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If you lived in South Mumbai or went to any of the colleges in the area, chances are you frequented the trendy and timeless Café Mondegar in Colaba. The café is listed in any, and possibly every, travel guide book or tourist map and is thronged with people almost all throughout the day. Mondy’s, as it is fondly called, is universally loved by college kids, youngsters who want to grab a chilled beer, travellers and tourists.
The walls are covered with a wonderful mural painted by the late Goan artist Mario Miranda, and depict scenes from Mumbai. The café has old furniture typical to any Irani café in the city. There is a classic jukebox in one corner and waiters that dance around in perfect symphony, weaving through the crowded tables taking orders.
At night, this place is brimming with people who are eagerly waiting to be seated and, sometimes, you will find the same rush during lunchtime. No matter what time of day, you will find the odd tourist eating a quick meal and reading through his Lonely Planet guide book, or at least a table or two nursing a chilled beer or guzzling their in-house beer towers.
A lesser-known fact is that they also serve a great breakfast: eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, toast, juice or even a spicy delicious kheema ghotala. It is also the quietest time of the day and, in fact, very peaceful except for the occasional college group that has decided to skip their morning classes in favour of eggs and rashes of bacon.
Mondy’s has a charm of its own, but the biggest charmer is the adorable 80-year-old Mr. Rusi Yezdegardi who owns this fine establishment. He might be almost a century old, but he has still got his charm and dazzles you with his smile and stories from back in the day. It is uncanny how almost all the young college kids come bustling in and wave to him, or make it a point to stop and say hello. What is amazing is that, most of the time, he seems to know them by name! “I always like to talk to young folks, you see – it keeps me young,” says Mr. Yezdegardi as he smiles and waves to some other regulars. He is clearly very popular with the guests.
When it comes to the provenance of the restaurant, even the Yezdegardi family is not quite sure. It is hard to say exactly how old the restaurant is; they assume it has been around since 1925 or even before that. It was, however, bought by Rusi Yezdegari’s father in 1932 when they moved from Yezd Iran to Mumbai. Rusi Yezdegari started managing it in 1984 and, today, it is managed by his family. It was his idea to ask his friend artist Mario Miranda to brighten up the space with his colourful mural on the walls, and his love for music is evident with the shiny jukebox sitting proud at the end of the restaurant in mint condition. There are two things that Rusi Yezdegardi wants people to enjoy the most at this restaurant, and it is beer and music. This is something you can sense strongly, as there is always music playing at any time of the day and, believe it or not, they even serve beer in the morning.
While he is no longer able to visit the restaurant daily as he now lives in Deolali, he does come in from time to time to meet his guests and patrons, and is still brimming with ideas for the restaurant. Café Mondegar also has its own customized merchandise with the signature cartoons from the wall on beer mugs, salt and pepper shakers, ashtrays and even T-shirts, which are extremely popular.
While Rusi Yezdegardi might not be able to visit every day, the restaurant patrons that have had the pleasure of meeting him will always remember him fondly. Café Mondegar still draws in a large crowd and continues to be a space unlike any other. Interestingly, ‘mondegar’ means ‘eternal’ in Persian, which seems like the most apt name. If you are visiting Mumbai or live in the city and have never been, take the time to stroll through Colaba and the by lanes of Kala Ghoda to wind up at Café Mondegar for a unique experience.
Follow Roxanne @The Tiny Taster