Xerxes Antia remembers standing outside The Ghetto on Bhulabhai Desai Road for at least 45 minutes, waiting to get inside in 1994, a year after it had opened.
"If you didn’t go to The Ghetto and bump into at least 20 of your acquaintances from colleges such as Xavier’s, Sydenham and HR, you were a loser," says Antia, who studied at Sydenham College, and now is CEO at an event management company.
"Basically it was the club to be spotted at on any day of the week." He recalls how Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Arjun Rampal would frequent the club and how, after 10.30pm, regulars would be let in from the back door while others waited out front. "It was the only place that played rock music at the time," Antia adds. "When I went there last, last year, it was the same music, and it reminded me of the good times."
The good times have been going on for 21 years, with barely any changes. It’s the same pub it was in 1993 when Thomas Cherian and Ravi Shetty opened the place on December 28. It looks almost exactly the way it did back then– dark interiors, blacklight, neon graffiti, that mural of Jim Morrisson, numerous scribbles by patrons on the walls and a pool table that’s never empty.
The vibe is still laidback. The music – U2, Metallica, guitar solos, arena-filling vocals and lyrics you learnt in college and never forgot – is still playing, and playing loud. Just like home
"One of the few changes made in the menu is the addition of keema pav," says Cherian who also adds that their skin potatoes have been bestsellers since 1993. "We have always worked with one thought – to make this a home away from home," he adds.
It’s easy to understand what he means. Many couples have proposed to each other at The Ghetto and now their kids drop in as well.
Watching people standing around the pool table, playing game after game, and just bonding over beers, one can see why the pub has been everyone’s local watering hole, even if they lived a long train ride away.
It has that "just be yourself" flavour, a place where everyone knows your name and drink.
Filmmaker and advertising professional Niranjan Kaushik remembers being a "21-year-old learning how to drink" at the pub in 1993. Along with teaching him about drinking, The Ghetto also taught him how to make friends for life.
Cheers: The Ghetto regular Niranjan Kaushik has a sandwich named after him. (Image: Shakti Yadav)
"I used to go drinking alone and bumped into Viraf Patel, who now owns Café Zoe," he says. "Today, we both are godfathers to each other’s kids." Kaushik’s loyalty has been rewarded by The Ghetto. Not only do the waiters know his drink by heart (Old Monk and water), but he also has a sandwich named after him – the Niranjan Sandwich.
"It’s the best thing to eat during a night of heavy drinking – it’s got bread, barbecued chicken and lots and lots of cheese. Anyone can order it anytime," he says.
Familiarity breeds love
The Ghetto has managed to last in a city where bars are now dime a dozen, and people don’t have to travel out of their suburban neighbourhoods to get a drink anymore. As the female regulars swear, it was, for a long time, the only place in Bombay where a lone woman could have a drink by herself without being propositioned.
Jessy Phillips, who works in an NGO, first went to the Ghetto 20 years ago and still continues to frequent it. "In those days, stag entries were strictly not allowed. And if you were a lady sitting alone at the bar having a drink, everyone was watching out for you – right from the owners to the waiters. They would chat with you too, so you didn’t even need anyone else."
Like every popular dive bar, The Ghetto also had much-loved staff, like Shukla, a strict but friendly doorman everyone seemed to love. He knew all the regulars by name too, says Cherian, but left some years ago, because he was unwell.
"Maybe the charm of Ghetto is that nothing much has changed during the years, and that’s what keeps it going," he says, except a paint job that wiped out the signatures of Led Zeppelin musicians Jimmy Page and Robert Plant five years ago. "We couldn’t believe it!" laughs Cherian.
It’s 21 years, and instead of kicking up a storm, the pub is doing what it does best – quietly getting on to their 22nd year, keeping it real and just like "home".
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From HT Brunch, January 11, 2015
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