Mumbai is reputed for being the city that never sleeps. Although Mumbaikars once did party till 7 am, a stricter enforcement of licencing laws has quashed that, but it still has the best nightlife in India.
The main expat hangouts are divided into three areas: the suburbs (Bandra/Juhu), town (Colaba) and midtown (Lower Parel and Worli). Few expats venture north of Juhu, unless they are broke, or dating a Bollywood struggler. Expats are often amazed at how many strugglers there are inside the city bars and clubs. Another difference they find is how much they have to dress up to get into any. Heels, jewellery and dresses are a must for women. Men should avoid shorts, open sandals and ripped jeans.
No stags allowed
Unlike in the West, men’s nights are discouraged; stags will not get in. Casual clothes are not encouraged either, unless you want to look like a struggler, or are heading to a hookah bar. Another thing to prepare for if you are an expat is that you can easily spend more than you would in London or New York on a night out. But that is because popular haunts like Olive are the Indian equivalent of celeb haunts like Annabel’s in London.
There is an upside to the effort and expense, which is that you are likely to a) brush shoulders with Saif Ali Khan or Miss Afghanistan in the popular expat bars and b) get invited to a free Page 3 party once your face gets known on the party circuit. To celeb and model spot, most expats go to China House at the Grand Hyatt any night, Aurus on a Friday or Olive in Bandra on Thursdays.
South Mumbai and mid-town are dominated by old money, that is investment bankers and kids with inherited businesses, rather than strugglers and celebs. Expats wanting to impress a guest, often take them to Aer at The Four Seasons Hotel or The Dome in Marine Drive — both very fashionable, albeit expensive rooftop bars, that are peaceful, with stunning views. Otherwise, Tote at Mahalaxmi or the Blue Frog will probably do.
Unlike in Europe, wine is nascent; most partygoers prefer spirits. So be prepared to pay through the nose for wine, especially non-Indian wine. But conversely, unlike in London, where locals get scoffed at for ordering a diet coke; in Mumbai, you will probably be given your own menu boasting a range of mocktails. Another surprise is the music. While an expat might expect to be grooving to the Bollywood beats they once heard in Brick Lane, most upmarket places shun Bollywood and play house, electro or trance.
On Sundays, most expats spend their time drinking their money away at a five star hotel brunch. But the best kept secrets of Mumbai, such as Theobroma, Gajalee, Jai Hind, Candies, Masala Kraft, Moshe’s, The New Kulfi Centre, the Iranian cafes, Bademiya behind the Taj, and the best street food will only be revealed once you start hanging out with Indians, rather than other expats. Or at least you will need to abandon the posh expat hangouts to stumble across them. I discovered the best chai when roaming around the New Nagar slum in Juhu and was introduced to the delicious Mumbai street sandwich by my colleagues in office.
Befriending Indians will also help introduce you to the city’s dazzling festivals and culture — such as taking in the intoxicating sights and sounds along Mohammad Ali Road at night during Ramadan, the buzz of Bandra Fair and Rambo Circus, or exploring Khotachiwadi. Locals will help you unravel the secrets of the dating game, in which, chatting up a stranger in a bar without an introduction isn’t recommended.
There are plenty of organised groups to get involved in. These include the exclusive cigar club that meets once a month in south Mumbai, where rich Indians and expats cut Montecristo cigars together, the American Women’s Club, Facebook Bombay Expats, CouchSurfing MeetUp and A Small World.
Firangs (foreigners) might also want to hang out in one of the many gentlemen’s clubs like Bombay Gymkhana (if they can get an invite.) If donning a hat and bumping into business tycoon Vijay Mallya floats your boat, then Mahalaxmi Races, India’s mini Ascot, is right up your street.
For the intellectual, joining a heritage walk is a great way to learn about the churches, temples, mosques of south Mumbai. Start early at 5 am on Mazagaon Hill and see different age groups doing Tai Chi, yoga and jogging. The Bombay Elektrik Projekt organises stand-up comedy, poetry and film screenings, while Best of Bombay organises bar crawls and cocktail-making workshops. You are guaranteed to meet members of the opposite sex at these — a good substitute for speed dating, which is yet to arrive.
The writer lived in Mumbai for about three years before moving back to London.