This is a story of three bars in three cities. Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkatta in other words , Janata, Dewars and Chotta Bristol. In my quest for eating local exotic in under two hundred rupees, I came across the experience of finding interesting bars in the cities I have lived and visited. Its currently an all consuming passion to absorb the sights and sounds, currently with my senses rather than a camera and audio equipment someday that maybe a possibility.
Janata Bar: Mumbai
Tucked away in a row of shops at Pali Naka on the cusp of Pali Hill and Bandra is Janata Bar. I lived in the neighbourhood in a building or a apartment complex called Queens at Pali Hill. Shared the apartment with Ava Sethna (the parsi owner), three dogs, one 6o year old parrot (as old as Ava Sethna), four ducks,some maids and ofcourse Pravin Dabas(of Monsoon Wedding fame.We were often visited by Gayatri Joshi(of Swades fame and a friend of Pravin)It was a 5000 sq ft apartment. However this is not about that, its about Janata Bar which I never visited while I lived there in 1999-2000.
I revisited Mumbai which I have often called my janambhoomi, while Delhi is my Janambhoomi, in 2005-2006. I was living at Searock hotel for three to more like four months, and many visits ever after.
We discovered the bar because it was cheap, meant reverse snobbery among the hoity toity hot nights in Bandra types and it felt like a discovery also felt cool to say meet you at Janata.
Its simple, no nonsense bar with quarter system(of which there are over 10,000 in Mumbai.In every city you need a bar you can call your own.It has a vast repertoire in terms of alcohol from types of beers, to wines whisky, bacardi, gin in all sizes coolers and even scotch and you get the scotch in a Director's Special quarter(as scotch is available in India in only 750ml and above), The food is fish, prawns, crab sometimes and even varan bhat (or simply called dal chawal). They serve to the loners, to strugglings artists, adverising crowd,production crew of companies and late night stragglers. Its often said if you need a drink at 2am in the morning you know who to call.
Will not write the menu and prices, it can get two persons some drinks and food within five hundred rupess.But, it gained its fame when I was named after the bar while I worked as a launch team member of Hindustan Times at Mumbai. There were three of us from Delhi the princes of the future Rajiv and Amit were called Santa and Banta and I hung around at Janata bar often or pretended the girls at work, Sonu, Varsha added the third name which was then. Santa, Banta and Janata.Sandeep Ghose another great fan of reverse snobbery (which one can be confident of practising, when one is confident of oneself or financially secure and can afford anything but choose something cheap and quaint).
Let me attempt to explain, everyone we know can go to Hawain Shack or Seijo and so one and so forth and so can Sandeep and I , however we choose to go and entertain there often, because, we choose to be there. Its like you have the safety of huge bank account, you may choose to spend it or not or buy something cheaper like Woodland shoes vs expensive shoes .
Janata has alot of princes and lot of real paupers going there. The best ,its very democratic. You share a table you share camraderie, even the same waiter, and the ice bucket and sometimes your sodas and your quarters with a fellow tippler who may be ponytaied mechanic from Bandra or Discover Channel executive or morelikely the kids that work for mahesh murthy now at Pinstorm or is it Pinstrom.
I have often entertained there, Shobhan Saxena the journalist from Times of India, Sanjay Malhotra the jeweller friend from Delhi, my wife and Daughter visiting me from Delhi, (she was really a great sport), the wife nursing a vodka and being polite, nibbling at the tandoori pomfret and the little one being spoilt by the waiters getting her ice cream),Mohit Mehra, my most intelligent friend,Raju Pullan-Nitin Chaubey(my second most intelligent friend)-Piyush Prakash- Rahul Wadnerkar-Mhaja-Manish all friends from Ht. Also took my friend and the technical team from Star Tv and my ex collegues from Discovery Channel.Even the marketing gang at HT Bhardwaj, Sonu, Varsha, Stephanie have been forced to accept invitations Net. If you want to meet Sam in Mumbai for a drink its at Janata Bar or in town at the US Club.
Its the kind of place that grows on you (almost like the store/bar in I forget the name.... in John Steinbeck's Cannery Row).Its a place where you dont worry too much when you order (about the bill). You can order you cigarettes and even cigars from your table. They even accept creditcards and will give you a bill for food even if you drank like a fish. So .... I can barely be objective about a place I have been lovingly called after even if it has archaic name like Janata (reminder of aam aadmi, Janata party, Janata meals, Janata Express ) a reminder of the mediocrity of the 70's. The lack if imagination in the name is made up by the experience. While my brother Sanjiv Malhotra set up many bars a restaurants and the fashionable and genuinely great bar opium den (among numerous others, Firangipani, India Jones)I am sure will acknowledge the simplicity of this place. The objective is to take him there when we meet in Mumbai next.Janata the epitome of mediocrity and reverse snobbery will meet the elegance and perhaps the snobbery of Opium Den a perfevt Yin and Yang
The next two tales are about Dewars and Chhotta Bristol... Cheers