In Mumbai, the streets get swamped during the monsoon, drains overspill and there is chaos; travel for most might be on local trains or rickshaws, which are bumpy, baking hot rides in less than clean conditions; homeless people line the pavements at night, and stray dogs and cats can be found on every corner.
Yet, if you want to party here, it’s more expensive than London and New York. Make sense to you? Not to us.
A salary of Rs 10 lakh per year is considered a good salary in Mumbai. In London Rs 17 lakh is considered a bad annual salary, yet a glass of wine or Gin and Tonic in a trendy London bar costs half of what it does in Mumbai.
In Mumbai, you can get maids, cooks, dry cleaners, electricians and plumbers for next to nothing. In London and New York, you pay through your nose for all of them.
Yet, when we checked the prices of the drinks in eight of Mumbai’s most popular bars and compared them to eight swanky bars in the West End of London and eight in the most chic parts of New York, we were surprised to discover that London was cheaper than Mumbai on every front, while New York was either cheaper than or comparable to Mumbai.
“Compared to London, drinks are a quarter more expensive in Mumbai. I think it’s because of the taxes and the bribes they have to pay and the sheer hassle of setting up a bar.
I was told that Zenzi has to pay Rs 1 crore a year as bribe. Probably that’s the reason the drinks are so expensive. Perhaps it’s partly to keep out the riff-raff too.
Plus, Indians don’t drink the same amount as foreigners do. In the UK, you might spend from 6 pm to midnight in the same place and drink 10 pints. You would not do that here.
In the UK, I just frequented mid-range bars, not the places Russian oligarchs would frequent. But in Mumbai, such options don’t exist. So here I go to places like Zenzi where the film stars hang out.
I think Zenzi is the equivalent of a place in London where you would spend £ 1,000 (Rs 80,000.). When I first came to Mumbai, I went to a place called White in Phoenix Mills and ordered a Gin and Tonic. It came to Rs 1,200.
I was absolutely gobsmacked. I thought it would have been £ 5 (Rs 350) max. Now I insist on having Indian liquor. You can’t go out casually and have a few beers with friends here because it’s too expensive.
Now I’m going to janta bars instead. What Mumbai needs is something in-between dive bars and posh DJs bars – there isn’t really anything.”
- Richard Orange, British journalist from London
“I find drinking here expensive. I think it’s because the alcohol produced in India is so limited that they have to import everything.
The worst part is the rates on top of the drinks prices that make them go up even more, and the quality of local spirits is not the best.”
- Ally Reeves, American artist researcher and freelance writer from USA
If you want to live an international life in Mumbai, then you have to pay London or New York rates for it. Partying in Aer would be the equivalent to partying in Mayfair in London.
The prices of drinks in Mumbai are expensive by Mumbai standards, because here Rs 10 lakh is considered a high annual salary but there are enough people in Mumbai who do earn Mumbai or New York salaries and can afford these places.
The other people do have alternative places they can go to, like Café Mondegar.”
- Shishir Mehta, an Indian lawyer who has previously lived in London and New York
“I find it infuriating to drink in Mumbai. It ruins the evening when I’m so flagrantly ripped off for alcohol. At first when I came here, I thought it was part of the Indian experience and paid the prices.
But I’ve lived here for five years now and have adopted the Indian attitude — why pay these ridiculous prices when you can just sit at home and drink? You can’t enjoy your night out because you’re worried about how much it’s going to cost you.
I used to go out a lot but now I don’t, because I’m always in a bad mood when I get my bill. These bars should drop their prices.
I don’t go to bars which I feel are ridiculously priced. The bars will have to bring down the prices if they want to survive. I like wine and if I see a bottle at more than Rs 1,200, I get ballistic.”
- Anita Jain, Author of Marrying Anita: a quest for love in the New India. She previously lived in New York.
The industry insiders
Dilip Joshi ex director of Poison and director of Bling
“Drinks are more expensive only in high-end bars. If you go to Hawaiian Shack or Toto’s, you get more value for money. That’s why those places are packed all the time and the expensive ones are deserted.
I think most of the high-end places are overpricing themselves and can’t fill themselves from Tuesday to Thursdays and have to rope in event managers for the weekends.
If they served ‘realistically-priced’ alcohol, then people would visit them more often. In London, bars have a great atmosphere, serve great food, you can get 20 types of beer, and it’s cheaper.Here a glass of wine is Rs 600 to Rs 700 and its quality is questionable.”
- A D Singh partner of Olive
“Places like Olive and Blue Frog are the top end of the market in Mumbai, so you have to compare them to places like Hakkasan and Zuma in London, or Bungalow in 8 in New York, not the kinds of places they have been compared to here.
I don’t think Mumbai is over-priced for the same kind of experience in London or New York.”
- Samir Chhabria business head of Prive
“Most free-standing bars and clubs have to pay commercial rents, which is three times the residential rents, the licences are expensive and the entire set-up is expensive, so you can’t really afford to price drinks cheap.
Even the basic operating costs are expensive. That’s why drinks have to be expensive to recover costs. There are enough people who can afford it, otherwise places like Prive would have shut down.
It’s difficult to compare Mumbai and London because the concept of mid-range bars has not really taken off here yet. It’s mainly low end and high end.”
- Mahesh Mathai partner at Blue Frog
“If you compared Blue Frog to London, it should have been to places like Quaglino’s or China White. Also, you have to take into account the massive import duties we have to pay on foreign alcohol, whereas five star hotels get it duty-free.
At the Blue Frog, we make more money on the middle to lower priced alcohol than the single malts, because the import taxes are so high. I think there are enough people who can afford these drinks.”
- Mickhiel Pinto, spokesperson for Indigo and Tote
“Prices are high in India owing to the custom duties and taxes we have to pay on spirits and wines.”