From the outside, Kala Ghoda looks the same. No one driving past Jehangir Art Gallery or Lion Gate can tell that in the warren between the Chhatrapati Shivaji museum and the stock exchange, a transformation is unfolding.
But on foot, every step brings surprises. Sandwiched between a row of paper wholesalers and ancient back offices is now another hip restaurant serving burrata, polenta or wada-pao muffins. High-ceilinged lofts are turning into chic stores selling scented soy-candles, eccentric pret and white-needle tea. Bylanes that see brokers and notaries rushing to work in the morning see hip homemakers, the creative crowd and trendy professionals in the afternoon. And by dusk, when the shops selling generators and pumps close, the steakhouses and modern-Indian gastropubs come to life.
“It’s become quite a hub,” says Ritu Nanda. In 2011, when she and her advertising-guru husband, Alok, opened a design-centric retail store, Filter, in Kala Ghoda, their only cool neighbours were the tiny Artisans’ craft gallery, the tinier Kala Ghoda Café and a few designer stores. Now, there are some 30 cafes, bars, patisseries and restaurants and as many stores.
REVIVED AND STARCHED
Nanda finds it brings new blood into the heritage precinct. Youngsters enter the galleries. Corporate types discover the Art Deco structures and the blue synagogue.
The hand-painted signs at the machinery stores that once took over entire streets are fast disappearing, Nanda says. But they live on in the kitschy design work at the new stores. Meanwhile, new establishments are restoring the architecture.
Sangeeta Chakravorty knows how fast gentrification can go sour. The former lawyer saw Delhi’s Hauz Khas village go from a bohemian neighbourhood to a neon labyrinth of commercial establishments in just a few years. “In Kala Ghoda, the mix is part of the charm – there’s a tiny photocopy shop, a stationery store and a scrap merchant right around the corner from a café,” she says. “But a kind of homogeneity is creeping in. I don’t know if the smaller shops will be able to survive it.”
ONLY IN KALA GHODA, CAN YOU…
…find an art gallery inside a PCO
At the PCO run by Suresh Shankar Mahadik on a pavement near the Kala Ghoda parking lot, you can be both caller and art connoisseur. His kiosk bursts with framed artworks, some no bigger than your palm, featuring abstracts and stark geometrics. Mahadik paints in his free time, as he waits for analogue customers in a digital age. He doesn’t think he’s “a real artist” like those that show at the Jehangir gallery across the road. Prices for his framed pieces start at Rs 250.
…bet on a horse that’s racing 9 kilometres away
Take Bakehouse Lane, which connects K Dubash and VB Gandhi Marg, and you’ll stumble upon a large gathering of men anxiously watching horses on a TV screen. They’re there to win (or lose) money by betting on the races that take place at the Royal Western India Turf Club in Mahalaxmi. The club operates five off-course betting centres (the others are in the suburbs) in the October-to-April racing season. If you’re 18 or older, you can pick a horse and get a bookie to place a bet for you for a minimum of Rs 100. Then join the anxious crowd.
…try the trendiest food of the moment
Have the green pea polenta at The Nutcracker for lunch one day, come back for the bacon pancake lasagna at Hitchki the next. Try the pumpkin and green apple soup at the Kala Ghoda Café to start, move on to The Pantry’s amaranthus and sweet-potato pie and end with the pomfret po boy at Boston Butt. Or choose between Oh Dough’s black sesame ice cream, the whole dessert menu at La Folie or just an Argentinian mate at Tea Trails.
Watch: Kala Ghoda festival that draws crowds from across the city in February
…eavesdrop with such gleeful results
If you hear: Is this sourced or made in-house?
It must be: A hipster seeking quirky small-batch items that are hard to find elsewhere.
If you hear: What’s a tasting lab?
It must be: Someone enquiring about Pandora’s Box, which uses the term to upsell its small, low-priced portions.
If you hear: My goodness! Look at the prices!
It must be: Organic, farm fresh, molecular, fair trade, designer, trendy, antique or restored.
If you hear: Is there parking?
It must be: A newbie, because there never is.
If you hear: I love the David Sassoon Library.
It must be: A true insider. The library is the jewel of Kala Ghoda. Annual membership starts at Rs 5,000 and includes access to the books, the pretty back garden, the beautifully restored reading room and a view of the precinct.
If you hear: Why it is called Kala Ghoda?
It must be: The out-of-towner who doesn’t know that the statue of Edward VII on a black horse was moved to the Byculla zoo. Murals depicting the horse are all that remain here.
Watch: New to Kala Ghoda? Start here: