Music, wine and mozzarella at Mumbai’s Royal Opera House
Girgaon, once the cultural heart of old Mumbai, used to resonate with music, art and theatre right up to the middle of the 20th century. As the city expanded, however, it settled into a crumbling time warp. The reopening of the Royal Opera House in October last year injected some of the lost cultural vibrancy back into the neighbourhood. Now, The Quarter, a live performance venue, bar and restaurant that opened at the Royal Opera House on Thursday, promises to bring music back to this locality. A collaboration between musicians Ashutosh “Ashu” Phatak and Ranjit Barot, restaurateur Nico Goghavala and businessman and investor Nakul Toshniwal, The Quarter will feature a live music club, an all-day café, a mozzarella and wine bar and a Louisiana-inspired restaurant.
The space, designed by Abha Narain Lambah, is in keeping with the heritage structure of the opera house. Andy Munro and Kapil Thirwani, the team behind the excellent sound at Mumbai’s performance venue, blueFROG, are aiming to create an equally great sound experience here. Their robust programme began on Friday with a weekend of performances by indie duo Parekh & Singh (who performed at the Royal Opera House on Friday, and will show again at 10pm on Saturday at The Quarter). This will be followed by the Sanctuary At The Quarter festival (from 5-11 November), which will feature photography, documentaries and world music, including a performance by the Grammy award-winning band from Mali, Tinariwen. Lounge spoke with the partners about jazz, cheese, and finding a home at one of Mumbai’s most iconic venues. Edited excerpts:
You started off with a jazz club concept for The Quarter but that has changed to include different kinds of music. How did that shift happen?
Phatak: About a year ago, Nakul came to me and asked me to start a jazz bar. Ranjit and I were working together at the time and we wanted to do something together, so the three of us came up with an initial plan to start a small and intimate jazz venue. Then I met Nico at a party and he said he had found this space and had plans for starting a 1920s-style jazz club. Things just clicked and we all decided to start this place together. While we used the term jazz club, what we hoped to create was an improvised experience through our diverse programming. And improvisation forms the basic essence of jazz. And although we will have nights dedicated to traditional jazz, Live at the Quarter will be a place for musicians and the audience to engage and have conversations.
How did The Quarter find a home at the Royal Opera House?
Goghavala: I wasn’t really looking for a place and it was my dad who forwarded me an email saying that some iconic place in south Bombay was up for grabs. I contacted the broker and he asked me to meet him at the opera house. Over the years, this whole neighbourhood has come to be known as the opera house and when I reached the area and called him, I had no idea that he would take me inside the actual building. There were food and beverage brands from across the country vying for this space and somehow my bid got accepted.
So I had already acquired the space when I met Ashu at a party and told him about my plans for opening a jazz club. And the next day itself, the four of us landed up here. Back then, it comprised one old canteen, lots of mud and a parking lot and took a lot of imagining. Even back then, we imagined different sections. Today that has materialized as our performance space, Live at the Quarter, an all-day diner, Café at the Quarter, a mozzarella and wine bar, Drink at the Quarter, and an alfresco restaurant, Dine at the Quarter.
The Quarter is planning to have live performances five nights a week as well as 100 shows at the Royal Opera House annually. Tell us about your programming.
Phatak: Apart from our music programming, we want to do things like poetry readings, wine-tasting sessions, photography exhibitions, and so on. Both Ranjit and me were very clear about the fact that we didn’t just want to curate bands. We wanted to bring on board our experience as composers and create entire shows for the different acts. We have also planned an artists-in-residence programme where we will bring down a new artist every week and they will do two shows—one big production at the Royal Opera House and another more intimate gig at The Quarter.
Our first artists in residence are pop duo Parekh & Singh, who will perform at the Royal Opera House with a string quartet arranged by Ranjit; their second performance will be a more intimate session at The Quarter. We also want to bring together different genres of artists on the same platform and create exciting productions. There are also plans to host weekly music appreciation classes with live performances as well as specially curated tribute nights.
How will food distinguish the different spaces at The Quarter?
Goghavala: So the Café at the Quarter lends itself well to a pre-show coffee or a quick bite and will be offering a selection of sandwiches and wood-fired pizzas. At Drink at the Quarter, we will showcase a selection of handcrafted mozzarellas from different parts of India—from a cheesemaking priest in Kerala to a specialist farm in Haryana. There will be a large selection of wines by the glass and aperitif-based cocktails. Dine at The Quarter is a Louisiana-style farm-to-table restaurant with locally sourced ingredients, while Live at the Quarter will offer jazz-age cocktails like Manhattans and Rob Roys as well as our own interpretations of them.
Live at the Quarter opened on 26 October; the other spaces will be fully functional by the first week of November.
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