We are local guardians to a srilankan girl Sajni Hulugulle, she brings along a roommate home and we get talking. She says my parents are in the liquor business Shaw wines, they also own a bar called Chotta Bristol. Interesting, I hardly know any one who owns a bar. She was wee bit embarassed about the bar. Its old and dhaba type.....gets a lot of regulars, journalists. I had briefly heard that fleeting mention on my visit to Kolkatta early this winter when I had gone there with Injeela and joined by Krish, feasted on Mughlai food at Shiraaz and Bengali food at..... Hang on this is not about anything else other than Chotta Bristol.
I had to go there, got an opportunity finally in June this year circa 2008. Was kind of a loner that evening,Sajni's friend had said Regal, asked the knowledgeable cabby to take me to Regal, sleaze, porn,were the posters at the cinema, adjoining a sleazy bar... the doorman almost pulls me in... try to take peek has a fat painted singer preparing to sing, a blur, see another bar no one knows, I call a colleague, he thinks I have lost my mind, ask a few wine shops, no one knows. Cabby an old muslim gentleman is patient. Plan to drive back to the hotel. Call Manjeet Narwan, a friend and collegue at HT, ask him will join me for drink. Politely ask him when we meet and suggest Chotta he is apprehensive. Last time he and Rajiv Bagchi the Resident Editor of HT at Kolkatta went there, they could'nt find any place. They are mighty brave and agree to join me.
We find it finally, its near Metro and not Regal, aha. We enter, its as big as football field, the menu is on a LED screening scrolling across with prices of drinks. No drinking at the bar counter allowed and there are over 500 seated in there, drinking, smoking,eating,talking and apparently airconditioning or cooling or ventilation works. We look like weirdos and no one is paying us any attention. The waiters stack in pegs of liquor one glass into another like empty glasses of tea. We try to flaunt our style still no attention,Manjeet takes a few pictures of waiters, they want to split, I say stay. They are really sports and we decide to stay.(Manjeet you must send us the pictures to add to the visual impact)
Squeeze into two chairs, we order, Peter Scot whisky for me and Smirnoff for them all large, with mixers and sodas Rs 155/- we leave Rs 45/- as gratuity some attention. Served a tiny portion of wet channa, some chopped raw ginger and salt. We are still cramped. we begin drinking, its getting louder. Some Sikhs from Amritsar join in the adjoing table, they say they are sightseeing. We get talking, Manjeet calls this a Ahaata (a drinking place in Punjab) where you buy the bottle and the service is free if you buy sodas, mixers and snacks. Quite similar to down south where I remember guys going and drinking behind wine shops and gazing at Silk Smitha posters torn at strategic places.
Now the snacks and fillers, there are separate snack waiters and they bring in outsourced snacks from outsite the bar. We see around, fish fingers, fish fillets, peanuts, cubes of cheese. We want it all. Our waiter has only fish fingers, what about the rest, can't get it, our drinks waiter winks at him (the tips are working), we begin to get the choicest stuff. We have more food than liquor on the table.Democracy prevails well some are slightly more equal.
Another round and we abstain from the Bengal debate on Communism and the usual jibe of Manjeet. With the experience, we want to move on.........It is a historical place started out in the early part of the century with a lot photos of generation of owners. Many books and articles have been written about it in terms of papers and pixels. Its an interesting place not yet endearing like the Janata and Dewars. Its important to do, like the Sikhs from Amritsar sightseeing, I read up and was seeking, they probably were looking for a cheap place to drink.
It has oodles of character, adds to the woes of society or calms them down does the fellow tippler turn wife beater when he gets back home, or does he lovingly pat his children and gently caress his wife to sleep. The reasons these places are crowded and the role in Civil society as it isfashionably called, is still evolving in my mind. Well lets not think so deep and enjoy the egalitarian, democratic and some slight hints of mass drinking in a vodka bar in the pre prestroika Russia. An experience alright all for a stately some of Rs 550/- including the most expensive drinks of the house all the eats, sodas, mixers and service gratuity.
Chotta Bristol is not just a drinking place its almost an institution, some may think its a cheap place to drink I think its more than that. That kind of ends my trology on the three bars from the three cities. Though I have lived in Delhi off and on for more than two decades, I have not yet come close to this character in terms of a bar, anyting that came close was the old Moti Mahal at Darya Ganj, where there were ghazals and Qawalis and you could carry your bottle of scotch and order succulent tandoori chicken and be served like gentlemen but that was in the mid 90's