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Memories made at Toto’s Garage Pub

A personal ode to Bandra’s iconic watering hole where many have grown up, in more ways than one

brunch Updated: Sep 28, 2017 19:31 IST
Rehana Munir
Toto’s runs on nostalgia and a no-frills philosophy
Toto’s runs on nostalgia and a no-frills philosophy

If you’re a regular, you’re walked straight to a table – if you’re not, and it’s after 10pm at Toto’s Garage Pub on almost any night of the week, you’re in trouble. Get to know a regular real fast or cram yourself into the little space between the outer sitting area and the bar. Here you come in the way of the orange overalled waiters operating with Super Mario zeal. The next best option is the tiny wall-table between the kitchen and the loos.

That’s where I once spotted NDTV journalist and brain candy Sreenivasan Jain, in a grey T-shirt and drawstring pants (I’ve a good memory for these things. I was NOT staring. That was my sister). Toto’s Garage Pub is the kind of place you’d occasionally even find Nandita Das, being casually exquisite.

But the regular clientele is the stuff of Bandra folklore. Thirty-somethings who never tire of declaring that they haven’t, in fact, started the fire: you’ll find Totos’ coasters pinned to their soft boards. Soulmates who reminisce about wedding proposals made at that very bar. Burnt-out corporates contemplating rebellion over pork sausages.

Chain-smoking hacks and fledgling metalheads. Toto’s lovers trying to convert Toto’s loathers. (“It’s like home!” “That’s why I hate it.”)

Toto’s Garage Pub is the kind of place you’d occasionally even find Nandita Das, being casually exquisite

Thrills but no frills

A few days ago, the BMC – Mumbai’s municipal body, reviled for apathy when it comes to civic work, and a fierce alacrity when it comes to razing illegal/litigious construction, took its bulldozers for a drive around Pali Naka, hipster capital of the new Bandra. The area is, admittedly, overrun by illegal and obstructive extensions to commercial establishments. And yet the partial demolition of Toto’s – the emphatically unchanging grunge HQ of the suburbs for over two decades – was enough to reduce a regular to tears.

Toto’s runs on nostalgia and a no-frills philosophy. Service remains prompt and the pub orderly, thanks to a sharp managerial eye. You’re not allowed to dance, clap, jump, or express any sudden movements without being reprimanded. In the chilling words of Monica Geller: Rules help control the fun!

The pub is co-owned by Laju Bhatia, he of the dark glasses, festive shirts and endless interest in the lives of Toto’s patrons, and the grey-haired Mr Totlani, who surveys the pub every night with quiet authority. Some of Toto’s pillars – Acharya, the well-loved manager, Austin, the late bartender, with an unforgettably warm manner, Sanjeev, the chirpy waiter – are now lost to age, bad health or better prospects. But Toto’s still delivers despite its changed configuration.

It’s the keep-it-simple approach that works. Pubs these days draw you in with cheap deals, shiny tie-ups, glitzy gimmicks. But you don’t go to Toto’s for a free beer or a surprise round of fries. Like Ghetto’s in Breach Candy, you go there for the music, alcohol and company. The classic building blocks of fun and relaxation. Millennials take note.

Beer is the national beverage of this tiny republic, though spirits soar, too

DJ in the driver’s seat

For all its rules, Toto’s is full of whimsy. Where else would you be served drinks under a yellow Volkswagen Beetle? Or hear the same CD played on loop (for decades, now) in a Maruti Omni console by a bedraggled DJ called Colin, who’s replaced a line of other DJs who’ve gone on to have careers in hairstyling? Where, you tell me?

The chicken-cheese-omelette in a bun is top-notch pub food. The chicken in the edible mesh is fun. The kheema pao is popular, though I’ve never understood its lurid red appeal. And beer is the national beverage of this tiny republic, though spirits soar, too.

When Ozzie drawls Mama I’m Coming Home at 12.40 am, you know the little bell will be sounded for last orders, followed by an abruptly lit bulb and finally, a firmly polite offer of plastic glasses. And your bank statement will record the memory under the misleading heading: Totlani Investments.

There’s still no official word on when Toto’s will be back in business. Some premature obituaries have been written and sentimental tears been shed. I inspected the insides on the day of the demolition. Most of the interiors are intact. But much against its wishes, Toto’s now has to reinvent itself. This old bar might yet learn a few new tricks.

From HT Brunch, September 27, 2017

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