Girgaum's Cafe De La Paix welcomes customers after long refurbishment process
Girgaum's Cafe De La Paix gets more than a fresh coat of paint and is open to welcoming a new generation of customers
In times when one reads about struggling old Irani cafes, this attempt to breathe new life into one such quaint eatery at Girgaum comes as a ray of sunshine. Back in July, mid-day had reported about Gustad Dinshaw Irani, owner of Girgaum's almost-80-year-old Café De La Paix and his efforts to begin its long refurbishment process.
The old signboard
"The place was screaming for a revamp, the paint was peeling and we needed better lighting and the excellent woodwork was in urgent need of polishing. I had actually been wanting to do this for almost three years now, but nothing materialised," Irani tells us. Early this year, Café De La Paix was also one of the 10 winners in The Surviving Irani Café category at mid-day's The Guide Restaurant Awards 2019, which saw owners of some the most iconic Irani cafes in Mumbai come together on stage for the first time.
A tough task
Irani said he had long been wanting to give his beloved space a sensitised makeover. Being the only child, Irani runs the café on his own and the expenses involved in the renovation compared to the sales at the café always worried Irani. He sought the help of architect Pranay Shah, who lives in his building, to source the right carpenters, plumbers and electricians, keeping the tight budget in mind. "I did not just want to paint everything over, but maintain the essence of the place. The place needs to be allowed to speak for itself, and if you have history, you are duty-bound to keep it safe for youngsters, provided they appreciate and understand the value of such places," he tells us. Irani is extremely proud of the woodwork at the café — Burma teak panels on the walls, and the quintessential bent wood chairs seen at most Irani cafes. The chairs presented another conundrum. Most chairs spotted in the city have bad black polish that hides the natural grain and colour of the wood. Irani wanted to find someone who could help him restore the chairs to their original colour. And serendipitously, furniture designer Kunal Merchant happened to be at the café one day when the chairs were being polished. Merchant had visited the café on multiple occasions before and was introduced to Irani by historian Dr Simin Patel. "Out of curiosity, he buffed the polish in a small section, and applied oil on the wood beneath, and the natural brown colour came to life. I knew he was the man to execute this task," Irani tells us. Since Merchant doesn't regularly work on restoration (and would exceed Irani's budget, too), Irani had to think this decision over but finally convinced Merchant to take up the project. And, as a good omen, the black polish, once taken off, revealed an etching that read 'Welcome' on all the chairs, something that was hidden all these years.
The new interiors of the cafe
Gustad Irani, owner Cafe De La Paix
Irani had always wanted to host quiet gatherings such as book and poetry reading sessions at the 45-seater, but the place being in bad shape, he didn't expect people to take up the offer. He hoped that such events would also mean better income. "New customers and such events would also give me an impetus to create new items for the menu. I have always wanted to do that," Irani says. With the renovation, Irani hopes to get in touch with the right people to host such intimate events, and "give the café back to public for its heritage value".
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