More than 20 years after he joined his family's computer graphics business in the back-lanes of Kala Ghoda, Deepak Mehta followed his passion and opened a new store, the Moksh Art Gallery, in a lane around the corner.
It is hard to tell if the emergence of Moksh helped change the aura of the little lane or if Mehta chose to launch the gallery because of an already changing neighbourhood working its charm on him.
But the three-year-old gallery, standing right beside an even younger Kala Ghoda Café, is among the host of chic new cultural centres, restaurants and designer stores that have transformed the old, unseen streets off Kala Ghoda's main road into a quaint mélange of business and pleasure.
“The outer parts of Kala Ghoda have always been an art and culture hub. Now this side is developing too,” said Mehta, who has witnessed the change himself over the past 25 years.
From the Blue Synagogue right up to the stock exchange offices, the network of narrow lanes in the area were once a market for dock equipment and heavy machinery such as water pumps and generators. Over time, these 19th century businesses gave way to banks, financial organisations and a profusion of stationery and photocopy stores.
While most of these still thrive, the past five to six years have seen a new culture mushrooming in old buildings. Moksh was built in a barren machinery shop and two-year-old Kala Ghoda Café, a new favourite for up-market youth and office goers, is also part of an old building under construction.
In January, in a half-built room right behind the cafe, city-based designer and entrepreneur Noorie opened Obataimu - a “pop-up” men’s wear store that will move to a different city after April.
The lane running down from Rhythm House, once a market for wholesale navy ropes, is now the picturesque Forbes Street, where two niche designer couture stores have opened in the past nine months - Kitsch used to be a residential building and Sabyasachi has replaced the affordable diner Mahesh Lunch Home, which shut five years ago.
"Space is a problem in most of Mumbai, but here we found a heritage building with beautiful columns and high ceilings," said Tara Dhillon, Kitsch's area sales manager, who believes the area has been attracting more of a non-commercial crowd since brands such as Westside and Fabindia opened on the main roads.
Restaurateurs attest to the change in the kind of public walking the streets of the area. Popular Manglorean diner Trishna, for instance, ran by the name of Matrubhoomi Lunch Home right from the 1940s to 1991, catering to blue-collared dock workers.
“In the past few years, we have become a more sophisticated fine-dining restaurant to appeal to new office goers,” said Trishna partner Ravi Anchan.
With the opening of non-vegetarian fast food joint Ayub's on Forbes Street, students from the local Elphinstone College have also begun pouring into the neighbourhood in the evenings.
“With the economy doing better, professionals here are able to spend much more,” said Dipeshwar Grewal, 30, a business professional and amateur historian working in and studying the locality for the past five years.
“Modernisation has improved the place and in the future it will have a lot more to offer.”