100 Things To Do Before You Quit Delhi – Hang Out in CP Starbucks at Midnight, A-Block, Connaught Place
The perfect Delhi experience.
[Text and photos by Mayank Austen Soofi]
At the stroke of the midnight hour, when Delhi sleeps, you must awake to life at the Starbucks in Connaught Place (CP).
Spending an hour from midnight onwards at this particular coffee chain outlet is one of the things you ought to do before quitting Delhi for good. Here, in the heart of the night, you sit safely ensconced in the heart of CP, which lies in the heart of the capital.
Please note The Delhi Walla strictly means the bigger of the two Starbucks outlets in this colonial-era district—at Hamilton House in A Block. The other at N-block serves the same varieties of drinks and snacks, but it’s smaller and there you don’t see regular late-night characters, perhaps because it shuts down at 11.30 pm.
But why tease about eating and drinking at Starbucks? I can actually give you one reason not to go there. It’s so pricey. Just a medium-sized glass of Americano and a humble almond butter cookie will set you back by about 400 rupees. You can have a more filling feed for that amount at Café Coffee Day—CP is flooded with its outlets.
In these times when most of us prefer the comfort of our own echo chambers, it is inevitable that we have also our own favorite coffee chains. Mention the word ‘Barista’ to your elder siblings and they might grow wistful for its once-fabled brownie. That coffee chain used to be a rage a decade ago, though now it is reduced to rare sightings (one Barista outlet survives in CP’s Regal Cinema Building; I’ve spotted another in Defence Colony Market). On the other hand, the idealists among us, who feel strongly against foreign chains, fiercely remain loyal to the turbaned stewards and cheap watery coffee of the atmospheric Indian Coffee House in Mohan Singh Market building.
And talking of coffee shop loyalists, I know of three friends in their 70s who have been meeting every week at CP’s landmark United Coffee House for decades.
Starbucks is too new in town for any Delhi nostalgia. It arrived in India by setting up shop in Bombay in 2014, and entered Delhi the next year by opening in Hamilton House. During the day, the place is as noisy and crowded as any CP café. Avoid weekends when there is a long wait to grab seats. The midnights are a different matter. The coffee shop then only has a few women and men—you would start recognizing them if you become a regular. For instance, there’s the loner with his book—once I spotted him with Claude Lévi-Strauss, another time with Adam Smith (recently I saw a new face—he was reading Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations). One more regular is a white man with his red moleskine diary—probably a writer. Since past few nights I’m also also noticing two couples who come together—at this hour–with their little children!
It is not unusual to see walk-ins attired in crushed pajamas— sudden coffee cravings must have pushed them out of their beds.
The mezzanine floor shows a panoramic view of CP’s stately white columns. Over here, I always depend on seeing a middle-aged man with his head (always) down on the table as if he is fast asleep.
At this time the silent mezzanine has a mood that helps one to concentrate on the deadlines at hand—I often see people, tapping on their laptops, looking as focused as rocket scientists.
The coffee shop closes at one. To step out of the glass doors and stroll along the empty corridors of CP’s Inner Circle is a memorable finale to the midnight ritual. You walk past the uniformed security guards sleeping on the dusty floor outside the showrooms, past the balloon-sellers holding on to their unsold balloons and barefoot children, past the sleepy-eyed ice-cream cart vendors, and past the happy-looking people, who, like me, are finally heading back to the comfort of their homes.
Better than bar