Illustrations by Jyothi Iyer
When we started our podcast, The Adventures of Cheap Beer, we just wanted to show that great bars are places where you get prompt service, cheap booze, decent snacks (chakna, as it’s called) and a corner to drink in peace. What we found is that every bar is unique and is full of colourful characters, telling some of the best stories you’ve ever heard. Without further ado, then, here are our favourite dive bars in Mumbai.
Aparna Bar and Restaurant (Sion): One of our earliest episodes was also one of our most memorable. The seafood at Aparna is fantastic, and the sheer variety on display puts it in the same bracket as some of Mumbai’s most famous seafood eateries. Manglorean style seafood is the ticket here, so tuck into some delicious calamari or anything from Bombil fry to a Rawas fry (they even let you pick the fish, if you ask nicely). At this point, we must also inform you that ladies are not allowed to drink in this bar. This does not mean that they cannot come to the bar to enjoy the food, but they won’t be served alcohol — and the men sitting with them are not going to get any booze either. Blatant sexism or great seafood — the choice is yours.
Yacht Bar (Bandra West): Bandra is one of the city’s best neighbourhoods for a night out, but not so much if you’re a quarter bar enthusiast — the Queen of the Suburbs has a pitiful selection. One legendary bar stands out, though, for sticking to its old-school roots, and that is Yacht. This bar is not for the faint of heart, especially if you’re sitting in the older sections, because it looks like it was last cleaned in the late 1970s. Living up to the stereotype of filthy, garish and dirt cheap, Yacht is where clientele from all walks of life gather to get a cheap drink. You’ll see some wildlife here, with the odd rat scurrying about and plenty of cats jumping on the beams overhead. Think of it as an urban safari park where you get to drink all the time.
Café General and Stores (Girgaum Chowpatty): What if we told you that here, you could get a view of the beach, cheap drinks and a jukebox that plays almost every song you’ve ever heard in your entire life? You’d call us goddamn liars and walk away in a huff. However, we speak only the truth, because Café General and Stores has been around since World War 1 and has a modern jukebox with music ranging from Metallica to the Vengaboys and even Kishore Kumar. It doesn’t get much better than this.
Akshaya Bar (Parel): We’ll start with the fact that this bar is partly run by a German Shepard named Bruno, who walks around meeting people and fiercely guards it from evil outsiders. When you’re done wrapping your head around that, consider the fact that this place has excellent Thai food, including Thai Green Curry Khichdi. They have an actual bar here, with cocktail shakers and everything, and even the décor is a step up from the usual formica fare. We’re not saying that Akshaya Bar is perfect, but it sure comes close.
Gopalkrishna Boarding House (Dadar): Gopalkrishna is where the hard men drink. The crowd here consists largely of working class locals who know their stuff, and the big plus point here is that it shuts quite late; you could probably buy drinks to go until late into the early hours of the morning. This is a bar you can go to after another quarter bar shuts, which is saying something.
Garden Jolly (Fort): If you’re looking for some legal gossip and south Indian style seafood, then Garden Jolly should be your number one destination. Tucked away in the bylanes of Fort, this place serves up spot-hitting fried fish of every kind, and the clerks of the Bombay High Court seem to agree. In fact, you’ll even see lawyers here, and everyone does discuss cases. This a good a place to get some drinks with lunch, because it’s hidden away from the main streets and nobody is going to come looking for you. Give this place a miss on the weekend, though because it tends to shut early.
Vithal’s Family Restaurant and Bar (Fort): In South Mumbai, the name “Vithal” is synonymous with the best bhel around. That’s why we knew we just had to check out the restaurant/ bar that Vithal’s opened up in Fort. The short answer is yes, you can consume a whisky-soda with a plate of Golden Bhel (the stuff of legend) here. If that isn’t enough, they give you a plate of fresh pakodas with your drinks as well as peanuts, cheeselings and a salad. The drinks are extremely expensive, but the huge array of free chakna definitely softens the blow.
Vrandavan (Colaba): It is very easy to miss Vrandavan because it is located in the lane between Baghdadi’s, Bade Miyaan, Gokul and Café Leopold, but make sure you find it. This place does a mean Khichiya (a huge, thick papad) as well as an eccentric Chinese Bhel. The joint seems to be popular with sailors, and the staff is very courteous yet firm, in order to keep the peace.
Maharaja’s (Nana Chowk): What happened to all the dance bars in Mumbai? They’ve become orchestra bars, and Maharaja’s is an excellent example of what they look like now. When we first entered, we noticed nobody was sitting in the A/C section with us, but soon that “storage area” door was being used by everyone who came in. Naturally, we followed it to a brand new neon blue section that kept the blaring Bollywood beats to a minimum. The actual orchestra section was bright and even louder, with hostesses singing tunes that might make your night.
Schumania (Borivali): The humble neighbourhood bar brings people together, and we felt that Schumania was that lynchpin for IC Colony in Borivali. On a weeknight, the place was packed with patrons drinking their favourites. The bheja masala is a departure from your regular Chinese starters, and is in a league of its own. Schubert and Rumania Dias (Schu-Mania) moved here from Bandra decades ago to start a bar, and now their son Schneider runs this place. This pride and sense of tradition is what is going to keep quarter bars in Mumbai up and running for a long time.