Sunday, December 3, 2017

Can Marol be cool again? This Mumbai suburb is getting a nightlife to boast of

It's 25-year-old Gazal Chanana's first time at Rodeo Drive. But, seated at a bar table with high stools near the "bull" that she's already ridden thrice (and fallen off as many times), sipping a cocktail on a Ladies' Night, she's sure that she's returning soon. For her or her companions, Aniket Akhade, also 25, and Priya Kanchanbaras, 36, the American-themed gastropub that opened this April at the Peninsula Redpine Hotel in Marol village on Andheri-Kurla Road, isn't exactly a hop-skip-jump from their workplaces on SV Road in Andheri West, or their homes — from Dadar to Mira Road. It took them a 25-minute auto drive to reach here. "Yet, heading to Lokhandwala in Andheri West, would take us more traffic time, and here the alcohol is cheaper," says Akhade. The three friends work at a private institution. With several drinking spots that have sprouted in just the past one year between Marol Metro Station and Saki Naka metro Station, and venues like Stables and The Finch, (the latter a little ahead on Saki Vihar Road), nightlife in Andheri East looks like it's getting a long-awaited CPR.

In the last one year, bars, breweries and restaurants have started mushrooming on Andheri-Kurla Road, competing for visibility amidst the perennial traffic. PIc/Sameer markande
In the last one year, bars, breweries and restaurants have started mushrooming on Andheri-Kurla Road, competing for visibility amidst the perennial traffic. Pic/Sameer markande

Not a pretty place
When Ashutosh Pande, founder and chairman of Bajaao (India's largest online retailer for musical instruments, which once had its office in Andheri East), describes the area as a not-so-pretty place, he is putting it mildly. Walk along the Andheri-Kurla Road, and you will be battling for space with automobile drivers who use the road that connects the central suburbs to the west. The pavements that do exist have paver blocks falling off grid at random places and pipes sticking out of some underground labyrinth. Compare it to Bandra and Lower Parel, and it's definitely not what you have in mind when you think "party place". Yet, there was once a time when Andheri East played an important role in defining the city's nightlife culture.

A gig at B69 in Andheri East, which in the post-Razzberry Rhinoceros era, became the venue for indie music, especially metal bands
A gig at B69 in Andheri East, which in the post-Razzberry Rhinoceros era, became the venue for indie music, especially metal bands

For starters, there were landmark venues like Blackout (at Hotel Host-Inn) and Grand Canyon (in Hotel Kumaria Presidency, where Peninsula Redpine now stands), which by staying open till 6 am, attracted the party crowd that wanted the night to continue. Major C aka Chandu, of Mumbai band Bombay Bassment, who started DJing in 1993, says that after the Bandra-Juhu clubs shut for the night at, say 2 am, the crowd would gravitate to Andheri East. Chandu, who played at Grand Canyon, remembers the venue playing international music. "We were members of an international community of DJs and would source records from the West. This was a time before streaming, so it was quite an achievement."

Russell Mendonsa, 44, remembers Blackout in 1994 as an underground venue with only the basics. No décor, only a signboard that announced the name, and UV lights. "But, it had a great sound system. And, in its post 12.30 am avatar, it became home to techno music and would run to a packed house. And, people would come from all over the city. Models, dancers and actors formed the celebrity crowd that would groove here till 6 am. We even had DJs coming in from Pune to enjoy the music here," adds Mendonsa, who now works out of Bengaluru.

The metal years
Andheri East, few outside the community will know, also had a few glorious years at a venue called B69 on Nagindas Master Road. Pande, who was instrumental in setting it up, recalls that after Juhu's Razzberry Rhinoceros shut down in 2008, there was a vacuum in the city for live act venues. Bajao was located on the road near the station, and looking to expand. "My local paanwala took me to the ruins of an abandoned dance bar. It didn't lend itself to an office, but it could be a venue. It was invisible. You could stand outside the place and didn't know it existed," he adds. Pande recollects how he and a colleague, Akash Sawant, called three bands — Bhayanak Maut, Scribe and Demonic Resurrection — who played the venue's first gig. In 11 days, Pande and Sawant put in equipment to ensure good sound. Six hundred people showed up for the gig. "There was literally a 400-metre queue outside. So you had metal heads, dangerous looking people, all standing politely in a line," he laughs. "It was surreal. They stood there for two hours while we were doing sound check." The gig established the subculture.

