City Hangout – Madras Coffee House, Connaught Place
A place to dissent.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
The food is not memorable. The flowers are made of plastic. The walls are painted to a dull shade. The mezzanine floor is locked down.
Opened in 1935 by a migrant from Punjab named Hem Chand Jain, the barely-lit Madras Coffee House is the most uninviting destination in the colonial-era Connaught Place.
In a market where every eatery, whether good or horrid, is always packed with people, this coffee house remains half-empty. The South Indian specialty restaurant has clearly seen better days. But The Delhi Walla is not asking you to bewail your past over a plate of inexpensive masala dosa. Come here because this place seems to take a Fuck You stance towards the world.
Here you will not see any attempt to seduce customers. Most of them anyway prefer the neighboring McDoanld’s or Saravana Bhavan; the latter serves truly authentic Madras cuisine.
You must hang out in the Madras Coffee House because it is so aggressively shabby, so determined not to look attractive, so unwilling to please anyone — at least that’s the feeling it gives.
In the eatery’s quiet environ, the dignified waiters stand behind a far-away counter. They are neither very cheery, nor rude, and this too is a relief.
Formerly called Respo Milk Bar, the coffee house opened as Shanghai Restaurant and Bar, and quickly went on to became a bustling Chinese restaurant where British soldiers would come and dance with girls.
This story is hard to believe today. The place lives in a solitary world of its own and to prefer it over the area’s new coffeehouse chains is tantamount to making a statement against the ongoing transformation of Connaught Place; the invasion of retail stores is destroying its stately character.
If you do not subscribe to this development model, then you ought to come to this decrepit restaurant. Spend hours here over a novel and endless plates of idlis — and while hearing the murmurs of vulgar commoners walking outside, fancy yourself to be a cool radical.
Where Connaught Circus, Block P, Connaught Place Nearest Metro Station Rajiv Chowk Time 9 am to 9 pm
We won’t seduce you