Portuguese era taverns dying a slow death in Goa

Panaji: Traditional taverns belonging to the Portuguese era are fighting a losing battle against the onslaught of modern bar and restaurants in Goa.

Figures from State Excise department show that now only 160 taverns are left in Goa and their number is dwindling with every passing year. Taverns are traditional liquor outlet exclusively selling country liquor like Feni and were highlights of the village or city nightlife till the 80s in Goa.

"It was in 1984 that the then state government opened up opportunities for taverns to be converted into Bar and Restaurant. They needed to have toilets and facilities to serve Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL)," said State Excise Commissioner Menino D'Souza. What happened after that was a mad rush to convert taverns into Bars and Restaurants encashing on the requirement of customers who wanted their daily dose of liquor in a better place. D'Souza said even if people take fresh licences for taverns, they won't survive.

"Taverns were usually serving only country liquor. There used to be a small window where you can shop for your drink and then drink it sitting on a bench. There were no chairs or desks," says Mahendra Alvares, a heritage activist who showcases Goa's past through his venture 'Big Foot' located at Loutolim village, 40 kms away from Panaji.

Alvares relates the steady reduction of taverns to customers' taste for IMFL.

"The consumption of country liquor went down and people started preferring IMFL...that is where demand for Taverns also saw a decline," he said. Alvares, who has set up a model of tavern at his Big Foot exhibition venture, says the mud houses where taverns were located have also become crumbling structures or they have been replaced with concrete structures leaving no room for these Portuguese-era liquor outlets. But the scene is not still not that gloomy for taverns.

Greg Fernandes, a musician by profession, is one of those who has retained the tavern tradition. "My father had this Tavern from Portuguese time. Since then business is going on. You can't say its in loses but its not rosy as it was in the past," says Greg, who is known for his "One Man Band" which plays for family and social events. Greg's father, Gaspar, who was also a musician, used to run this tavern in Panaji market till 20 years back before it was handed over to his son. The tavern has undergone some changes as it now boasts of a flat screen colour television set and few chairs. "The place was crowded when Goa Medical College (GMC) was situated next to Panaji market before it was shifted to Bambolim. Now we have only friend circles who drop in for their daily dose," says Greg, who has named his tavern as 'Viva Liquor Shop'.

Greg's business neighbour, Jose Pereira who used to run a tavern next door in Panaji market died last year after a massive heart attack. The place is now run by his friend Chandrashekhar Naik. "I am running this place for last 11 years. One of my friend had taken this place on rent from Jose when he was alive," says Naik. He says the business is not that great. Naik and Fernandes are few of the last soldiers of this rich tradition which is gradually dying.

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