Why one of Mumbai's successful dance bar owners won't open a bar again

A plot in Bhandup that once housed a pulsating, thriving dance bar has made way for a somewhat more ‘wholesome’ establishment these days -- a swanky pure vegetarian restaurant called Gopala’s Bits and Bites.

‘Pure’ and veg: Manoj Shetty outside his restaurant in Bhandup. Pic/Sameer Markande

Meet its proprietor Manoj Shetty, who, for 10 long years before the ban, ran Sadhana Palace dance bar at the spot, where dancers gyrated to film songs and liquor flowed freely -- a far cry from the frankies and faloodas that are doing the rounds within its walls these days.

food for thought: Manoj Shetty outside his swanky pure vegetarian restaurant in Bhandup. Pics/Sameer Markande

Shetty’s family owns the plot since 1985. In spite of the Supreme Court’s judgment to lift the ban on dance bars, Shetty has no intention of revisiting his professional past, happily ensconced in his new profession. In fact, he boldly suggests to other owners not to return to their dance bars, and urges them to try their hand at something that is ‘socially acceptable’.

Shetty had been toying with the idea of changing lanes ever since his mind turned towards the spiritual realm. “It would be wrong to say I didn’t earn while I was running the dance bar, but I don’t know what happened to that money. I couldn’t save a single penny. Deciding to close the dance bar was tough, but by then I had decided that I would earn my livelihood from a more ethical source. So I converted the dance bar into a vegetarian restaurant,” said Shetty.

The metamorphosis -- both personal and professional -- has come at a price. Shetty’s income has dwindled by half since the change of career. “The profits have reduced, but that’s not a worry for me. I am happy that what I am earning is ethical and the feeling is good,” he said.

Before it opened its doors to dancers, Shetty’s bar would host an orchestra. In the early 90s, it was converted into a ladies’ bar. Nearly 25 dancers performed at the bar. When it shut its doors, they scattered, finding alternate jobs. Shetty said, “I am happy with the way my life is going. I may be earning less, but would never go back to something that’s not socially correct. I would even suggest to others to close dance bars and start something else. I don’t sell alcohol, neither do I have it.” 

Another bar that the entrepreneur owns in Kanjurmarg has also been turned into a vegetarian hotel.

Shetty is unhappy with the SC’s judgment, and predicted gloomily that bars will soon litter the city’s landscape, which will lure more impoverished and impressionable girls to a seamy life. “We may not see abject poverty in Mumbai, but there are rural parts of where people still suffer owing to extreme poverty. Thanks to the judgment, many new bars will mushroom, and new dancers will flock here.” 

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