The human species is possibly the best standing example of that eternal cycle of life and death. Nothing else showcases this chronological phenomenon better; well, nothing except nightclubs. They have a similar cycle but it moves much faster – like those fast forwarded clips they often show on Nature channels where the sun rises and sets in a matter of seconds (Time Lapse shots – for those who know and should now know that I too know).
I am not a celebrity so I can’t say that I am reporting first hand; more like an acquaintance of a friend who attended told me: but in this age of information and technology, such data can be treated as first-hand information, right? Or have I been inside my office far too long?
Say what you may, you can’t miss the splash on the pages. The prime minister shakes an opportune hand with the US and gets a massive cold; someone operated and saved the oldest Siamese twins, disjoint only on their political views…All humbug! A new night spot just opened and briefly seen were two actresses from upcoming films with lots of nudity (in the film that is) in hunky male company (at the club that is) – Carry on tabloid, we are all tuned in and listening…
Before we completely dissect the life of an average midnight oasis, let me first explain the concept of time as applicable to night clubs. Nightspots age faster than people and here I am not referring to the decadent wasteful kind of souls. I am talking much faster than that, like say dogs, or Botox-ed Bourgeoisie. Like a tender berry, they have barely matured when they start to die. And in-between is all the malarkey of over-ripening, rotting skin, increased sugar levels, multiple marriages, messy divorces…what was I talking about again?!
There is however a metaphorical “anti-wrinkle” solution. Hosting parties for famous people where even more famous people turn up is what can slow down, if not reverse, the spin of the ageing cycle. And so it is. Since opening, as long as the place is seen as the watering-hole of the glam few, the whole sham remains a success: who cares what music or ambience was intended; or not.
During this period, people will throng the bar – how stuffy it is, how long they have to wait for a drink (forget what abominable price they pay for it) or how the music and mood is something they truly and absolutely detest – such things will cease to bother completely and the person will turn up regularly at the doorstep like a devout of utmost blind faith.
I hate going to a bar at this point – the service is not only slow but also shabby. And if I want to rub against a million sweaty bodies I’ll just grab my hip flask and jump onto the next Virar local or, to compensate for the geo-centricity of the joke, a Blueline bus.
During this stage it seems as if the bar will never shut, as if the owner will recover his entire investment in a couple of rounds on a weekday and all is like one helluva never-ending party. In fact many places acquire an almost verb-like status as people talk about having “done” a certain club every night in the past week. (These same people also have bags the size of LV Speedy under their eyes and are hence always seen hiding behind designer sunglasses.)
Then, something happens. And it doesn’t happen gradually but suddenly, like love, a train collision, or both – people just stop frequenting the place. They go off it like spoilt yoghurt and desert the place faster than the DJ can change tracks. The best part is that nobody even discusses it; they don’t entirely ignore it but act as if it never really existed, or mattered anyway. Loyalty here then is like a commodity on the stock exchange of a friggin’ Bordello!
This phenomenon is what perplexes me. From what little I have travelled, I have never found a nightspot wane so fast in the West. Clubs that I visited while a student in Europe are still present today (although I must admit it wasn’t that long ago) and flourishing! Many even retain the same DJ, decor, music et al! While some clubs are purely tourist attractions (the locals would die rather than be seen there) they provide an international mélange comparable to the post-graduate class at Harvard, or a Benetton ad in print. I like these places and in a non-English-speaking country they provide much communicational relief! But other clubs which are not in every city guide, where the city-folk dance and drink the night away, where entry to stags is not an issue, where you can actually drink yourself under the table without pawning your return ticket – such places never seem to neither fade nor die.
It is easier to find beer than a burger in London (most burger joints also sell beer you see!) but that doesn’t stop people from filling up all these bars – it’s almost as if the government has allocated customers to each bar-fly by Pin Code!
Why then, do our nightspots die so fast? Whatever the reason, I can’t think of a single nightclub in the post “Ghungroo” (or geo-centrically, post “Insomnia”) era which has survived with panache and flair. It seems that almost any place that hasn’t re-invented itself every six months has fallen flat on its belly. While there have been the odd exceptions which had a good run, there is an equal absence of any logic whatsoever to explain their success.
So, do we Indians have such heightened sensibilities to music or décor that we need change so desperately so fast? Or is it that only through repeated short-period stimulus do we realise the absolute uselessness of such places?! Either ways, the formula is still not deciphered and it is fun to see how new owners dream up designs to re-launch dusty dance-floors and battered beer-guns. Many are too smug for their own good: rearranging furniture and then calling it a new place. Nonetheless, the cycle starts again – fashion shows, cocktail soirées, press coverage…it is fun to see people CPR a dead fish.
My rather costly research at my own expense (of health and wealth) has brought to light these few basic points that most successful long-running bars share. In no particular order they are:
1. Music: Nothing beats good music and a DJ who is stoic and stubborn about maintaining the ambience he envisages and creates. DJs shouldn’t play too many requests just like a good Indian restaurant won’t conjure up a Chinese dish because a guest asked so.
2. Drinks: This might seem like ‘nucular’ science to many but if I am at a bar, it is because I want to drink. So, get that right. Don’t make cocktails that taste like bubblegum and look like Red Indian headgear.
3. Prices: Get this right, seriously; I am here to drink, not to party away my yet-to-happen kid’s yet-to-be-accumulated college funds.
4. Seating: We are all here because we are curious. We want to check each other out. Don’t make seats that are intended to accommodate the Mossad undercover convention.
5. Service: If it takes longer than five minutes to get a drink then you are on your way down; mark this.
6. Crowd control: Don’t just let people enter because they dress well. Many a donkey has disguised herself as a horse but she never won a horserace. Get an intuitive bouncer (now there’s a redundant term) who can actually speak (English or just about any tongue remotely human) and make him assess the intellect level of the people he is barring from entering. Short of conducting a pop quiz about the music being played inside (if the person can’t answer 60% correctly, tell him to not let the door hit him on the way out) the bouncer must try and be trained to listen to their body language.
Based on these points, here is a list of bars in India that I think have a time-defying appeal:
1. Rick’s, Taj Man Singh, New Delhi: Best cocktails in town, super DJ and A-grade service.
2. Leather Bar, The Park, Madras (Chennai is for wimps): Classic ambience, great cocktails, good music.
3. Someplace Else, The Park, Calcutta (Kolkota is vulgar): Live rock music, beer, and quick. Unparalleled.
4. Zenzi, Bandra, Bombay (Mumbai for the uneducated): The food and the drinks are both good, great ambience and a lovely crowd.
5. Ghettos, Warden Road, Bombay: I have seen this rock music -fan Mecca hang-on staunchly for ages, fending off all competition and chances are that with house music (which is not even music) becoming the new rage, Ghettos might shut at some point. But the idea of a truly chilled-down place will remain one to be exploited as many times as someone wishes.
Go on, add some names if you may…