Delhi Nightlife for Mint

Mint came up with a great headline for this piece.  Reminds me of Gerald Durrell’s books. Read it below or click the link.

A Phantom and Other Nocturnal Animals

  • Columns
  • Posted: Thu, Aug 25 2011. 9:58 PM IST
A Phantom and other nocturnal animals
There is one thing that we Bangaloreans mourn: the 11.30pm curfew by which the bars and restaurants close. To watch Delhiites revel way past our curfew time gave me Delhi-envy

The Good Life | Shoba Narayan

I got Delhi-envy at 1.43am on a soft summer night when I met a man called Honey. The evening began at 10pm at an art gallery opening. Hotelier Priya Paul (whom I had first met a week ago) and her friends, Vivek Sahni and Nikhil Khanna, were going out with a group of friends and they invited me to come along. The group included a contemporary artist-couple, a gallery owner, some expat curators, a design guru and some advertising folk. Some 15 of them debated about where to go and ended up choosing Boombox Café, a bar in Khan Market.

 

Feel the pulse:At Lap, a lounge bar in New Delhi owned by actor Arjun Rampal. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

Feel the pulse:At Lap, a lounge bar in New Delhi owned by actor Arjun Rampal. Photo by Pradeep Gaur/Mint

 

Delhi, I discovered, dines at 11pm. Boombox was full of people. We all squeezed into a corner booth and spent the next couple of hours smoking fragrant sheesha and drinking everything that was on offer. Sahni, I learned, owned an eponymous design firm and was co-founder of Kama Ayurveda, whose products I use on my head in the hope of growing hair. I complained that his products were not fragrant enough. We debated the merits of fragrance versus benefits in massage oils; and the metaphysical question: Why do things that are good for you, such as Dead Sea mud and Ayurvedic potions, smell so bad? I am sure both of us made valid points—if only I could remember them. I was concentrating on grabbing the sheesha pipe that kept disappearing. “Do you realize that it is all the ex-smokers who want the sheesha-fix?” asked the lady-sculptor with a British accent. 

Two hours later, there was another spirited debate about where to go. We ended up outside Cibo at Janpath and were told that nobody would be allowed in. “Gudda” (fashion designer Rohit Bal) was in the house, said the bouncer, and they were turning people away. Sahni walked up and whispered something to him. The doors opened. Paul and I seemed to be the only two women in the compound. Bal, who co-owns the place, held court in the open courtyard, offering drinks, discussing his fashion show and introducing the male models who surrounded him. One particularly handsome man introduced himself as Honey.

 

The old-world charm of Hard Rock Café attracts many Bangaloreans. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

The old-world charm of Hard Rock Café attracts many Bangaloreans. Photo by Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

 

Everyone around chuckled. Unbelievable, said Paul. Can’t be your real name. 

It is, insisted Honey. “His full name is Honey Makhni,” said Bal amid much laughter.

Then it struck me. It was 2am on a Saturday night. Cibo was full of men enjoying “boy’s night out”. Vodka shots were being downed; techno music that sounded like a heartbeat on steroids was being pumped through the sound system. The ladies room was taken over by men making out behind the partitions. An editor from GQ walked by, clad in a white kurta-pyjama, air-kissing everyone in sight. Toto, I told myself. I have a feeling we aren’t in Bangalore any more.

There are two kinds of people in the world. Some are rabid city patriots. Listen to south Mumbai types talk about their city and you’ll know what I mean. Others are oblivious to place. They can be happy anywhere. I used to be rabid. I once refused to date a man because he made the mistake of dissing my hometown. I am different now. After living in Bangalore for the last five years and learning to love this city, after exploring Mumbai and Delhi in a fairly intense way and learning to love their quirks, I’ve morphed into the kind of person who, I think, could be as happy—or unhappy—in any metro.

That said, there is one thing that we Bangaloreans mourn: the 11.30pm curfew. Bars and restaurants close before Cinderella got home. They kick us out. To watch Delhiites revel way past our curfew time gave me Delhi-envy.

