Dive right in
Hanging out at a dive isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s actually a party pack — a heady alcoholic pre-mix, served in an empty Bisleri bottle for patrons on the go. The character of this unusual contraption, snuck out in a semi-crushed bottle, describes the nature of the dive culture, budding only in Mumbai, rather perfectly — it’s unpretentious, easy on your pocket and serves the purpose. No frills attached.
Places like these thrive on people who would usually be unable to afford a drink at a regular pub, which is why they don’t discriminate. Which, ordinarily, would immediately seem like a perfectly sane reason for some people to not visit these joints. But the irony lies in the fact that the reasons someone chooses to go here are the same as those why someone else would not — no valets, no table/booth bookings, no outrageous prices, no fancy cuisine, no loud music, no fancy plating of the food, no guarantee of a clean bathroom, no dress code, no entry and no English speaking bartenders. Which leaves us with absolutely no reason to not pick these places over paying Rs 1,500 for four drinks at a pub.
Cheap and cool
These dives, usually hidden at college corners, near advertising agencies, behind discotheques and in Andheri among other suburbs, have one common characteristic — they are cheap. But in the last few years, they stopped becoming just about being a breeze on the pocket. At some point, people with enough money to tank up at fancy bars began pouring in. And it became cool. Says Dhaval Agarwal, a businessman, “Mumbai cuts across various strata of society and that signifies safety to a great extent. Whenever someone doesn’t fit into a place, they tend to feel unsafe. In Delhi, you can’t go to such places. This city will always have its haves and have-nots, but they both are ready to go to a dive together and assimilate into one crowd. And that’s great.”
To try and date this culture back to when it began would be futile. But according to many young regulars, it’s the hook point that’s important. Mihir Dhairyawan is a 27-year-old city boy. His first trip to a dive was during college, when pocket money was inevitably at odds with his appetite for fun.
Dhairyawan says, “It’s part of the Mumbai culture. I could go to Blue Frog for a gig, but I know when I go to Janata (Bandra) I pay Rs 150 for a quarter of dark rum that would otherwise cost me Rs 700. I don’t want to have to think about my bill when I have everything I want at this place. In most cases, you can easily connect with one waiter who will personally remember your order and serve you with a smile, as opposed to a bartender in a big bar who won’t.”
At a dive, you build a relationship of sorts. It then becomes the rebound companion— it doesn’t change, has no expectations and is always there when you need it. No matter how long you take to return to it, the prices will be the same and the waiter will remember your drink.
Something also central to dives is their food. It may not be the healthiest, but then neither is the reason you’re there in the first place. Masala papad, dal khichdi, chilly chicken, chicken lollypop, garlic naan and prawn masala are some of the staples that most dives have on offer.
The first impression of a dive usually starts after newbies experience the warm feeling that comes after they notice the ‘Rs 30’ for a small peg of rum printed on the laminated A4-sized sheet. Then they look around and, in that dimly-lit room they realise that they could be sharing their table, if not the masala papad, with a constable from their neighbourhood police station or with the man who owns a tiny T-shirt stall on Hill Road.
“At places like Shankari in Andheri, if you listen closely, you may hear some of the best stories from the film industry. Here’s where you can chat up a spot boy or a light boy, people who are witness to the best situations,” says a young drinker, under the condition of anonymity. “You get to be part of the mob, no matter what financial background you’re from, and it’s awesome.”
Also allow these places to surprise you. A few weeks ago, a BMW pulled over in front of the tiny road outside Janata. Three middle-aged women, dressed in bling and stilettos, accompanied by two men, presumably husbands, stepped out and walked into the bar. No long faces were seen. And neither are any seen on the many people snuck out of backdoor entrances while owners of dives battle Mumbai’s cops for them.
Dives not only send us away with more money in our pockets, but also a good evening of being part of the crowd, and an experience worth our time.