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Volga glasses empty, but hangover lingers at CP

delhi Updated: Mar 03, 2010 23:56 IST
Avishek G Dastidar
Avishek G Dastidar
Hindustan Times

Last Saturday, Volga downed its shutters. It was an unassuming end as the final set of guests walked out of the “grim bar” in Connaught Place.

Those who frequented the 60-year-old bar-cum-restaurant in its last few years remember it as a “cheap beer place”.

Old timers say the real Volga died around a decade ago, the day it got itself a liquor license.

“From being synonymous with fine dining for decades, it suddenly became a place for cheap booze. It was not suitable for families anymore," says Raj Chopra, owner of Competent Automobiles at CP and a former regular of Volga.

“That was the beginning of the end.”

Around 60 years ago, the late Madan Lamba, a first generation Punjabi restaurateur bought a bar in Lahore from a Russian and named it after the famous and Europe’s largest river in Russia.

After Partition, the Lambas shifted to Delhi and Volga changed its permanent address to CP’s B Block.

Top bureaucrats, politicians and businessmen were its clientele for decades.

The smell of sizzlers and the heady aroma of its trademark Coda coffee wafted inside. A live jazz band added class to the ambience.

High flying politicians such as former Delhi chief minister Madanlal Khurana used to host press conferences at Volga. The rich would book rooms in advance for engagement parties.

“The place was known for hosting the so-called informal matrimonial meetings between families,” says Atul Bhargava, president of New Delhi Traders' Association, the umbrella body of traders in CP.

“But as is the case with other legendary CP establishments, the good times were cut short in the 90s.”

With the emergence of new and richer players in Delhi's food and beverage (F&B) scene and multinational giants vying for a toehold, CP’s old guards suddenly found themselves on shaky ground.

Faced with an impending crisis, a desperate Volga clung to a time-tested tactic: slashed rates. It started selling cheap liquor. A table at Volga was no more out of reach for the fly by night customer. The rich and the famous moved on.

“We shifted to the Taj Mansingh, while many people started frequenting Embassy restaurant, which had been Volga's competitor for years," Chopra says.

Sunil Malhotra, owner of the 60-year-old Embassy, says there is a need to conserve CP’s old establishments.

“Volga's closure is unfortunate. There is a reason why CP is not just another mall with glitzy shops. For places like us and United Coffee House and a few others, it’s a tough battle to retain the original character.”