Neeraj Yadav, a 33-year-old paan vendor, sits in his stall at the end of Rope Walk Lane in Kala Ghoda. It’s a spot he has occupied for seven years.
Next door is Jai Hind Lunch Home, renowned for its home-style Malvani cuisine. It has stood there for 60 years.
“But this area is now changing,” says Yadav. “Earlier, I used to see only lawyers and office workers in these lanes. Now there are so many youngsters in fancy clothes spending time at all these new places.”
Across the road are two new eateries — The Pantry, an all-day bakery and café that opened six weeks ago; and Paratha Mantra, a vegetarian eatery now a year old.
Three weeks ago, India’s first Starbucks opened down the road. The past year has also seen boutique Obataimu and design store Filter open up shop here.
On MG Road, design house Play Clan has opened a 1,200-sq-ft store inside Fabindia. Around the corner, a new French-English bar and bistro called Cheval is all set to open for business.
While Kala Ghoda’s exterior is generally associated with art galleries and museums, these lanes were, until recently, the refuge of legal offices, small stock-broking firms, hardware manufacturing and repair workshops and stationery and photocopying stores, interrupted by the odd no-frills eatery or Irani café.
Now, all along the stretch leading to the docks are a growing number of über trendy restaurants, cafés, design stores and boutiques.
This is the second wave of change in the Kala Ghoda area; the first began three years ago, with the opening of Kala Ghoda Café, design store Kitsch and fashion outlets such as Sabyasachi and Anita Dongre’s AND.
Urban researchers say the foundation was laid seven years ago, when the small, tenanted businesses housed here for decades first began to move out.
“Until recently, the area was home to a number of desk-based businesses, most of them dealing with the manufacture and repair of hardware such as pumps and generators,” says Pankaj Joshi, executive director of the independently-run Urban Design Research Institute.
“However, there are now vendors for such hardware in pockets across the city, and repairmen can be called for over the phone or via the internet. Therefore, these businesses have become obsolete and are shutting down or moving to less expensive areas closer to the suburbs, such as Lower Parel, Bandra-Kurla Complex and Andheri (East).”
At Kala Ghoda Café, for instance, 30-something owner Farhad Bomanjee discusses the changes at the two plots owned by his family in the area.
One housed a decrepit, smoke-filled tea house until he turned it into his trendy café three years ago.
The other, right next door, has seen a furniture store give way to designer boutique Obataimu, which is doing so well that the owners plan to open a second outlet near The Pantry next year.
“We also plan to start playing music soon, and projecting short films on to the shutters of the hardware store opposite in the evenings,” says Sian Pascale, 29, an Australian designer who has been working here for six months.
“There seems to be a trend of high-end stores and restaurants targeting an upper-middle-class clientele in this area,” says Bomanjee.
The main change in the kinds of people now visiting the Kala Ghoda bylanes, say business owners, is that they are younger and from various parts of the city.
“We get foreign tourists as well as those coming from suburbs as far off as Kandivli,” says Antariksh Baldota, 27, co-owner of Paratha Mantra.
Advertising professional Namaah Kumar, 20, for instance, travels all the way from Andheri to the Filter design store at least once a month, to check out their newest offerings. “The long commute is worth it because of the quality of their merchandise,” she says.
Anushi Mehta, 24, a primary school teacher, visited The Pantry last week and says she loves its quaint, European interiors. “It’s a great place, especially for women, to come and have a coffee and then shop or browse at all the other stores in the neighbourhood,” she says.
Now, as more old businesses — including some of the less trendy eateries — shut to make way for new ones, even some of the newest business owners are beginning to fear that the charming mix of old and new that makes the area so appealing will be lost.
“Places like Café Military or Welcome, which are nearly a hundred years old, add so much character to the neighbourhood,” says Sumit Gambhir, co-owner of Neighbourhood Hospitality, which runs The Pantry. “I’d hate it if all the establishments in the area moved out to make way for trendy, upmarket places.”