Mumbai’s northern suburbs are the Wild West of city nightlife. Not because the parties there are saloon-crazy, but because its nightlife is a collection of the not-so-good, the bad and the ugly. Be it stadium-sized restaurants China Gate and Grillopolous glowing bright as neon lighthouses or wacked out lounges that look like caves and ice rinks, the bars and clubs tend to be on the tacky side. Which is what makes the northward expansion of such popular south Bombay and Bandra nightspots Wtf!, The Elbo Room, Out of the Blue and Woodside Inn so interesting. It’s a clash of cultures. Can Southern nightspots with specialised dishes and understated vibes fly in regions used to nightspots boasting food menus longer than the Oxford Dictionary and flamboyant decor? We surveyed the brave bar owners on what they’ve learned in heading north by north west.
Drop the hoity toity. Indigo and Mia Cucina are among the few big name restaurants to have made the jump north to Andheri. Kishore DF believes the scarcity of such names is partly because folk in the north have less spare cash and partly because their tastes are still developing. “It is evident [that in the north] people don’t have those kind of palates,” he said. DF also points to the intimidation factor at elite nightspots – the need to dress to the nines and know your Merlots from your Pinot Noir. By contrast, suburban nightspots are mostly casual all-in-one family stops.
This has meant that the first colonisers from the south have tended to be relaxed beer drinking dens. Hawaiian Shack, which recently opened its second club in Juhu on the doorstep of Andheri, is known as a place you can enter dressed any-old-how. Bandra’s The Elbo Room, now opened in Powai, is a straight up beer and conversation bar. And Colaba’s Woodside Inn, now in Andheri, has lovely food but also one of the best pub vibes in the city.
The lack of pretention also has a hidden advantage. It is not hard to look cool compared to the suburban restaurants, according to DF. He points out that while Wtf! is seen as a budget bar in Khar, in Versova it “gets treated as the area’s coolest hangout”.
Be local. Suburban bars don’t get many drop-in patrons from other pin codes. They have to become favourites with the locals. DF believes his Wtf! loyalty programme called My Adda has been crucial. My Adda members get access to special offers and events, which, in Versova, has helped pull a film industry crowd, who in turn have helped popularise the venue.“The people there have a hip vibe, [and] it is the people who make a bar their home that give it its spirit,” DF said.
Be different. Rain Forest restobar has one of the city’s most unique calling cards – its interior looks (somewhat) like a forest. Owner Yash Jaiswal believes you have to stand out to make it in the suburbs. He should know, Rain Forest has three outlets in Belapur, Ghatkopar and now Andheri, and is on the march looking for more. Rain Forest has another trick also. Once it has pulled patrons in to smell the flowers, it keeps them busy by offering every service under the sun. It whips up Indian, Chinese, Italian and seafood dishes, has more happy hours than a bar in Dublin and screens every sporting event possible.
Out of the Blue’s Powai franchise similarly seeks to “please all five senses”. Franchise owner Ambar Mahajan said he built a stage at the front of the restaurant to convert it into an entertainment space for live music, karaoke and DJ performances. Ravi Sharma, owner of The Elbo Room, also believes there is more pressure to differentiate his bar in Powai. He has created a bigger food menu in Powai than Bandra to attract more diners and is spending more on marketing.
Or don’t. Not everyone thinks Mumbaiites are so different from the south to the north. Those who don’t are the brand builders of nightlife, who like to standardise their bars. Sheen Lalwani, owner of Hawaiian Shack, hopes to open standardised Shacks in Powai and Malad. She also refused to raise prices in Juhu when she was told people there had more spending power. “It doesn’t matter where a customer is coming from, they should feel at home and be familiar with the place,” Lalwani said.
The most extensive nightlife chain, Ivy Wine Cafe & Bistro has franchises selling the same wines as far apart as Worli and Versova. Even Rain Forest restobar is looking to take its forests southward into Worli. “I wouldn’t change anything,” owner Jaiswal said.
Is Andheri the new Bandra? Bar owners think so. Wtf!’s DF concludes that midrange bars are already being priced out of the rental market in south Mumbai. Hawaiian Shack’s Lalwani points out that the weight of numbers is already in the north. “All the youngsters who are just starting their careers are moving towards those areas,” she said. Out of the Blue’s Mahajan predicts the northern suburbs will become the city’s heartland of hip within five years. Until then ... have we told you about the wacky nightlife in Andheri?
By Ben Leahy on January 05 2012 6.30pm
Photos by Parikshit Rao