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The first restaurant (if I can call it that) I ever ate at in Bengaluru was Koshys. This was in 2003. It had no décor to speak of, but what it had was an ambience. There were old pictures of the city among a few others on the walls, an aquarium between the restaurant and the kitchen, old tables and chairs covered with checked tablecloths – which would be placed only if you ordered a meal; you wouldn’t get that for coffee or beer – and waiters who would take their time with you. They allowed smoking in the café section back then, and the smoke-filled room which was not small by any measure, had a charm that remained even after the ‘no smoking’ board came up years later.
Not much has changed since then, except for the fact that I might get a smile or two from the servers after having downed endless cups of ginger lemon tea, plates of smileys and cream of chicken sandwiches.
The second restaurant I visited was Sunnys on Lavelle Road; I was told that it was extremely important to eat here if you wanted to understand the city. Sunnys always had a calming effect on me. Again, not much paraphernalia prettied up the place, but it had general cheer, clean linen, and sparkling crockery – it had a beautiful European bistro-like setting that rarely changed over the years, till they moved to a new space recently. But it is still a lovely looking place, the credit for which probably goes to the old bungalow they are housed in at the moment.
And then there was Dewar’s Bar – a bar that allowed people to be whatever they chose to be.Till the time it closed down in 2010, Dewar’s was the go-to place for many a Bangalorean – for a drink or two and snacks with friends. It was a place where you could not impress anyone with posh clothes or an attitude.
What worked back then and works for me even now, was the sense of familiarity that some of these places exuded the minute you walked in. It could be a fine-dining restaurant or a rundown café, but you never felt like a stranger. For a newcomer trying to make a new city their home, these things mattered.
Today, a pub is not complete without a DJ or a quirky décor. It is not considered ‘trendy’ unless it has something worth remembering, because most often the food and beverage would be forgettable. I find it odd that I can remember the plate of mixture on my table at Dewar’s, but not what I ate at the last pub I visited.
Social, SodaBottleOpenerWala, The Open Box, The Lost Caravan, My Bar Lounge & Restaurant, the newly-opened Three Dots and a Dash, and Sotally Tober, as well as some of the older ones like Cable Car, Jalsa and so on, have a lot to do with the way pubs and restaurants look these days. For me, Monkey Bar was the first – its deliberate grungy look, almost careless, made it one of the most popular hang-out places when it opened. Plus, they used the term ‘gastro bar’, which was so trendy back then. I loved the idea of sitting on wooden benches and drinking out of jam jars. I might not want to eat out of prison plates or tiffin boxes though. The Open Box has a typewriter in a corner at one of the sections of the restaurant. You cannot type out love letters there, but I do think it is a nice touch. They have other stuff as well – old advertising posters and a massive world map on the walls, and so on. At SodaBottleOpenerWala, I love the little toy train that runs all over the restaurant on a line suspended from the ceiling; you are almost compelled to stare at it as you wait for your order.
The new City Bar on MG Road has this whole street look, and you might think you are standing on the road and drinking. My Bar Lounge & Restaurant in Koramangala resembles a ship, while The Black Pearl is designed after the Pirates of the Caribbean. Church Street Social has this whole industrial look about it, whereas The Lost Caravan has found the decorative qualities of wall clocks. Some of these places are so pretty that you do not care whether you ate badly made prawns there or drank a watered-down cocktail. The visual distractions work wonders. And then I had this thought: if Dewar’s were still alive, what would it look like now? Methinks the old sofas and the plain bar counter, and the musty fragrance as you walked in, would be trending on social media all the time. And then there is Toit, which is not my favourite place though. It has decent furniture and some art on the walls, is spread across three floors, nothing hangs from anywhere to make you go ‘wow’, and you can rarely ever find a table there. Energy – that is what works best. To me, that is the best decorative piece.
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Priyadarshini is an independent journalist from Bengaluru whose life pretty much revolves around food, good music, literature, and cinema. She’s worked with different publications over the past 10 years, and has written about travel, theatre, films, books, music, food and lots of food! She’s travelled wherever her feet and budget would allow, discovering cultures through local palates and social behaviour, and in an ideal world would probably resort to using food and music to resolve any dispute.