If anyone can remember the quiet little backwater that Bangalore was, right through the slumbering eighties when you could literally count the number of restaurants on the back of your hand and contrast it with the happening city that it's become today, a magnet for every world class chef, restaurateur, gastro-pubber and micro-brewer, it would be Ashok Sadhwani, the mover and shaker behind the pub culture that has given the city its much vaunted moniker of Pub City! Or Bar'galore As the countdown begins in the Central Business District on Friday night, and at least half the 3,000 pubs and bars close off the taps on the artisanal beer and mocktails - and of course, the hard stuff - or face the wrath of the courts for being in violation of the 500 metre from the highway rule, Aksheev Thakur revisits the ‘good times.’
Thirty years ago, the unexpected happened. Bangalore's first pub opened its doors for business in 1986. Owned by Mr Hari Khoday, Ramda on Church Street's target audience were the trickle of tourists that came into the deeply conservative city. But when overnight, Ramda became 'the' place to go to, with residents, young and old, clamouring to get in, long queues snaking all the way down Church Street, a young Ashok Sadhwani whose family owns the eponymous Sadhwanis on the junction, had that 'Aha' moment.
He knew from his frequent trips to London of pubs that seamlessly became part of the Londoner's daily life. From there to the launch of The Pub, on Church Street in September of 1986, was easy. And when a young Vijay Mallya of United Breweries came on the scene, wanting to launch his brand of draught beer, the bottle was literally, uncorked.
“UB Kingfisher was looking to launch draught beer. So history was created with Mr Vijay Mallya showing a lot of interest in us opening a unit and finally, not only did he inaugurate our city’s first pub, he also launched Kingfisher draught beer,” says Mr Sadhwani, reminiscing about the good ol' days.
In the years that followed, the city that went to sleep at 9 pm, was buzzing, staying awake till well past midnight, earning the tag of pub capital that would be overridden only when the IT boom exploded from 2000 on.
The Pub's USP was simple, says Mr Sadhwani. “At a time when the city had nowhere affordable where the young could hang out, The Pub became the place to go to. The only place where liquor was served until then were in fancy five star hotels. The Pub offered five star facilities and drinks at 1-star hotel prices.”
Who doesn't want to spend their afternoons - and nights - guzzling beer with smoke in your eyes and the blues? Bengaluru did not have the plethora of small eatery outlets and bars that it has today. The pubs not only filled the gap, beer was made eminently affordable. “We introduced the concept of serving draught beer in a glass. At six rupees a glass! Soon, it even drew the corporate, becoming a hub for corporate meetings. Unlike, the bars that existed which were dingy and dark and had a creepy ambience, we had bright lighting, and that's one of the many reasons it attracted a good crowd,” says Sadhwani.
The Pub may have even re-invented the word 'night life.' Non-existent before, Mr Sadhwani says that unlike abroad where life begins at 9 pm, in India the night ended at 11 pm; until, bar owners pushed the government into extending opening hours till 1 am. Successive governments playing politics on timings and taxes notwithstanding, “the city’s pub culture became a huge attraction."
Changing with the times, and facing competition from new entrants like Pecos and Guzzler's Inn and of course, Downtown among others, The Pub went through a major revamp and was reborn as NASA in 1993, designed on the lines of an international space centre with a porthole for an entrance and a capsule for the main area, with the staff, all dressed as astronauts. In 1991, Mr Sadhwani set up The Pub World on Residency Road.
By midnight, Friday though, the sale of alcohol within 500 metres of the highway will be disallowed as per the Supreme Court ruling that goes into effect on the night of June 30. With nine highways criss-crossing the heart of the city, the Central Business District that includes MG Road, Brigade Road and Church Street will see at least 731 pubs stop serving the good stuff including Pecos, WYT and Hard Rock Cafe, as will pubs like T.O.I.T off Old Madras Road, and Social off Hosur Road, to name just a few.
Saddened and exasperated, Mr Sadhwani says, “National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) is working on the petition in order to save the livelihood of thousands of people once the ban is implemented.”
“If liquor shops are asked to stay away from the NH, why are other establishments not being asked to do the same thing,” he asks. The only ray of sunshine? All the pubs, bars and wine outlets facing a drop in business have raised their glasses in unison against the ruling. Bottoms up, bar owners, says all of Bengaluru!...