I read an interesting article on British pubs by a columnist called Bill Kirkman recently. You can read it here.
Bill Kirkman normally writes about education, culture and politics and so it was interesting to read his article on pubs. He has positioned it as an article on culture, which is quite smart on his part 🙂
The article reminded me of my own favourite pubs and bars, across the years.
There was the ‘House of Jazz and Blues’, in Shanghai, where Sam Hooper played his jazz guitar wonderfully, like a master. When I was in Shanghai, I never missed Sam Hooper’s performance, whenever he was in town. Sam Hooper was a genius in jazz – in both singing and playing the jazz guitar – and the crowd on Friday and Saturday nights always asked for an encore, when he finished his performance. ‘House of Jazz and Blues’ was the only place that I know that had James Bond’s favourite drink ‘Vodka Martini – shaken not stirred’ 🙂 It is good, but I think it is an acquired taste 🙂 Another interesting memory for me, about ‘House of Jazz and Blues’ was that once I met an English airline pilot there, who spoke in Tamil and who said that he knew how to make idli and dosa! We had quite a fascinating conversation! There was the ‘Cotton Club’ which my dear friend Jai introduced to me. It was also a jazz bar, where the lead guitarist wore a long pony tail, and who strummed the jazz guitar to melodious music. I love jazz bars, but for some reason I haven’t been to the jazz bar in the ‘Peace Hotel’. Then there was ‘Woodstock’ which was my favourite bar for a long time – for its lighting, the right kind of crowd, and the classic rock music that was played there. It was also a place where I met many interesting people. One of the people I met here called herself ‘Lemon’! I have never known anyone with a first name of ‘Lemon’ before! Another person I met was an artist, who liked painting David Beckham! Then there was ‘Little Cayman’ which at some point of time, was a home away from home, for me. The manager, bartender and waitresses were warm and friendly and the waitresses sometimes used to sit with customers and play board games or tile games (like ‘Jenga’ or a version of ‘Andantino’) and beat the hell out of them 🙂 When I asked the manager once, is despair, when I was going to win my first board / tile game, she used to encourage me by saying that I will become better with practice. When the manager was not smiling, I knew that business was not good that day.
Then there was ‘Zapata’ which was named after Mexico’s famous leader. It had awesome Mexican food – the enchiladas and soup were delicious – which one could try on weekdays. On weekends, there was no place to even stand, with the place being so crowded and everyone dancing even on the table. ‘Zapata’ had an interesting notice at the entrance which said : ‘Prostitutes are not allowed inside the bar. If you don’t know whether you are a prostitute or not, please contact the reception!’ My friend and I never stopped laughing when we talked about this! Then there was ‘Judy’s Too’, which played classic pop and rock and which had a wild atmosphere on Saturday nights, with some of the visitors wearing white shirts and sunglasses which had flickering lights. Unfortunately, it was also filled with ‘fishing’ girls’ and so one spent a lot of time fending them off. One of my former bosses who is a good friend of mine gave me an interesting recipe for a drink and showed us how putting a piece of chilli inside a drink will dramatically improve the taste of the drink. In Judy’s Too, the bartender used to put lemon slices and jalapeno pepper inside a bottle of Corona beer and it was awesome as my boss had said it would be! It is amazing, how much we can learn from our bosses, if we keep our eyes and ears open 🙂
There was ‘Windows’ where all drinks (whether it was the cheapest beer or coke or the expensive bourbon whisky) cost either RMB 10 or 20. Because of that Windows was perenially crowded. I discovered my favourite beer here – ‘Coors-Lite’. I am not a big fan of beer, but I liked ‘Coors-Lite’ very much. It had the beer taste without being strong, which was very nice. In later years, when I tried the Russian drink ‘Kvass’, it reminded me of Coors-Lite – the only difference was that ‘Kvass’ was even better! The African-American DJ at Windows was awesome and he normally played foot-tapping hip hop music. They had pool competitions at this bar sometimes and it was fun to watch different people showing off their pool skills. The owner of Windows was a handsome African-American and he had a blonde girlfriend who was stunning!
