Ask any diehard Mumbaikar, and they’ll have a Cafe Samovar story to share. That first date. The favourite college hangout (in the pre-coffee shop era). The hurried lunch in between assignments. Chai time on a rainy afternoon. That rare occasion when you spot a celebrity theatrewallah, artist or TV star (DD days) who might have strolled in after checking out the latest show at Jehangir Art Gallery.
As we face the eventuality of having to bid goodbye to Cafe Samovar later this month, the memories and minutes came back in a rush. Reminiscences apart, what’s a matter of huge concern is the reality of having to watch another landmark get erased from Mumbai’s cityscape. This was no mere cafe. It was a great statement that reflected the city’s vibrant, diverse fabric.
A succor for all things that represent the past, it will be a shame when coming generations will never know that such a space existed in the heart of the city’s art district. One that offered solace and sanity amidst the city that whirred past it, just like the tiny wall fans that whirred from the corners of the cafe. It was a haven to numerous, diverse folk from the artsy types, and the jholawallah, the penny-pinching collegian, and the Prada-sporting SoBo socialite even. In fact, it reached out to just about anybody who fell in love with the space, and felt the urge to return for the no-frills, yet warm experience. Society, class, money and reputation didn’t matter. It offered the Mumbaikar and the out-of-towner the same charm, with oodles of warmth.
This journalist made umpteen trips to Samovar and yet, cannot recall even one instance when the staff would rush her to leave, despite having occupied a table for hours together, sipping cups of pudina chai or slow-eating their famous kheema parathas or mutton cutlet luncheons. Also, and oddly enough, in today’s day and age, as we demand longer hours for our restaurants and nightspots, Samovar’s timings (it shuts at 7pm) were hardly a deterrent.
Cafe Samovar was a slice of Mumbai served hot, with no-frills and yet whipped up dollops of warmth and geniality unlike any other eating space in the city.
Farewell Cafe Samovar. See you on the other side. In another avatar, we hope.
The writer is Features editor of mid-day