I may not be the life of the party, but partying is my life. Yes, I write about parties for a living (someone has got to do it) and all this party-pooping and moral policing gives me nightmares, for if the party stops in Mumbai I am finished. I will lose my job and be forced to take up a 9-to-5 job, meaning the conventional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. one, as opposed to the real 9-to-5 I am used to, meaning 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.
Well, it used to be 5 a.m. at the time when nightlife really meant nightlife, party till the break of dawn, and you did not have to vacate the place before 1.30 a.m. In fact, in the good old days (nights) at places like Avalon I would step out wishing I had carried my sunglasses for the morning because sunlight would hit me as I walked out.
There is nothing wrong in partying. It is the right thing to do. For partying is such an educational experience. The things you learn by visiting a bar, pub, permit-room, lounge, nightclub, restaurant and bar, bar & kitchen, beer bar, wine bar, restobar, etc. are just like other lessons in life.
Bars are like people, you either like them or you don’t. And it is people in the bar — or any other party venue for that matter — that make the place. And there is no better place than a bar to do a spot of people-watching. I have met some of my best friends in bars. It is the place to be to enjoy interesting, intelligent and sparkling conversation.
In the old days in permit-rooms that serve booze by the quarter, I have met people from the advertising, media, banking and corporate fields. Bars are a great leveller and lead to communal harmony. Nobody bothers whether you are earning more or less, or own a fancy car or duplex apartment, they are more concentrated on the topic on hand, or rather glass in hand. And with every sip, the decibel level increases but nobody is complaining. Yes, you learn tolerance in the bar.
It’s the place to be to make contacts, to listen to family histories which sometimes can be boring, to hear some juicy gossip which you may or may not repeat to anyone the morning after, perhaps because you have totally forgotten the conversation.
Partying increases your knowledge manifold. For one, you observe how people dress, you gain fashion tips, you see how some people can pull it off, how some people cannot but are just blindly following the latest fashion trends, you catch a glimpse of smart men in sharp suits or colourful attire which is a departure from the world of grey, blue, brown and black. You admire the girls and women in little black dresses, sexy saris and chic creations from some of the best designers in the land and beyond, or perhaps just mix-and-match from Fashion Street.
The learning experience continues. You see bartenders at work, how they pour drinks, how they shake and stir, how they garnish a glass with a little umbrella, which you can save for a rainy day. And you learn the nuances of taste of different brews, wines and spirits. One beer does not taste like another, wines are a whole different world altogether, you can taste various vodkas, gins, rums, whiskies, both Indian and Scotch and single malts, you can have sparkling wine and champagne and liqueurs. And you gain knowledge about cocktails.
You also get a chance to hear various genres of music when you party. You learn to appreciate the sound of house music, Latino tunes at Salsa nights at Shiro and Tote for example, disco and dance music, Bollywood remixes, jive music at Bandra Gymkhana on a Wednesday night, electronica and other stuff. And when there is a DJ you get to see him, or her, in action, scratching and sliding and doing whatever else
My life has been a party all through my working life. Starting with guzzling beer at the now defunct Casbah restaurant and Yacht restaurant in Bandra to chatting with journalism greats like Behram ‘Busybee’ Contractor and K N Prabhu at the Press Club. Then partying took a stylish turn during my drinking nights with my buddy the late Ramesh ‘Happy Birthday’ Sattawalla. He is the man who introduced me to bar-hopping. It was a rum-and-cola trip from one place to another. Our haunts were the Lancers’ Bar and Malabar Bar at the Oberoi, Society at Ambassador, Harbour Bar, Apollo Bar and Rendezvous at the Taj where Walter would sing ‘My Way,’ Supper Club on the 35th floor of the Oberoi with George and the Soft Rock Revolution striking a soulful chord, Talk of the Town and Studio 29. And he, with the battery-operated hand-fans, fancy watches and monogrammed shirts, would wish everyone ‘Happy Birthday’ — from the guest relations girls in the lobby, to the hostesses, bartenders, managers, musicians, doormen and taxi drivers, as he ‘migrated’ from one bar to the other.
Today, looking back, I miss nightspots 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 the joy of most musicians in town, J49 with its disco night on Thursday, Illusions, Copa Cabaana, The Lobby Bar at Sea Rock, Studio, Wild Orchid and Fire & Ice that really redefined nightlife in the city — definitely a blast from the past.