‘O’Malleys’ was an interesting place, because at one point of time, it was the only place in Shanghai, which showed cricket matches. On such occasions the subcontinental customers to the pub outnumbered the others! ‘O’Malleys’ was an Irish pub and so the decor was beautiful. There was also a guitarist who played popular songs there. ‘Flying Fox’ was another Irish pub which showed cricket matches – it was smaller than O’Malleys but it was nice in its own way. Irish pubs had beautiful decor and wood panelling and interesting pictures displaying Irish culture. Some of the words written in those pictures were in Irish, which resembled the runes in Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’. It reminded me of what I had read in a book on UK history called ‘The Isles : A History’ by an interesting historian called Norman Davies – that Irish are not English people who speak in a strange accent, but are people who have their own history, language and culture.
‘Barbarossa’ was an interesting place – it was a strange name for a nightlife venue, because the name has a lot of political overtones – it means ‘Red Beard’ and was originally the name of a German King and Roman Emperor and it was later made famous because it was the codename given by the Nazis for their invasion of the Soviet Union, during the Second World War. ‘Barbarossa’ was there in the middle of the city, but it was difficult to discover unless you knew about it. One had to take a long walk after entering a gate next to the Shanghai Art Gallery, walk on the banks of small pools of water – small lakes and ponds – and in the middle of the grounds was the spectacular Barbarossa. It had beautiful lighting, many rooms, and was a wonderful place to have a big party. Rujin was an interesting place too – it was probably the house of a Taipan during the Concession era, which had been converted to a set of bars and restaurants. Chez Simone had a sophisticated manager and sophisticated waiters and waitresses and the wines and the bourbons served there were the best! It was a place to sip a drink and have an intellectual conversation to change the world 🙂
There was another bar (I can’t believe that I have forgotten the name!) where a band called ‘Shock’ used to play. Their quality of singing was average, but they were passionate about their singing and I liked them for that. The lead singer of the band was a pretty lady, who danced while she sang, and who sometimes used to have a conversation with me after she had finished her singing. She used to say that she liked dancing more than singing. One of the musicians who was a keyboard player was a nice chap too, and I used to talk to him sometimes. The bar was normally crowded on Friday and Saturday evenings, but it had a buzz about it. It was here that I loved sipping my favourite drink, Jack Daniel’s (Is there a better drink?) and hear my favourite pop / rock songs being played. It was a pleasure to do that on a winter night – getting into the cozy bar from the cold weather outside, sipping Jack Daniel’s from a glass and feeling the warmth flow into one’s body and taking in the music – it was magical!
Xintiandi, of course, abounded with bars and restaurants and it was difficult to separate one from the other. The beautiful Shikumen architecture made one feel that one was entering a different world. Whenever one went to Xintiandi, it was like going to a fair – so many things were happening inside! My favourite place in Xintiandi used to be a restaurant called ‘Che’ – named after the guerilla leader Che Guevera. They made and served an awesome Spanish omelette there! Unfortunately, it closed down after sometime. ‘Luna’ was also an interesting place, because, it had a few Egyptian dishes on the menu! More interesting was the ‘Figaro’ cafe, opposite to Xintiandi, which had wonderful varieties of coffee and tea, had a ‘Crostini’ to die for (the best that I have ever had), the pastas there were awesome and it was a literary meeting place at that time – with creative writing workshops, writer’s meetings, book club meetings and book lovers’ meetings! The manager of ‘Figaro’ herself was an interesting, literary person and she used to come for most of these literary meetings. If you entered ‘Figaro’ there was a high probability that you would bump into a writer! I heard recently that this branch of ‘Figaro’ has closed down, and I think it is a real shame – it was one of the literary cafes and landmarks in Shanghai. I nearly missed one place – ‘Glamour Bar in ‘M on the Bund’. It had a breathtaking view of the Bund! My reason for visiting it, was different though – it was the venue of the annual Shanghai Literary festival 🙂
Other favourites of mine include a bar in the ‘Cosmopolitan Hotel’ in Hong Kong, where a beautiful Filipino singer sang melodious songs and remembered my name, and where the manager of the bar had an interesting, tongue-twisting Vietnamese / Cambodian name. ‘Dublin’ in Chennai is nice – it has real class and a wonderful decor. The last time I went there, I had a glass of wine, admired the decor, spied on what other people around were talking about (the Ashes cricket series was on at that time, and a few people were discussing about the day’s play), and read a book. Before I left, I ordered and carried a bottle of Argentinian Malbec wine with me. I have heard that ’10 Downing Street’ in Chennai is excellent, but I have not been there yet. It is one of the places on my ‘To be visited’ list. I have also heard that a jazz singer performs live in the pub at the ‘Taj Coromandel’ in Chennai, but I haven’t been there yet and so it is another place on my ‘To be visited’ list.
