Get your fix of cheap booze, lip-smacking food at this Bandra bar
A new bar on Bandra's Linking Road hits the right spot with its cheap booze, lip-smacking food and unpretentious ambience
The one thing, above all else, that defines a dive bar is a lack of pretentiousness. It's not just about cheap pricing. It's also not about a no-frills menu. And nor is it all about dingy interiors. A dive bar, instead, is about that waiter who shoves your drink in front of you without any needless exchange of pleasantries.
It's about the group of men sitting at the next table drinking hard liquor mixed with water, huddled together in conversation while munching on chakna. And, crucially, it's about feeling a sense of belonging in an establishment that passes no judgment on the clothes you wear, the company you keep, or the type of booze you ask for. The equation, in fact, is simple - drink and eat to your heart's content, but then vacate the table for the next patron.
So, given that parameter, is it fair to classify Quarter Canteen (QC) as a dive bar? That's the question we ask ourselves when we visit the new watering hole on a Tuesday night. The first thing that strikes us is the Bollywood-themed decor. It borders on being kitschy, with lines like "Aao kabhi haveli pe" plastered on the walls. But the dim lighting saves it from being over the top. The customers inside include a group of middle-aged men catching up on serious issues, a couple in a corner exchanging sweet nothings, and two college kids sharing a laugh. And we choose a table on one side before asking the waiter - who displays a curious mix of attentiveness and boredom - for a bottle of Kingfisher to kick things off.
Chicken Malai Tikka
This bottle is priced at Rs 265 for 650 ml. That's half the price at other establishments in the area that can leave you feeling as financially useless as a demonetised note, after a single night out. What's more, a peg of Old Monk costs just Rs 49. And while we are usually not big on cocktails, preferring to stick to the basics, a price tag of Rs 199 compels us to ask for a tharra colada.
Flipping through the food menu next, it turns out to be a comprehensive mix of Indian and Chinese dishes. But before we peruse it at leisure, we ask for a quick fix of masala papad (Rs 40) to get rid of the hunger pangs afflicting us. It arrives in double quick time thankfully, and the lightly spiced topping of diced onions and tomatoes haven't rendered the papad itself soggy. Which is just as well, because any place that doesn't get its masala papad right isn't worth writing home about.
The other dishes we ask for are murgh malai tikka (Rs 280) and dilli wala butter chicken (Rs 300), paired with garlic naan and lachcha paratha. Now, we have long maintained that finding a proper, son-of-the-soil butter chicken in Mumbai is like finding a snobbish townie at a lunch home in Kanjurmarg. So, we are gobsmacked that QC's version actually justifies its "dilli wala" tag. And the malai tikka is even better. It's got a noticeable layer of cream dripping from the chicken, and the meat is so soft that you could mistake its texture for paneer if you didn't know better.
So, in the end, every aspect of our evening at this joint hits the right spot. There is actually a special place in our heart for no-nonsense drinking establishments. If you compare them to a human being, they would be the sort of person who'd have zero qualms in calling a spade a spade. But does QC qualify as a dive bar? The answer is, yes, it's got the heart of one. So what if the place is a tad too gentrified? It ticks off all the other boxes - cheap prices, simple wholesome food, unpretentious ambience and a waiting staff that would rather drop dead than ask inane questions like, "So, how did you like the food, sir?" And that's why we will probably head there when we are next in the Linking Road area, instead of burning our money at a tony rooftop bar.
TIME: 9 am to 1.30 am
AT: 35th Street, Linking Road, Bandra West.
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