After my bar-hopping nights came the pub-crawling experience as pubs sprouted here, there and everywhere, starting from Rasna, On Toes and Toto’s Garage to KK’s, Grand Canyon, Sheetal Again that turned into Blue Camel, Club IX, Hawaiian Shack, the list goes on. In the old days there were not so many events, so you could do your fair share of bar-hopping and pub-crawling or just lounging around.
Suddenly, the city is packed with events which are actually parties to celebrate art previews, music launches, first look of films, success parties of films that are barely one week old, new collection launches in fashion boutiques, new product or services launches, book releases, food festivals, opening of new restaurants and bars, movie premieres, even birthday parties and wedding anniversaries.
At art previews you learn how not to grimace while you sip lukewarm wine and have a bite of cheese, while you try to look properly impressed as you view the exhibits on the wall. At music launches, you wonder why people are shouting when there is a microphone in front of them. The first look of a film is actually quite a long look but then the movie is obviously much longer, you promise you will see it when it is released, knowing that you won’t ever do so. You are happy for the success of a big-banner film that you have not yet viewed. You listen to book readings and can’t make head or tail of the content. You go for a restaurant launch and end up drinking and not eating, perhaps because they are serving only finger foods on opening night.
Party-events is my main job focus these nights, sometimes it is a case of party-hopping from one end of town to the other, mixing drinks and cuisines (yes, it’s a tough life). The one event that is a must on my work schedule is the twice-a-year Lakmé Fashion Week at Grand Hyatt. While it is basically about the business of fashion, the lounges keep you in good cheer in between shows. It’s the place to be to meet fashion designers, models and the swish set and it all culminates at the grand finale party at China House. Another must on my party schedule is Monday night at Soul Fry for its kicking karaoke. Yes, it’s just another manic Monday and just the other Monday, one saw Siddhartha Mallya on song (he did a decent rendition of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’).
They call me a Page 3 journalist. I don’t call myself anything. All I know is that my day starts at night. When my banker and other friends are returning home, that’s the time I have to get ready for a hard night’s work. I shave in the evening, since if I did so in the morning there would be that stubble at night and it wouldn’t look good at all. I run a comb through my thick moustache and comb my hair in such a way that it looks carefully ruffled with just the right amount of salt-n-pepper strands falling across my forehead.
Then it’s time to don my business attire, meaning bright shirts — flaming orange, parrot green, canary yellow, shocking blue, combined with either dark or light trousers and matching belt. The shoes are usually black or dark brown, mainly because I don’t have any other shoes. And I like to wear socks to match my shirt but sometimes it’s a problem for you don’t seem to get bright men’s socks anywhere.
No, I don’t wear accessories, the only accessory I have is a glass in hand, mostly filled with whisky-soda. It’s my job to drink, if I don’t drink the host will feel bad, the bartenders will feel bad and I will feel bad that I am offending people. One disclosure: my first drink takes approximately 45 minutes and then the acceleration starts. And I have to be on the move, mingling with the guests, saying ‘Long time, no see!’ even though I may have met them the previous night.
If I’m lucky I have only one party a night, otherwise I have to party-hop, which increases my intake of alcohol and also my legwork. Besides the body ache, there is a strain on the eyes particularly during fashion shows — and there seems to be fashion shows at nearly all events around town, not just during fashion week. It’s night duty, night after night, no off nights. But this is my life and I hope nobody takes it away, especially not Mr. Dhoble.
Cheers! So, where’s the party tonight?
Marcellus Baptista is a freelance journalist. He has been reporting on Mumbai’s party scene for three decades.
Who is Vasant Dhoble?
Dhoble is an Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP) who has played party pooper on numerous occasions in the city’s swinging nightlife. With several raids on the city’s restaurants and pubs, he has hit the headlines and has been accused of trying to Taliban-ise Mumbai. Dhoble though, also has supporters.
Petition against Dhoble
Pune-based entrepreneur Tehseen Poonawala on Monday submitted a petition against Vasant Dhoble to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) alleging that raiding eateries in Mumbai under the pretext of unlawful activities, the police are violating the fundamental rights of the victims by assaulting them.