The party is back at Tote bar
Having taken a year's break, Mahalaxmi's iconic Tote Bar is reinventing itself as Tote Talli, hoping to attract more millenials
Somnath Bhattacharya, chief operating officer, deGustibus Hospitality, is one of the handful of people who have seen the iconic Tote Bar at Mahalaxmi Racecourse minus the blackout shades on the windows. The tints were installed to block the beaming disco lights from drawing unwanted attention. "Recently, when we lifted the blinds, my staff was surprised to see sunshine streaming in," he says.
"They had never seen the place so bright." One of the city's oldest and most pulsating nightclubs, Tote Bar has seen party goers, mainly well-heeled working professionals, make a beeline to the leafy outpost on weekends.
After a decade, the venue is set to shed its "exclusive" avatar in favour of something more, for lack of a better word, millenial. The last party that Tote Bar hosted was in October 2018. "Traditionally, we've attracted the 35-plus crowd. We want to lower the age bar and stay relevant."
After close to a year, it's not only been rechristened Tote Talli, but has also been revamped to appear more relaxed and welcoming with its polished teak wood veneer and tall glass windows.
Kerala chicken wings
"Being a club, the acoustics were already in order. What was needed was to amp up our offerings and offer reasonable prices to draw in crowds on a daily basis as opposed to only on weekends," he says of Tote. From a largely barren space where you could dance until sunrise, the mezzanine floor now has seating space suited for everyone—booths, bar stools, sofas, chairs and tables. The space is oddly elongated, which was a challenge, Bhattacharya admits. "It helped to have a high cathredralesque ceiling so it doesn't get overwhelming."
Stepping into the already overcrowded market segment of restobars required a great amount of confidence in the product, he adds. The team spent a year gleaning customer inputs while hosting banquets on the ground floor. "We wanted to know what youngsters want and accordingly build a flavour profile," he says. The research reinforced the famous Indian penchant for spice and all things khatta meetha.
So, Bhattacharya and his team of chefs are placing their bets on an exhaustive array of cocktails. Beside conventional wines, spirits, liqueurs, and beers, it's the 'folk-tails' section that the kitchen crew has heavily invested in.
The drinks have been crafted using a gamut of Indian ingredients such as tamarind, kokum, jaggery, kala khatta, and spices to give that additional edge to the drinks. The stand-out element in most of the cocktails are the chillies.
Chakna bento box
"We use a lot of it while cooking, so we thought why not extend the same flavours to our cocktails?" says Bhattacharya. If the Khatta Meetha contains spiced rum, tamarind, ginger, honey, the Mirchi Seth is a vodka-based cocktail with Bhavnagiri chillies and fresh mint.
"We had to be careful about ensuring that dominant flavours do not overshadow other elements. The key was balance," he says. We sampled the spiced cocktails and it's in the aftertaste that the flavour of chillies is most pronounced. It's more of a warm, soothing sensation than wanting to reach for the tissues.
Tote Talli opens to public on Sept 9
With the aim of making it a neighbourhood bar, chakna has been given its due. Here, Tote has you covered. There's an entire bento box dedicated to chakna comprising a range of papads, peanuts and chaklis.
"Nowadays, in bars, the major focus is on making and presenting things 'for the 'gram', with very little emphasis given to taste and quality. The chefs have really worked on the food menu." From basil pesto chicken flatbread and mutton baida roti to burrata with spinach crisps and rataloo (sweet potato) kasundi, there's something for everyone.
Somnath Bhattacharya, chief operating officer, deGustibus Hospitality, and chef Sanjay Sutare. Pic/Suresh Karkera
Curiously, the spice trail doesn't stop at cocktails and starters but extends to the desserts as well. At Bhattacharya's insistence, we try the chocolate jalapeño ganache, which is decadent, earthy with a slightly spiced flavour. "We want people to be talli, but also to fondly remember what they had."
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