Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Good, the Bad the Ugly....Bars Offering Solace

To go to a bar or a nightclub in Delhi in the 80’s you either were a regular or you had a foreign passport. Yes you needed a foreign passport to have a drink outside home in Delhi. No bars, no places to drink. No other option, drink in a park like we did, or across the border in terrible liquor stores and dhabas, in the car at a bar-b-cue joint (open air). What started out as a necessity, slowly became a habit. Also the economics did not help, bars when they did open, were and continue to be expensive. So necessity, habit and economics made the Delhi-wallah the drinker that he is.

Whilst Mumbai always had the umpteen hundred bars offering large, quarter, half or the bottle at your table with free munchies and fish to order at the entry level of the pyramid. Bangalore, Madras , Calcutta, Pune offered an affable drinking climate on each of their MG roads and their equivalent. It was easy to sit and order a drink in a decent bar in each of these places, while Delhi moved in the other direction, seedy clubs with red rexine sofas (South Delhi Club), guest houses (dubious ones like Sartaj opened bars in their premises), farm houses, out of town trips….. the sordid tale continues.

Then in the early 90s, sprung up a few entrepreneurs , who opened bars in standalone restaurants and some watering holes especially at the high end, TGIF at Basant Lok, Tonic at Asia Village Restaurants(by Kwality Restaurants). Slowly wider acceptance and growth with more restaurants that offerered alcoholic drinks. But, Delhi stuck to its grain lets meet at home, have a few drinks and then invariably reach late at a restaurant for dinner, then men folk topped up with a couple of drinks while everyone else ate vinegared onions and drank water. So the theory was, it is too expensive to get drunk (you drink to get drunk right, at least that was the generally prevalent theory) in a bar or a restaurant, so you drank at home, in a car (hence the word carobar). No social drinking, no wine and tapas bars, no single malts, cigars and steaks (the ultimate decadence yet), that was all for the new millennium.

So a decade into the new millennium its 2010, where does the regular sales guy go out for drink. He’s tired of pouring himself a drink the temperature in his Jangpura Barsaati is intolereably hot or cold (depending its mean winter or a mean summer). He is heard of Shalom, Urban Pind and Hard Rock cafĂ© and Ai. However , its not yet a promotion, not even a hot date… the same stuff, targets , numbers, calls and refusals. Either stop by at the Theka (Liquor Vend), get a half of some dubious sounding vodka name after a Russian Town, Premier or Warlord and get smashed followed by Aanda Parathas (Egg Parathas) a sweaty night in a whirring air cooler. Wait I am told there is 4 S, solace for the salesman.

I had heard of these bars , had seen them, 4S Chinese at Defence Colony, 4S Punjabi at Greater Kailash 2 and 4S Beach at Saket. My Big day at 4S Saket. The place is democratic and it definitely helps with Abhijeet Singh and Sanjay Saini (my friends are regulars there). We had the best of service drinks and hot as hell (spicy Fingerfood). Six of us 4 Beers (Kingfisher), 20 ( Blenders Pride whiskies, albeit small), 5 Vodkas ( Smirnoff, small pour), 5 juices (assorted), 2 portions of Chilly chicken, 1 portion of Keema Kaleji, 1 portion of Murg Malai Tikka, I portion of masala peanuts all For Rs 4029 inclusive of vat and service charges its approximately Rs 670 per head (most of it during the happy hours). You know the funny sounding vodka with some chicken dinner would cost Rs 300/- But drinking out, like we did, would cost a king’s ransom at any of the up market bars masquerading as sports bars where waiters with goaties speak broken English with an accent and muddle up your drinks. Yes Pradeep Kumar, the owner is doing a great service to the people of Delhi and the salesmen brethren community. He started off 10 years ago with 4s in Greater Kailash 2 and is doing a great job getting guys off the street (that’s those drinking on the street) into bar. Cheers to that. That’s The Good.

In my endeavor to visit more places in this genre, I subjected the same friends, Sanjay Saini and Abhijeet Singh to another place. Correct subjected. We were driving back from the ranges, were sweaty, exhausted and tired, let’s go to Friends Colony get a beer. I had this bad idea lets go to this salesman kind of place called Chaska (sounded like a dance bar in Downtown Mumbai). They politely agreed for the adventure, as Sanjay steered his Honda CRV into underbelly Kalkaji, opp Deshbandhu College. Rahul Chaterjee from the web division mischievously guided and talked me into visiting this place, fondly remembering it as an institution for the salesman getting and blowing up his daily, weekly and perhaps monthly incentive, with mouthwatering soya chops across the street. I had to go there.

In we go, directed upstairs (as the bar is upstairs, while on the ground floor is a family restaurant also serves liquor), weak air conditioning, smoke filled (yes smoke, you can smoke in there). Over priced beer and over priced food. Why the heck would anybody subject oneself to this torture, Abhijeet, looking at the menu points out wisely, I know, the reason why this place does well, hard drinks the regulars, whisky, rum vodka are relatively cheap. Relaxed we had decoded the quagmire .The waiter very grimly informs us there are no happy hours, we quickly ordered 5 Beers ( Kingfisher), one portion masala peanuts, one portion finger chips aka French fries with industrial variety pumpkin sauce and one portion of chilly paneer (which would fall in category of dirty chow). Overall, cold beer, bad service and bad snacks, the silver lining we chugged merrily on the cigarettes. While shimmery middle aged women kept walking past us (some function happening somewhere on a hot Sunday afternoon). This was certainly The Bad. Vineet Malik, the owner, please stick to your base business, catering and a pastry shop called TheCcake Factory, in Okhla and Kalakaji Respectively,

And now for the Ugly, You go to your nearest liquor shop, bunch of guys, in a car, buy plastic or Styrofoam glasses, ice on frozen plastic bag, sodas and cold drinks out of an industrial quantity bottle and you are in business with blaring music….. the face takes on ugly grimace, your gait changes, so does your voice, ready for a fight, check out women wherever you see them. God it’s a mind set, hard to break, it’s the way the city did enjoy its drink and continues to do so, ends with an argument at the cop station an interlude with the cops, God bless if these guys see, girls from the North Eastern states hurrying home with bread and eggs, that’s the true and ugly face of drinking in Delhi. That is The Ugly.

Ends at a Aanda Paratha joint with a Chotu from Utarakhand who is generously abused and sometimes generously tipped. Brings in steaming hot Aanda parathas at Moolchand, ITO, Hauz Khas and all night drunken stupor eating places. Call it Nandu, Saleem, Qureshi the story is pretty much the same .

Do you have an interesting Bar story… Happy to hear it. Cheers !
So Long !