As I stab my vodka with a stirrer in a valiant attempt to understand what I am doing inside the Soviet-chic interiors of the Volga at 1 o’clock on a weekday afternoon, the waiter having a bad hair day brings me my second glass of something that the drinks menu insists is White Mischief.
Ah, yes, now I remember. I am here because this restaurant (sic) brimming with low-life conviviality (read: grouchy waiters, sooty wood panels and about-to-be decommissioned low-level R&AW agents) has Happy Hours that extend from midday to 8.30 in the evening. In other words, this Connaught Place dive has fine-tuned the low art of squeezing the unproverbial Unhappy Hours—where one has to actually pay in accordance to what’s printed on the menu—to a small three-hourish duration.
Despite how scientific propaganda categorizes alcohol as a depressant, the effect that Happy Hours has on a lot of people can only be described in the following sophisticated manner: Eesh absholutely delitshful! But just to make life more interesting, the timings that mark Happy Hours in Delhi’s bars and restaurants depend on which bar or restaurant you’re plonked in.
There are some out-and-out con jobs. Like the revolving restaurant, Parikrama, on Kasturba Gandhi Marg. It’s hardly the Oberoi that one enters when one skids to a stop at a table. But Happy Hours means a 20% discount on a rather steep base price. So one only gets the illusion of a vaguely discounted glug, as the bill pretty much matches Unhappy Hours expenses made anywhere else. Amber, again in Connaught Place, doesn’t even revolve—and once one includes VAT and service charges, one realizes that for a couple of drinks one has been presented a Rs6 discount. (Just so that cosmic balance is not disrupted, you can leave a Rs2 tip.)
Happy Hours for the happy person, of course, means only one thing... actually, make that a one-plus-one thing: You buy one and get one free. All reputed watering holes respect this bifocal tradition. Whether it’s the uppity TGIF and Turquoise Cottage, where you can actually take a ladyfriend along without having to use the excuse of being a sting journalist, or the dinge ’n’ binge arenas in Defence Colony Market like the 4s Bar and Restaurant, Happy Hours make them destinations where the space-time continuum is of utmost importance.
The term Happy Hours first came about in the US Navy—and has nothing to do with the Village People’s 1979 hit, In the Navy—in the 1920s. It simply referred to the ‘happy hour’ when the sailors were off-duty and indulged in getting pissed. The term took a slightly different turn during the Prohibition era when Americans would have ‘Cocktail Hours’ or ‘Happy Hours’ at speakeasys, underground drinking joints, before settling down to a ‘dry’ dinner at home.
Clearly, not everyone approves of the happiness involved in Happy Hours as countries like Ireland have banned it to crack down on binge drinking. And I believe that the state of Gujarat will have nothing of it even if you agree to not insist on the 1+1 ‘luxury’. But every time I stand outside The Taste of China at CP, waiting for my watch to clang into its customary 4pm formation, or hurtle towards Chona’s at Khan Market, hoping to swing through its door before Happy Hours dies on me a second after 8.30pm, I realise that the thrill is not in amassing a neat pile of wealth by getting two drinks for the price of one, or four drinks for the price of two, or six drinks for the price of three... but in being at the right place at the right time—not necessarily with the right beverage though.
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