Flashback: How Mumbai partied in yesteryears

A look back at the watering holes and partyquette in the Mumbai of yesteryear

In the good ol’ days, tweet was the sound of a sparrow outside your window, the morning after. Well, the night before was something else. Today, when tweet means something else, it seems fitting to go down memory lane to the hearty party days (nights) of old.

Before rolling in the deep or dancing on the ceiling, we were rocking on the terrace top. Yes, the house terrace was the preferred venue for a party, particularly at the year-end. Chairs would be scattered all around, a two-in-one connected to box speakers, a table laid out for glasses and snacks and, of course, bottles of booze, mostly Old Monk that seemed to be everyone’s favourite tipple, except for the girls who liked shandy (beer with lemonade) or homemade wine bought from one of the aunties of the locality.

While recorded music from the cassettes would be playing, at one point it would be singsong time with gents strumming guitars and ladies crooning their hearts out. You heard that She’ll be coming down the mountain, when she comes, when she comes and Down by the riverside when you met your brown-eyed girl.

The rhythm is going to get you
The rhythm is going to get you

Transforming the party
Forget these homely affairs, the art of partying seemed to have undergone a dramatic change down the years. Those were the pre-mobile phone, pre-internet age, when people took tablets when they had a fever and did not write on them, when you picked up the receiver of a bulky black telephone and phoned a friend to ask him/her out for a party.

Today’s frantic party hopping may leave you shaken or stirred, it all depends on your level of intoxication
Today’s frantic party hopping may leave you shaken or stirred, it all depends on your level of intoxication

Or you wrote an invitation in longhand with a flourish, put it in an envelope and sent it across to the person concerned. Those were the days of printed invitation cards sent via the good old Indian postal service before couriering became popular.

People looked forward to a party because there did not happen every day (in fact, now you sometimes get invited to four parties a night in four different locations and you try and fit in at least two). Of course, today the invites arrive via email or SMS and, unlike the old days, they arrive just one day prior to the date and sometimes even in the morning of the event.

And the party in the old days was a party of family, friends and colleagues with everyone knowing everyone else. It was a personal and intimate affair, guests greeted one another by their names, unlike today when sometimes the guests do not even bother to go up to the host and thank him — and sometimes they don’t even know who is the host since they have been invited by a Public Relations (PR) agency or a friend who has brought a “plus one”.

Yes, today partying is a PR exercise — people go to parties to be seen and heard. They give bytes to TV channels left, right and centre, pose for a posse of photographers, and then run away after registering their attendance, perhaps off to the next shindig amidst yet another media circus.

Every occasion is a party, be it an art preview, first look of a film, music launch of a film, trailer of a film, success party of a film after just one week of screening, boutique opening, restaurant opening, product launches, new fashion collection launch, fashion weeks and even fashion weekends.

Commute is key
In the good ol’ days you were looked up to if you happened to own a car, perhaps a bulky Ambassador. Otherwise, people travelled by public transport, hopping onto buses and trains and taxis if they were feeling rather extravagant. The all-night local train service helped, so did the all-night BEST buses, though you had to wait a long time if you missed the bus.

You did not think twice of walking into permit-rooms that served booze by the quarter, for you could be sure you would strike up intelligent and sparkling conversation with people from all walks of life. There was also a time when you visited an aunty’s joint for country liquor had with a pinch of salt and dash of lime, along with boiled eggs or boiled gram, as you sat alongside advertising executives, airline staff, bankers, hockey players and journalists.

Music lovers did not have to go off to Pune or Goa and get packed like sardines in the audience, for good music meant a visit to Rang Bhavan to listen to bands like Wishbone Ash and artistes like Bob Geldof. Of course, particularly swinging was the Jazz Yatra with a merry mix of musicians from all around the world and jazz lovers of all hues. Like the late celebrated cartoonist the late Mario Miranda who would arrive with wife Habiba carrying a picnic basket with sandwiches and rum to help them make it through the night.

