had heavy glasses and square ice cubes to enjoy it with.

“You don’t want to mess with good scotch,” he said.

To run the bar, the Kanoujia family brought on bartender Steven LeBlanc, who previously worked at the Green Room and the Eastside Grill.

“Immediately like the hairs on the back of my neck start going up,” said LeBlanc, describing his thoughts on hearing about India House getting a liquor license.

He also described joining the family’s effort as a serious matter for him.

“I can’t deliver anything less than perfection,” he said.

LeBlanc said it’s the first time he’s been involved in crafting a brand new menu, and he said it was a learning experience for all of them. He said that the menu has a number of familiar drinks on it, but that the restaurant’s cuisine is sprinkled in as well.

In terms of what they enjoy drinking at the bar, Amit said that he likes ordering a variety of drinks but has a fondness for Manhattans and likes the establishment’s Indian Vesper, a martini that’s made with only Indian ingredients.

LeBlanc said that he has a penchant for negronis, and pointed to the Kinnari’s Embrace, which is India House’s take on the cocktail.

Anjula, meanwhile, expressed a fondness for the Monkey Business, a rum and cognac punch that features banana cordial.

Alka, Anjula and Amit all expressed gratitude for the support India House received over the course of the pandemic from the community, with Alka noting “the emails, flowers, cards from people,” that the restaurant received. Amit, meanwhile, noted that when lockdown went into effect, large numbers of people called to buy gift cards, and that city officials were also supportive of the restaurant.

“They wanted us to succeed,” he said.

Indeed, he said that Lesko had reminded him that the lottery was coming up, and that they might not have participated without that nudge.

The restaurant is currently open for dinner for both takeout and indoor dining seven days a week. The menu is smaller than it was pre-pandemic, something Amit said is a feature that’s here to say.

However, he also said that dishes would be coming on and off of it, and that favorites that don’t do well as takeout, such as India House’s onion rings, will return.

“They’re just dying to get them back,” said Amit, of the public’s thoughts on the onion rings.

The luscious lobster masala, a dish that Alka said is also asked about, will also return.

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.