City Landmark – My Bar, Paharganj
Cheap but with character.
[Text and pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
They are a rare sight. Roshni Kapoor, a post-grad student of international relations, and Priya Bhattacharji, an advertising professional, are the only two Indian girls in My Bar. It is a no-frills public house in Paharganj, a locality in central Delhi, popular among foreign backpackers for its inexpensive cafés and lodges.
Ms Kapoor and Ms Bhattacharji are not only there, but are smoking and drinking – as uninhibited as the men staring at them. The two women are above 25, the minimum legal age permissible for drinking alcohol. They have been regulars at this bar since January 2010, when it opened. “The reason is simple,” says Ms Kapoor between sips of Kingfisher beer, “a) It’s not sophisticated; b) It’s bloody cheap.”
Lighting up her slim and long Esse Light cigarette, Ms Bhattacharji says, “Go to any bar in Delhi and even if you share the bill with friends, you’ll still have to shell out around Rs 500 each. Not here.”
Delhi’s clubbing scene is centred in the south. The clubs range from the classy (Turquoise Cottage, Adhchini; Café Morrison, South Extension) to the languid (The Living Room, Hauz Khas; Moet’s Shack, Defence Colony) to… well, pick-up joints (RPM, Basant Lok Market). Some clubs are known for their music (Love Hotel, Saket), some for their crowd (expats in Urban Pind, GK-I; call center employees in Buzz, PVR Saket) and others for the food (Smoke House Grill, GK-II). In all these places, women are as many as men. They are not exotic.
My Bar is different. The air-conditioners are ineffective. The floor is littered with cigarette butts. The TV plays Bollywood music. The crowd is not dressed in high-street new arrivals.
In the table next to Ms Kapoor and Ms Bhattacharji, a foreign woman is sitting with a nervous-looking Indian man. Behind them, students from Sri Ram College of Commerce are chatting loudly over whiskey.
“In the evenings, it’s the young office goers and student types who come here. Late at night, the place is filled with unwashed foreign backpackers who keep scratching their bodies,” says Ms Kapoor. She lives in Rajinder Nagar and came to Paharganj by the Metro. Ms Bhattacharji, who works in Gurgaon, drove to Connaught Place, where she parked her Hyundai I10 at the Inner Circle, then took the Metro from Rajiv Chowk. The Ramakrishna Ashram station is a five-minute walk from My Bar.
That’s a long way to come for a drink, but the women think it’s worth it – though first impressions were not so favourable. “The first time I came here, I was alone. A friend had recommended it to me,” Ms Kapoor says. “I felt uncomfortable the moment I entered.”
The bar’s glass door opens into a large room that is long, but not wide. Three rows of tables are spread lengthwise. The air is thick with smoke. The lights are towards the dim side. The stewards wear baseball caps. Their white T-shirts have a ‘My’ monogram on the back. The bartender’s counter is on the left, just as you enter. There are no bar stools. And no cocktails.
On her first visit, Ms Kapoor left as soon as she stepped in. “Paharganj is not like south Delhi,” she says. “If people see a single desi girl walking alone here, and she doesn’t seem to be a resident of the neighbourhood, they start giving [her] curious looks.”
A few days later, Ms Kapoor came with a woman friend, smoked the cigarettes, drank the vodka, and started liking the place. “Look at their menu,” Ms Bhattarcharji says. “Other pubs print the taxes in small fonts, so that we don’t notice it. But here, they print the exact amount next to the list price, in the same font size. So honest.”
On the menu, the drink ‘Party Shot’, which is 30 ml of whiskey, is listed at Rs 20. A figure of Rs 4 is added next to it to show the additional tax amount. This is cheap. The minimum price of a whiskey peg in, say, Café Morrison, is Rs 200.
“The low prices are our attraction,” says Kawaljeet Singh, the bar owner. “You should feel this is your own bar. That’s why we call it My Bar.”
The customers call the stewards by whistling. “We don’t do that,” says Ms Kapoor. “We address them as ‘bhaiyya’ and I guess it’s not as effective as whistling,” Ms Bhattacharji adds. “Look, that guy in the corner is waving at Priya,” says Ms Kapoor. “No, it’s for Roshni,” Ms Bhattacharji throws back.
Though the two visit here for the purely practical reason of drinking on the cheap and ordering from an “honest” menu, the male attention is an inevitable side dish – tolerable as long as it comes in very limited quantities.
“We come here for [an] ego massage,” says Ms Kapoor with an exasperated sigh. Just then the phone rings.
“It’s my mother,” says Ms Bhattacharji.
“Say you are at a friend’s birthday party,” Ms Kapoor advises.
For a long time, the television has been showing film songs of Salman Khan aka the pocket Hercules, now in his mid-forties. Looking at the screen, Ms Bhattacharji says, “Salman Khan wearing red pants… you can’t see this in another other club.”
During this evening out, Ms Bhattacharji had Kingfisher and Smirnoff Orange and Ms Kapoor ordered Bacardi Apple. They also had two servings of deep-fried chilli mushroom. Knackered drinkers coming in after work have the option of daal, chapatti, subzi too.
“There is no juice, though,” says Ms Bhattacharji. “You get what you get. Take it, or leave it.”
Where 5136, Main Bazaar, Paharganj Nearest Metro Station Ramakrishna Ashram Timing 11.30 am to 12. 30 am
Towards the dim side
It’s an experience
We’ll be back