The many legends of Mumbai that went the Cafe Samovar way
With Cafe Samovar calling it a day this week, here’s a look at Mumbai’s iconic nightspots which shut down in the past and took a little bit of the city with them
When a nightspot shuts down it seems like someone has suddenly switched off the light. Well, the light has gone off in so many places around town. With Café Samovar too. doing a finito, here’s a look at some spots that were an inextricable part of the city, which disappeared off the Mumbai map:
Illustration / Amit Bandre
High up on the 35th floor of the Oberoi Hotel at Nariman Point, was the highest nightclub (at that time) of the town. It wasn't a bar, it wasn't a restaurant, it wasn't a discotheque… though you could merrily eat, drink and dance there. It was a graceful nightclub filled with gracious people and an old-world charm. I was introduced to the place by my friend — the late Ramesh 'Happy Birthday' Sattawalla — who took me along on one of his bar-hopping nights around town. 'Happy Birthday' was the cheery greeting by Ramesh, the popular PR man of Air India, to everyone he met.
The days of having a long chat over piping-hot tea at Cafe Samovar will soon be a thing of the past. File pic
It soon became one of my favourite spots, sipping rum-and-cola (my tipple at that time, before whisky-soda) and listening to the soulful sounds of George and the Soft Rock Revolution. This man with his monogrammed shirt would cool himself with his battery-operated hand fan, check the time on one of his fancy watches bought in Hong Kong, before 'migrating' to another bar around town.
Across the Rooftop Rendezvous was Apollo Bar, the highest bar at the Taj. It was one of my must-go places whenever I was on a bar-hopping spree. I would sit onthe barstool, chat with the bartender, sip and savour my drink as I listened to music by Sharmilla Dias on vocals and Montini Vaz on keyboards. And it was one place that I made a friend in the most unlikely of fashion.
I would see this gentleman sitting on a barstool every time I visited the place, but we would never strike up a conversation. One night, I arrived a bit early and sat down on a barstool in one corner. A little later, he arrived and came up to me and told me I was sitting on his seat. I promptly got up and shifted down the line … and that's when we spoke, exchanged pleasantries and soon became friends. He was in the travel trade and I learnt that he had a collection of model aircraft, beer cans and matchbox covers. He drank only beer and we raised a toast on the last day of Apollo Bar and took home a few coasters as souvenirs.
Razzberry Rhinoceros on its seventh anniversary
Fire & Ice
Nightlife was nightlife until Fire & Ice arrived and redefined the concept of nightlife in the city. Nobody dreamt that a nightclub would survive inside what was once a mill. But it not only survived, but rocked and rolled night after night with a long queue of partygoers patiently waiting to get inside. It was a place for the young and the restless, the bold and the beautiful, the movers and shakers. It was High Street Phoenix at its very best with mesmerising music spun by the best DJs of the land, cheer and camaraderie in the air, moves and grooves on the dance floor. Eat, drink and be merry (not necessarily in that order) seemed to be the motto of the night right till its last night.
Yana Gupta performs at Fire & Ice, and Sharon Prabhakar performs with Louis Banks at Apollo Bar File pics
The swing thing was on night after night at this little standalone place at Chowpatty. It was different from the other nightspots in the sense that it specialised in swinging salsa and Latino tracks — much before all these salsa nights and Latino dance classes became popular. There was no room to move but nobody would complain. You just had to be there to feel that incredible vibe as you sipped the cocktails and bit into the tasty hors d'oeuvres. The DJ in attendance was Rohann Nunes, the little boy with that spiky hair, cheerful smile and girls all around. Now, we hear he is spinning his magic in nightclubs around Dubai.
This was India's answer to Hard Rock Cafe— a barn-like place in Juhu Hotel that proved to be an excellent platform for musicians around town. Yes, it was live music every night with musicians given a chance to do their own thing. It was a place where you could hear all genres of music. It was also one of the first places that introduced pool tables on the upper level. And, while in Juhu, honourable mention should also be given to J49, named after its postal address (J for Juhu and 49 for its pin code), noted for its trance music and also disco nights every Thursday under those shiny disco balls.