Meet Riyaaz Amlani, the man on a mission to save Mumbai’s nightlife

  • Meenakshi Iyer, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Sep 23, 2016 19:09 IST
Riyaaz Amlani at St Jude Bakery, Bandra (Photo: Aalok Soni/HT)

The vibrant graffiti on the external walls of St Jude Bakery on Waroda Road, Bandra, is in stark contrast to the dark, grungy interiors. This is where we’re meeting Riyaaz Amlani (41). You might know him as the man behind Social, the co-working space that moonlights as a bar. But if he pulls off any of his current ambitious plans, you might know him as the man who changed Mumbai’s nightlife.

Amlani bought St Jude a few years ago, with the idea of turning it into his residence. But he dropped that to do something bigger. Today, the bakery serves as a test kitchen for Impresario’s (Amlani’s F&B chain) head chef Gresham Fernandes’s experiments, select art exhibitions, and underground pop-up dinners called Gypsy Kitchen.

Gypsy Kitchen dinners at St Jude Bakery (Photo courtesy: Riyaaz Amlani)

In one corner, a bunch of chefs take instructions from Fernandes. Evidently, his latest experiment involves bloody Mary. In another corner, a large industrial coffee roaster roars, making its presence felt. What’s brewing, you ask? Perhaps, a new venture.

Amlani can be found here often, working on new projects, meeting people and doing what he does best — finding new ways to engage with the millennials. “That’s why I set up my first coffee shop, Mocha, at Churchgate. I wanted to give youngsters something to do,” he says. In 2001, it was one of the first on the scene, at the helm of the coffee chain phenomenon that’s lasted over a decade and continues to grow strong.

Amlani opened Mocha in 2001

Finding the target

If you are a 20-something, living in Mumbai, Delhi or Bengaluru, chances are you’ve found yourself in one of the 14 Socials that have cropped up in the last two years. And now that his audience has graduated from coffee to affordable beer and alcohol, Amlani wants to do more in the nightlife space. As the president of the NRAI (National Restaurant Association of India), he’s one of the few people with the power to get things moving. So, earlier this week, in a gathering of 20 restaurateurs from across India and members from the ministry of tourism, Amlani released a 400-page food services report that maps trends across India’s F&B sector.

His next project is the India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA), which will bring together various stakeholders of India’s nightlife industry for workshops and awards this weekend. The idea is to create a dialogue on the importance of nightlife. “Especially because we have 700 million people under the age of 30 (according to the 2011 census). Nightlife gives a city its distinct characteristic, adds to its culture and personality,” he says.

Plans ahead

In the ’80s and ’90s, Bombay’s nightlife was a lot more liberal. There were no strict deadlines: you could party till 3am, and then head to one of the coffee shops in five-stars for a quick bite. Things would wind up by 5am. Remember RGs on Marine Drive and Xanadu in Juhu? “These were members-only nightclubs where

DJ Akhtar and Akbar Sami would perform regularly. We want to stretch the deadline from 1am to 3am again,” says Amlani.

Sounds ambitious? Not when the otherwise jolly Amlani takes on an activist-like persona, and uses statistics and data as ammunition. “Research shows that cities are safer when people are out and about late. There’s more light, more people, and less crime,” he adds. Amlani also wants to bring down the drinking age in Maharashtra to 21. “You can vote at 18, marry at 18, but why can’t you drink at 18?” he asks.

Call us sceptics, but will our lawmakers and politicians be as optimistic as him? Especially, since they have a reputation for being tough on the entertainment industry. Think: exorbitant taxes and multiple licences.

Amlani is aware that it’s an uphill task. But he is not giving up yet. While his motives make perfect business sense for his growing hospitality empire, there’s also a feeling of city pride that Amlani displays.

Next big thing

Even though many issues continue to plague Mumbai’s nightlife, Amlani feels we’re ready for the next level in entertainment — the luxury bar scene. The restaurateur has often stayed ahead of trends — be it the emergence of coffee chains or neighbourhood bars. “People will become more selective about the cocktails, and go for refined interiors,” he says.

Interiors of Goregaon Social (Photo courtesy: Social)

So, is it time for Social 2.0? Even if Amlani doesn’t readily agree, he’s already transitioning into that luxury bar space. With every new Social in the city, the interiors are getting swankier. Colaba and Todi Mill Socials have a garage-like feel, whereas Fun Republic Social (Andheri) and Goregaon Social look dramatic and extravagant. But, for now Amlani is happy conquering one suburb after another with his brand: “I want to see Socials in places like Borivli, Nalasopara, Sion and Chembur. I am happy to see that finally the South Bombay snobbery is slowly evaporating.”

Awards night

India Nightlife Convention and Awards (INCA) 2016 will take place on the September 25 and 26, from 10.30am on both days

Where: The St Regis, Lower Parel

Tickets: Rs 3,250 on bookmyshow.com

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