My love of dressing down and casual places
I watched Spain beat the Netherlands in the World Cup in a small trendy but casual Moroccan-style café/bar called Mocha in Mumbai on Sunday night. The atmosphere was amazing. The place was packed with young Indians, and the odd foreigner here and there. A large screen came down at 11.30pm and people puffed on hookah pipes, drank Kit Kat shakes, sipped wine, and ate their glorious mozzarella paninis, as the match kicked off.
I almost felt like I was in England. It is funny how a sport like football can unite people across the world. You never would have thought that in a cricket-crazy nation like India, football would have such a following. People were as enthused about the beautiful game as the Brits, Spanish and Dutch were, yet an Indian team hadn’t even entered the World Cup. (Obviously India didn’t qualify, but why didn’t it…? I see young men practising football on every street corner in Mumbai.In a country this size, with a passion for football, India should now be aiming to qualify, surely? Is there a lack of decent football pitches? A lack of serious tournaments being held? A lack of coaches?…..)
Anyway, it felt great to be watching the World Cup in India, with as much passion around me, as there would have been back home. Such is globalisation, that India is, when it comes to watching footie, no different to the West. If there is any difference, it is that the Indian crowd was more sedate, watching it in a calm and fun manner. There was none of the aggression, fighting and rowdiness you might find at a High Street pub in England. In fact, you would never see the kind of football hooliganism in India, that is seen in the UK. Even when the power on the screen went just after Spain scored, people remained calm and a fight didn’t commence. The fact that binge drinking has not really taken off in India is I’m sure part of the reason. In the UK it is normal for people to go out “to get drunk.” And for that they down pints and pints of beers, then vomit, and collapse all over the place, or pick a fight and end up with glass in their face. You might witness bandhs, and weird demonstrations here, but you never see drunken aggression and hooliganism happening in India. I think it’s because less people drink here anyway (many instead take soft drinks), but even those that do drink alcohol, drink it differently. It is done socially, but not in excess. You don’t see people downing shot after shot of tequila, pint after pint of draught beer, or pouring glasses from jugs of potent Long Island Iced Tea, like you might see in the West, then ending up in Accident and Emergency. Somehow the drinking culture is different, and people don’t drink to excess in India. That is similar to places like Spain and Italy, I guess.
As I was sitting in Mocha, I realised Mocha is my favourite eating place in Mumbai. The prices are reasonable, the food delicious, it serves wine and beer, and single origin coffees, the ambience is casual but stylish, and I love the wide range of shakes (M&M, Kit Kat, Ferrero Rocher) and unusual food items, as well. I’m not really into dressing up and the page 3 scene, I have to admit. I reckon I wouldn’t mind it if I was an actor or model by profession, as then I wouldn’t have much to do during the day, and could spend all day getting ready. But being a journalist is quite tiring and the last thing I want to do when I get home is dress up. Being in a jeans and a T shirt at Mocha is my kind of thing. I don’t know where the ‘dressing up to go out’ culture in Mumbai hails from, but I suspect it is from the USA. Wherever it is from, it doesn’t quite suit me.
Initially when I first came to Mumbai, most bars were high-end….The kind of places you need to put on a dress and jewellry for (if a girl), and then pay high prices for drinks at. That was the only option if you wanted to go out…It was either that or cafes like Barista, where you just had coffee, alongside a few strugglers, or I guess for the daring, one could venture into quarter or janta bars…. There you could probably see ‘another India’ over a domestic whisky…I didn’t try this, but perhaps I should have….Back then there were times I didn’t go out just because I couldn’t face dressing up, even though I wanted to go out….
Now though, finally, a string of independent trendy cafes are opening up – that offer causal places you can go out in stylish environments…that are more than Barista and CCD. This is my cup of tea.
These include the new Pali Village Café in Bandra, that is like a Tuscany villa cum old rambling house, with pictures and postcards on the wall, that serves great coffee, and where you are likely to spot Saif Ali Khan. Sandwich and Co. in Bandra is another secret haunt for the posh Pali Hill brigade..it’s a tiny café, but has great cakes and every table outside has a laptop point, they also play cool party music you can listen to as you work….Indigo Deli is an institution loved by all in Mumbai – there you feel like you are in a New York deli, as you drink their single origin coffee and try their amazing desserts…But it does have competition with the BBC Café at the JW Marriott in Juhu, which is perfect for people seeking healthy, natural western-style salads and sandwiches (not drenched in mayonnaise or spicy sauces) – another great option is The Gourmet Store at the Grand Hyatt, which does the best lentil salad in town, and is also a cool hangout, as is the Bombay Express at the Renaissance Hotel, which serves amazing coffee as well. You don’t have to dress up for any of these places.
The good news too is that mid range bars (as opposed to high end) are also finally opening up in the city. So, no longer do you have to choose between shelling out Rs 2,000 on a cover charge in a five star, or Rs 700 for a glass of wine in a standalone,or sitting in the basic décor of a shady quarter bar…you can now head to a trendy stylish bar, where a glass of wine costs less than Rs 200! About time too…..Similar bars in the UK include the Wetherspoon chain of bars. Until now in Mumbai, there have been very few ‘bar bars’ – apart from some very expensive ones.
The first two of these new mid range bar chains are WTF! which has a branch in Khar and Quench which has opened in Bandra. Both intend to expand across India. Both are based on the concept of offering trendy venues, which you don’t have to dress up to go to, with drinks at moderate prices. The business model is based on attracting high volumes every night, not just at weekends.
As Vineet Shetty, a partner at Quench, says: “I don’t want to open a bar where I just see myself and a string of waiters and the place is empty. I want to run a bar that is packed every night.”
This, I say is the future, as it is where the mass consumer market lies. Even the expats I know have been complaining about the high prices of drinks in some Mumbai bars, which can exceed prices of bars in London and New York. Sure, some rich Indians can afford them, but not everyone can, more so now that more expats are on local salaries. There has to be a mid-range option for people. And finally it has arrived.