It was all falling into place. Sanjay Dutt was sentenced to six years of rigorous imprisonment, Urmila was doing a jig on TV in whatever Ram Gopal Varma’s take on Sholay was called, and we were sitting at Thugs at Hotel Broadway in Daryaganj.
For a journey through New Delhi’s drinking holes, Thugs is not a bad place to start at, situated cheek by jowl with the Delhi Stock Exchange building, which has been lying defunct since 2004. I had last been to Thugs in 2001, and it was one of the first pubs we reviewed when we began www.tulleeho.com. The place hasn’t aged a bit, with the menu still full of names such as Boss Shetty Bik Gaya and Kaalia (you guessed it right, rum and coke) and with the same old Hindi film villains on the wall. With New Delhi lacking the free and easy permit room or bar-cum-restaurant culture of Mumbai or Bangalore, Thugs is as close to a dive as you can get in New Delhi.
To venture further south into dive territory, you need to walk about in Paharganj, looking for places that serve booze and female companionship, not necessarily in that order. The fact that Thugs is in the same hotel as Chor Bizarre—New Delhi’s famed Kashmiri restaurant—is enough to give it quasi-respectability, but nobody told that to the odd assortment of people scattered around the joint. A couple of men were discussing movie scripts with aplomb, another two were discussing rice prices at the mandi and a loner, seated in a corner, seemed to be contemplating an assassination over his brandy and soda. There were no women. Thugs is a place where men can (and will) be men. Boys aren’t served; two sub-25 striplings were gently evicted once.
If Thugs marks out a certain drinking territory in New Delhi, then the main bar at the Delhi Gymkhana Club—which was our next stop—does the same. The Gym, as it is called, wasn’t in full throttle; it was a slow day. The bar, however, had recently been renovated and looked the better for it. The Gym happens to have one of the few bars in New Delhi where the audience profile changes through the week.
On a typical weekday, you’ll find mostly 50-plus men who sip their whiskies and call the abdars (which is how the waiters are still known here) for incessant rounds of masala peanuts while watching cricket on the large flat screen on one of the walls. Through the week, the various specimen one can spot here are: retired or soon-to-be government servants, businessmen and rowdy ex-Sanawarians—40 years out of school and looking none the worse for it.
On a Thursday night, the signature night of the Gym, the scene changes: the bar is taken over by nubile young things and their dates. It’s a strange kind of attraction, like moths to a flame, as despite the mushrooming of nightclubs and lounge bars, Thursdays at the Gym are still a preferred destination, with its unique mix of people, cheap booze and heritage ambience. Most Delhiites, as you might know, are snobs. But on Saturdays, the young and the old, male and female, flock to the main bar, with the abdars often having to fight off patrons at closing time.
I don’t know how to air-kiss. Whenever someone proffers me a cheek, I kiss it (or parts thereof). This next destination is an air-kisser’s hub. Tabula Rasa (meaning “clean slate” in Latin), is the latest place to have captured New Delhi’s imagination and wallets, with its rumoured monthly sales having risen to stratospheric heights. Tabula Rasa is chicly designed, reminiscent of Bangalore’s Taika and Hyderabad’s Ahala, with a seating area around a mini water body, which acts as a hang-out zone.
Tabula came at an opportune time—it attracted all Delhiites who were running around like headless chickens when Olive was sealed (it would be interesting to see what happens in the next few months, since Olive has reopened in a different avatar at Saket). Tabula’s got interesting décor, a nice (but tiny) alfresco area (great for a New Delhi winter evening), the staff oozes attitude, the drinks are good, but expensive. It has a rocking ladies’ night on Wednesdays, and still has the novelty of “small plate” food, which essentially means it can serve small portions, charge the same price and get away with it.
I recently read about the town of Oulu in Finland, which hosts the World Air Guitar Championship. But closer home, if you ever had to have an air-kissing championship, we know what the venue would be. I won’t be competing though.
Minakshi Singh contributed to this story.
Vikram Achanta is co-founder and CEO of www.tulleeho.com, a website about alcoholic drinks and consultancy firm for the beverages industry.
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