‘Tavern’ in Bangalore is an interesting place too – the crowd is sophisticated and if one looks around, one can see some interesting scenes – like guys professing their devotion to their women friends and the women blushing with excitement or politely fending off the attention. There is a Thai restaurant next to Tavern, and I once had an interesting snack there. It was made of green peas and it was soft and probably roasted. When one put a green pea inside one’s mouth, it was nice. But if one tried chewing it, then one discovered that it was steaming hot! I don’t know how the outside of a green pea can be at room temperature, while the inside of the green pea could be piping hot! It must be because of some unique cooking technique. I nearly burnt my tongue that day, trying to eat green peas! However, once I discovered the secret, I learnt to enjoy eating these specially cooked green peas.
‘Geoffrey’s’ inside ‘The Park’ is also an interesting place. One of my women friends used to say that she went there whenever one of her lady friends visited her, and they used to try smoking inside Geoffrey’s! (She was a non-smoker). Interesting, how bars make rebels out of us and make us let our hair down! (Reminds me of a movie that I saw recently, called ‘The Banger Sisters’. It is the story of two friends, who were groupies, who meet after many years. One of them lives an unpredictable, adventurous life while another has put her past behind and had become a respectable person in her community. The sparks fly when they meet again. For the rest of the story you have to see the movie 🙂 The movie has Susan Sarandon (what an actress she is!) and Goldie Hawn (she is so adorable in this movie!) – Goldie Hawn is the wild one and Susan Sarandon is the reformed one.). Some of my friends used to rave about ‘Purple Haze’ in Bangalore, but, unfortunately, I haven’t been there. Other friends have said nice things about ‘Firangi Pani’ but I haven’t been there either.
When we lived in Africa, when I was a child, we lived in the middle of a bar street 🙂 There was a bar in the front part of the our apartment complex and I was lucky to peek into it once. One of the ‘ladies’ who used to frequent the bar was a family friend of ours, and I was a favourite of hers. She was tall and graceful and one of the most beautiful African women I have seen. She sometimes used to drop in to our home and talk to my mom and play with me. Unfortunately I was too young to enjoy the African nightlife at that time. One of my friends, who went to Africa recently, says that the place rocks! Need to plan my trip soon 🙂
An interesting description of a pub scene, that I have read, is from the novel ‘The Undomestic Goddess’ by Sophie Kinsella. One of the main characters in the story owns a bar and he shows the heroine how to pull a pint of ale. It is a fascinating scene. One thing which I forgot to mention is Guinness beer. I don’t know how a beer can look so dark! I have never tried it but some of my friends who are connoisseurs swear by it. It is one thing which I have to try in the future.
I watched a movie called ‘Feast of Love’ sometime back. It had one of my favourite actors, Morgan Freeman (am a big fan of Morgan Freeman!). The movie was filmed in Portland, Oregon. When I discussed it with one of my friends who lives in Portland, Oregon, she gave me more information about the places which came in the movie – ‘Lucky Labrador Brew Pub’ and ‘Fresh Pot Coffee Shop’. She also mentioned about one more place called ‘Laurelhurst Pub’ which was popular among Portland residents. When I visit Portland sometime, I am hoping to catch up with my friend and visit all these places 🙂 (By the way, if you haven’t seen ‘Feast of Love’ I would recommend it. Morgan Freeman is awesome as usual, and the movie on the whole is excellent).