All that jazz
On stage would be the compere Vinod Advani who looked like a jazzy Frenchman (he still does), while Prakash Thadani would offer you a soft seat, what he called ‘Cushioning Jazz,’ Mario would peer at the musicians and then do a quick sketch of the jazzmen and women while music critic Jerry D’Souza would jot down copious notes on his writing pad for an article in Behram ‘Busybee’ Contractor’s newspaper.

Busybee was not fond of jazz, he seemed more of a Beatles and Elvis Presley fan, but he would encourage coverage of the jazzy evenings, much to the delight of his many readers. And partying in the good old days meant meeting all sorts of colourful characters, like Ramesh ‘Happy Birthday’ Sattawalla who introduced me to the joy of bar-hopping.

It was a rum ‘n’ cola trip with halts at Lancers’ Bar and Malabar Bar at the Oberoi, Society at the Ambassador, Harbour Bar, Apollo Bar and Rendezvous at the Taj with Walter singing My Way, Supper Club on the 35th floor of the Oberoi with George and the Soft Rock Revolution and their soulful songs.

The late Sattawalla, the popular PR man of Air-India, would wish everyone a ‘Happy Birthday’ and chat with everyone from the doorman to the manager and the hostess, have his rum ‘n’ cola before migrating from one bar to the other.

He did so with utter clockwork precision, night after night, till he retired and restricted his movements to a few bars, mostly Gallops at the racecourse, for he was also a racing man. And everyone remembered him for his fancy watches bought in Hong Kong, his collection of battery-operated hand fans and his monogrammed shirts.

Man about town
There was also a time for Kishin Mulchandani, one-time party perennial now turned recluse, the man about town at all events and openings (they said that he would be seen even at the opening of an envelope), the man who would change his shirt in his car as he moved from one party to the next.

He posed for photographs, could be a bit loud at times, drank champagne straight from the bottle when he was not having his vodka. While he was one party hearty man, his own parties were particularly memorable. Usually, it was a party to celebrate his birthday held at his restaurant Palkhi or someplace else.

Though there would be quite a few guests it was actually a private and intimate affair where Kishin would meet and greet each and call him/her by name. Some say that he even remembered most phone numbers by heart.

Exclusive is all
They say that Parmeshwar Godrej threw the best parties in town, all very exclusive and exquisite. Gautam Singhania’s year-end parties were also the talk of the town, with the many guests partaking of the very best of food and drink (not necessarily in that order).

And who can forget the Suzie Wong boat parties with host A D Singh, restaurateur and ideas man, the man who gave you Just Desserts with live music and later jazz on the terrace of the Rippon Club, much before he started his popular Olive bar and kitchen chain.

Pubbing and clubbing meant a visit to places like Xanadu, Take Off, Go Bananas, Studio 29, RG’s, 1900s that turned into Insomnia, Cellar, Cyclone, Cavern, Casablanca, Rock Around The Clock, Razzberry Rhinoceros that was our very own answer to Hard Rock Cafe, J49 with its disco night on Thursday that attracted the model and choreographer crowd like Achala Sachdev, Illusions, Copa Cabaana, The Lobby Bar at Sea Rock, Studio, Wild Orchid and Fire & Ice that redefined the concept of nightlife in the city.

The pub wave came with Rasna, On Toes and Toto’s Garage and then spread to KK’s, Grand Canyon, Sheetal Again that turned into Blue Camel, Club Abyss, Club IX, Hawaiian Shack for good old retro music, Boat Club ...it goes on and on.

And so was the time when you could party all night long and not look at your watch for the 1.30 pm deadline or 3 am in the case of five-star hotels. So much so oldtimers would recall exiting Avalon and being blinded by the sunlight!

And before the proliferation of boutiques and online shopping, boys and girls would get ready for the year-end festive season by buying material and then going to their neighbourhood tailor to get new shirts, trousers, suits and dresses made for the dance.

They would also buy new shoes that would be shining and meant for dancing. Of course, at the dances at the crowded Gymkhana by the time they would reach the dance floor they would hear the compere saying, ‘Please relax folks, the band is taking a break.’

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