STATION HALTS: Bombay's Quarter Bars
This piece originally appeared in Time Out Mumbai, I think in October or November 2004 or 2005. It's a pity their archive is not online.
There’s nightclubs. And then there’s nightlife, that netherworld of the heart, easily unbound by a peg or two. For those who bemoan Bombay’s lack of café culture,where have you been? Bombay’s quarter bars – unexceptional, no-class drinking rooms – are full of men, the occasional women, and the moist buzz of a crowd drinking and talking about love, loss, art, stocks, office politics and cosmic truth. They are all here, salesmen, admen, managers, actors, teachers; the overworked, the unemployed, the enigmatically solitary, the habitually melancholic or alcoholic, the naturally gregarious or drunk on one beer, the eternally unrequited, the perpetually hopeful. Not seeing or being seen – just the citizenry, celebrating the bittersweet life and cheap booze.
Like many things in the clickety-clack rhythm of this city’s life, quarter bars are concentrated near local train stations. It’s an easy place to meet and part. It’s also as if you get off work, on to the train, into the bar, drink, snack, home, dinner – never missing a beat, always on the way to or from somewhere. For many the quarter bar is a local hangout. It’s part of their primary social life; a daily activity rather than a night out.
Quarter bars get their name from the facility to order a quarter bottle, also called a nip, instead of individual drinks, implying a respect for serious drinking, shared pleasures and slim pocketbooks. Quarter prices range from Rs 70 to Rs 200 and snacks, or chakna, are free and unlimited – peanuts, papad, boiled chana, salad veggies. It’s all very basic – ladies, prepare to levitate in the loo.
A noisy, convivial Chembur institution offering verandah seating, a rooftop with frilled canopy and puly munchi – a fiery medley of meat with tamarind and red chilli powder, a culinary work in progress which will one day be perfected, but for now, goes well with a neer dosa and vodka. Adarsh’s loyal and voluble clientele give it a friendly clubhouse feel and it also has a more family type restaurant called Oceanic on the first floor for a proper dinner. If you go with a regular, ask them to point out the resident “characters” who haunt the place.
Address. – Somewhere in Chembur :).
Gopal Krishna Lunch Home
On a dark curve of 3rd Road Khar with its disarmingly bright but dubious hotels, the Lunch Home is so dingy, we walk past it twice. Two women entering this little room with zero watt bulbs results in a minute of all-male silence. Then everyone returns to their daaru and conversation and leaves us to ours. Fryums are scooped out of a battered aluminium canister. The air is full of delicious Mangalorean smells, the atmosphere cosy and it’s open till 6am. We ask who comes at four? Flotsam from bars that close at three says the manager, straightfaced.
3RD Road, Manjunath Niwas, Khar W)
Open till 1 p.m-6 a.m.
Alternative film types from nearby Sai Baba complex mix with a very middle class office type crowd in this packed Goregaon watering hole. It has fabulous fish fry served on a banana leaf and a yen for fantasy – metal light fittings that look like futuristic Viking weapons, wrought iron and smudged glass dividers. In the air-con section peaked wooden canopies cover each seat and the ceiling is an artful starry sky of pin-sized blue lights. It makes you want to sing “Yeh tare chale, yeh raat ajab matvali hai”. Or maybe it’s that second quarter…
Address. Opening times
Railway Refreshment Room
Seven minutes from Grant Road (E) and part of a commonly owned row of establishments including the Railway Hotel Laundry (look for the exquisite art deco sign) and Magnum Arms (yes, yes, guns), the RRR is over 100 years old and looks it. To step in through the quaint gate and courtyard is to go back in time, into a cavernous hall with cheery red rexin sofas, psychedelic ’70s laminate walls and a customer base of silently drinking men. We are hesitantly told no ladies after 6pm as the respectable management does not wish to risk any maj-maj. Some begging and we’re allowed whisky with warm wafers and snacks, the prices of which curiously all end in “3”: boiled egg, Rs 3; fish fry, Rs 63; chicken cutlet, Rs 43. Above a sign asking people to pay in advance is the statue of a rotund man in robes. My friend guesses at St Anthony of Padua. It is in fact, The Old Monk, patron saint of rum.
RAILWAY REFRESHMENT ROOM
NEAR GRANT ROAD STATION (E)
15/17 RM ROY ROAD, MUMBAI 400 004 (Right at the first signal after Topaz and then right again).
10 a.m – 12 p.m. – beer bar ( I think they mean 12 a.m.)
11-3.30, 6.30 – 11 – Permit room
This large bar is always packed and despite its appearance as just another standard permit room, is famous beyond Andheri (E) for its coastal cuisine and USP - chakna of free mandeli fry with each round of drinks. People from Colaba to Borivali speak of it with the particular affection addebazi inspires. Murals of Ratnagiri life a la Mario Miranda line the upstairs walls. Tough bais in kashthas glare at scrawny men with wavy smiles and thought bubbles of fish and boats. On enquiring about the artist we are told it is by seth ka dost. A toast to the dost, then.
RATNAGIRI RESTAURANT AND BAR
NEAR ANDHERI STATION (E)
Bhagwan Bhuvan, Opp. Police Station, Sir M.V. Road, Andheri (E), Mumbai 400 069
Tel: 28369134/6602 2710