Gazal Chanana on the bull at Rodeo Drive. Chanana works in Andheri West, but she and her friends find it easier to get here than to Lokhandwala, since traffic here isn’t as crazy, and the drinks are cheaper. PIC/Falguni Agrawal
Gazal Chanana on the bull at Rodeo Drive. Chanana works in Andheri West, but she and her friends find it easier to get here than to Lokhandwala, since traffic here isn't as crazy, and the drinks are cheaper. PIC/Falguni Agrawal

Bands that didn't have space elsewhere in the city got a place to perform. Alcohol was beer served out of ice-buckets. January 2013 saw the last gig. Pande says, "By then other venues had come up in the city and we wanted a bigger place in a basement since more prominent bands were coming down and the scale wasn't economically feasible."

A new shot of life
Till around 2005, Andheri East, especially Andheri-Kurla Road was a largely industrial belt, with small-scale medicine, metal works and rubber factories dotting its dusty roads. Between then and 2013, the industries started shifting out to areas like Koparkhairane. The vacuum created has now been filled with multi-storeyed glass-covered buildings that house offices of finance companies, tech firms, start-ups across sectors and quite a few design firms. Already the site of five-stars like The Leela and The Lalit, Andheri East is also dotted with several business hotels. Between T2 (the city's swanky international airport) and a Metro, the working class that comes in, lives and moves around the area is the work-hard, party-harder crowd that exists elsewhere in the city.

Diksha Shettys Cocomaya is the café link that the area has been missing. PIC/Falguni Agrawal
Diksha Shetty's Cocomaya is the café link that the area has been missing. PIC/Falguni Agrawal

Five years ago when Mihir Desai, co-owner of The Bar Stock Exchange, opened his first city outpost in Shivai-Dongri estate on Andheri-Kurla road, he had spotted (apart from cheap rents), an untapped market. Located near Powai, and in an area buzzing with office workers, BSE brought to the locality a place where one could hang out after work, in a non-seedy atmosphere. Today, the area has more to offer. Leon Russell, head of programming, and Sneha Shetty, head of brand and business development, of The Stables and Rodeo Drive, are bringing to the tables here, an added experience. Live music and comedy nights, for starters. While Vasu Primlani and Manish Tyagi had a performance there last Sunday, the live band roster includes The Coolwaters Project and The Blessing Chimanga Quartet, a Zimbabwean band, that Russell brought down to Mumbai while they were in India for a tour. "One of them plays a Marimba, which can loosely be described as a long wooden xylophone. The lead singer made it an interactive night making everyone sing along," he adds.

Shetty calls the crowds that come in, a decision-making bunch that's been readily available, and the neighbourhood "a sone ki khaan" untapped. And there's no age bar when good music is on the table. Last Thursday evening, The Stables became the chosen venue for brothers Sunil Amannath, 53, Glen Amannath, 55, and Oliver Peters, 50, to chat. While Sunil lives in Borivli, Peters is a Powai resident who chose the spot. Glen lives in Dubai. Among the three, Peters is a regular, having first stopped by the place after newspaper flyers advertised them. The singers the place attracts are good, he says.

But, competition is both tough and welcome. Step out of Redpine, where you are again thrown into smoggy traffic and absent pavements, a 10-minute ride to Saki-Vihar Road will lead you The Finch. The 8,500-sq-ft venue, which opened in June this year, boasts of an opening act by Indian Ocean. Geeta Kriplani, of Plutus Hospitality, says the idea is to offer quality music. But, techno and house are not on the menu. The indie bands that will be brought in will fit the R&B soul, soft pop genre. Language is no barrier. Kriplani's dream is to bring down Avial from Kerala. But, the promised line-up also includes Kat Agarrado, a Philippine-based Blues singer. Easy listening, perhaps in the genre that BlueFROG once promised? The venue, Kriplani says, has also got its own song made called Fancy Pancy sung by Rachel Verghese.  A place to sip at Marol resident Leonna D'Souza remembers the era of Blackout, Cyclone and Grand Canyon. That the lull has ended is something she's happy for, as she is for a Ladies' Night in a nearby spot.

With several restaurants also having cropped up, especially in Times Square, there's no dearth of places to go out to. But, what the stretch really needs is a café where people can sit and chill. Which is why Cocomaya, set up by Diksha Shetty, 25, of the family that owns Redpine, might be a boost. With macaroons, and cheesecakes on the platter, Diksha also plans to start serving coffee in an outdoor seating soon. That the view is that of a nullah, which we later find out is the River Mithi, is of course a concern. But, she has a plan in place: a few trees and greens to transport will transport you elsewhere. The coffee will keep you awake till 11 pm and the music till much later. The night for Andheri East, as they say, is still young.

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