'Cafe Samovar is where I met my wife, its closing is Mumbai's loss'

They went for their wives and their late fathers, they went for the food and the memories, for selfies and bragging rights; but, above all, they went to say goodbye to an institution the 51-year-old Cafe Samovar

More than half a century since it opened its doors and went on to become one of the favourite haunts of artists, celebrities and the ordinary Mumbaikar alike, Cafe Samovar downed its shutters for the last time yesterday, but not before getting a farewell befitting an icon.

Veteran theatre artiste Dolly Thakore tries to squeeze into her seat, beside Nana Chudasama. Pics/Bipin Kokate and Suresh KK
Veteran theatre artiste Dolly Thakore tries to squeeze into her seat, beside Nana Chudasama. Pics/Bipin Kokate and Suresh KK

The last few days saw a string of people, including Jaya Bachchan, who reportedly frequented Samovar with the Big B during their dating phase, stopping by to not just get a last taste of the cafe’s famous pudina chai and keema paratha, but also to soak in its history and reminisce about the times they had there.

Yesterday saw even longer queues, with young people scrawling messages, taking selfies and reaffirming the cafe’s status as “an oasis for several generations of youth”, as filmmaker Shyam Benegal had memorably called it.

Youngsters leave messages on a wall of the cafe and take selfies
Youngsters leave messages on a wall of the cafe and take selfies

Personalities like Nana Chudasama and veteran theatre artiste Dolly Thakore also made it a point to be at the cafe for one last time, before the city could begin mourning its loss.

A waiter walks out with the last order coming out of Samovar's kitchen mutton masala, paratha and guava juice
A waiter walks out with the last order coming out of Samovar's kitchen mutton masala, paratha and guava juice


Tearing up

Ravindra Mardia said there was no way he was going to miss being at Samovar on its last day, for that is where he had met his wife, Bina. “I have been coming to Samovar since 1970, and its closing is the city’s loss,” said Mardia, who remained at the cafe with his friends till the shutters came down. Tears rolled down the Prabhadevi resident’s eyes as he recalled how the cafe had become an integral part of part of life.


Generational bond

Hussain Qureshi, the cafe’s mutton supplier, said his family had been catering to the cafe for generations, “My grandfather used to supply mutton here, then my father did and I was carrying on the tradition till today. My family has been attached to the cafe for 51 years and it is very difficult to see it get shut.”


‘Hard to swallow’

Prashant Zaveri, who first visited the cafe in 1978 and went at least once a week, said, “I have seen this place growing in both size and popularity. I could never stay away from it. I came here at least once every week and it is hard to digest that it won’t be there from tomorrow.”


A pot of tea for her late father

Dr. Gowri Bharadwaj (left), a resident of Colaba, said, “My father had told me about Samovar and said that nobody makes pot tea like the folks at this cafe, and I couldn’t help but agree after I tasted it. It is sad that they are downing shutters, but at the same time, I am happy that I could come here one last time for my late father.”


Founding family
Devieka Bhojwani (left), theatre personality and daughter of the cafe’s owner Usha Khanna (right), said, “It is indeed sad that the cafe has to be shut even though we tried our level best to work out another way. It is time to say goodbye, and today is a celebration of the years we, at Samovar, have cherished.”


Home away from home

Minoo Daryanani, who hails from Kolkata and lives in Colaba now, said she had visited the cafe for the first time in 2000. “I wasn’t from Mumbai and this place made me feel like home. I had to be here to say goodbye to it.”


Shutting shop, one last time

Manager Mohanan Nambiar shuts the door of the cafe, for good. He had been working there since 1982.

Rustling up delicacies since 1991
Chef Arjun Singh (left), who has been working in Samovar’s kitchen since 1991, said, “Serving people and seeing happiness on their faces here had become a habit.

A bond had developed with many of the customers, who had become our friends. The management and the staff was also like family, and we supported each other not just professionally but also in our personal lives.”

Singh was the oldest chef in the cafe and was known for dishes like paper mutton chops, butter chilly fry, special chips with tartar sauce, and many more. The cafe’s staff will unite one more time, on April 10, to collect their salaries.

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