Around 2am the police came. The bar could stay open, they said. But the music had to stop. I watched a Delhi version of what we Bangaloreans complain about every weekend. “What’s the point of keeping open a bar without music?” said Bal, wringing his hands. I felt a twinge of perverse and juvenile joy. Take that, Delhi. Now you know how we feel.

 

If you want to listen to live music, Blue Frog is the place to head to in Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

If you want to listen to live music, Blue Frog is the place to head to in Mumbai. Photo by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

 

Cities have rhythms. Chennai comes alive at 6am, Bangalore at 11am, Mumbai at 8pm and Delhi at midnight. For a visitor, Mumbai’s vibe is casual. Whether you are quaffing beer at Leopold Café along with a room full of delirious tourists, enjoying the view atop the Dome at the Intercontinental Marine Drive with your sweetheart and a Cosmopolitan, listening to live music at Blue Frog, doing the—what’s it called—dubstep at Bonobo, drinking Suleimani chai with the intellectuals at Prithvi Theatre’s café, or ending the night at Zafran, Mumbaikars have the worldly sophistication of having seen everything and been everywhere. They are glad you are visiting their fair city but you know what, they get immigrants every day, so have a great night, amigo. But get caught without a cab on your way home and the same Mumbaikar who appeared nonchalant, almost offhand, will insist on dropping you home with an equally casual, “Don’t be silly. Get in the car.” 

The best of Chennai’s nightlife happens in the farmhouses lining ECR (East Coast Road). The setting is magical—swaying coconut palms, the Arabian Sea, water that has been warmed by the blistering daytime heat to encourage skinny dipping, and lots of hard liquor. Chennai folks hold their drinks either very well or very badly. You sweat out your hangover the next day and build tolerance.

Bangalore has some great places. Take 5 in Indiranagar has live acts by musicians Radha Thomas and Amit Heri, who are very good, perhaps because Take 5 is co-owned by singer Arati Rao. Although I despise franchises, Hard Rock Café in Bangalore is housed in a lovely building. Opus, owned by Carlton and the late, great Gina Braganza, is an old favourite. Newer outlets such as Sky Bar, Bacchus, F Bar and Cloud 9 are popular with college students. But none of them have the sprawling spaces that I saw in Delhi.

The next stop in Delhi was Lap, where actor Arjun Rampal—still handsome—was spinning discs when we entered. In the VIP area, fashion designer Suneet Verma and co-owner A.D. Singh chatted with Paul and exchanged hugs and Delhi gossip. Vineet Jain of The Times of India group came by to chat. More gossip. People thronged the outside garden and everyone seemed to know each other. That’s the other thing. Both Cibo and Lap have lovely outdoor spaces, something I haven’t seen in space-starved Bangalore.

Close to dawn, we stumbled out. There was a line of pretty young things, clad in miniskirts, waiting for their cars. One 20-something said hello to Paul, who didn’t recognize her. A minute later, her car rolled up. It was a Rolls-Royce Phantom. The girl’s escort got into the driver’s side beside her and they pulled away, waving at us. How can you not remember a girl who owns a Phantom, I asked.

Who’s that girl, asked Paul. And then I had my only-in-Delhi moment of the night. “Oh that,” said the bouncer in Hindi. “That’s Pooja bhabhi.”

Apparently the girl got the Phantom as a wedding present. Only in Delhi.

I have never seen a Rolls-Royce in Bangalore, and you know what? I am kind of proud of it. We have our nouveau riche in Bangalore too, but the new rich play it quiet in Maruti Swifts.

The next weekend, I was at Kyra, a bar in Bangalore, where the Nathaniel School of Music’s students played a gig. Grey-haired grandmothers in Parsi-embroidered saris sat around tables eating chilli chicken. Bindi-sporting mothers held up video cameras to record their children’s performances. Square fathers shook their hips and tried to act cool. Children ran around. The only thing missing was a wailing baby. It was a world away from the edgy hipness of Lap but it felt like home.

Shoba Narayan loved her Delhi noir experience. She cannot wait to go back. Write to her at thegoodlife@livemint.com