Queen of Clubs

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Another sign that Bombay is booming: it seems like a new club opens each week. Since I arrived over 15 months ago, a number of new clubs, including Zenzi, Seijo and the Soul Dish, and Squeeze have opened in Bandra (north Bombay), the home of the nouveau riche, Bollywood stars, and the majority of Bombay’s decent clubs. Still other clubs, such as Enigma (at the Juhu Marriott), have reopened, cheesier – as I understand – than ever before. South Bombay has even gotten a few hangouts of its own, including the Intercontinental’s Dome, a stylish, white-couched restaurant-cum-lounge on the hotel’s roof with sweeping views of Marine Drive.

Bombay certainly loves its clubs, and the more vapid the better. Like New York or, say, Madrid, most locals prefer to go out as late as possible. The only problem is that many clubs end up shutting down by 1:30 because of assumed or actual police interference. It’s weird – you arrive at midnight and the music stops an hour and a half later. Though I love Bombay, I’ll never consider it a world-class city until it stops living in fear of corrupt cops or Shiv Sena goons.

Anyhow, although I have pretty much outgrown the clubbing urge, I have to get out of the house once in a while. For some reason, I often get questions from people who read this blog about the nightlife scene in Bombay. And, now that New Years is nearing, I thought the time was right to answer them. So, here’s a short run-down of some of Bombay’s clubs. Keep in mind that I am very biased and not easily impressed:

Jam at Seijo Polyesters 011.jpg Enigma Chandelier

North Bombay (Bandra and Juhu)

Name: Zenzi
Location:Waterfield Road
Decor: Modern Tropical meets Soho
The Good: The management is Dutch/Israeli, the setting is straight outta Thailand or Bali, and the food (which is really quite tasty) ranges from Mediterranean to sushi. Yes, this is India. Zenzi is laid-back, and tends to attract a mostly friendly, non-snobby bunch of beautiful people who enjoy listening to good music. The music, by the way, is what you’d expect in a hip nightclub and progresses throughout the night to include hip-hop, house, or whatever the DJ has on his or her i-Pod. I have never heard any Hindi music here, which, for me, is a very positive mark for the club. Also, unlike other clubs in this city, Zenzi doesn’t feel like a fire trap.
The Bad: The wide entrance room narrows significantly and unfortunately near the bar – a huge design flaw.
The Ugly: Last time I was there, the bathrooms (and only the bathrooms) smelled as if a rat had died in them. Hope that was just a one-time incident.

Name: Seijo and the Soul Dish
Location: Waterfield Road
Decor: Half Tokyo, Half New-York
The Good: Cut from the same cloth (and the same street) as Zenzi, Seijo almost didn’t make it thanks to BMC brutishness. But it has become a favorite of people across the city because of it’s chic, eco-friendly Japanese look, creative Asian-fusion food, and fun club nights, which include Indian and European DJs paired with live-music jam sessions. For example, one night included Thievery Corporation-style music combined with local tabla players. It was one of the few nights when I’ve been out when the music wasn’t cut short, and I could’ve stayed forever.
The Bad: Those combinations don’t always work. For example, a DJ was once paired with a French saxophonist. The combo seemed lame, and a bit misguided. Seijo is split into two, distinct sections – the restaurant and the club – and you start to feel really cramped in the smaller club section as the night goes on.
The Ugly: The stand-alone, futuristic egg-shaped toilets. They look stupid once you know what they are, and once inside, you feel like you’re at a port-a-potty. Also unfortunate are the club’s drink prices, which rival Tokyo. $12 for a cosmo – in Bombay? It’s insulting.

Name: Enigma
Location: Juhu Marriott
Decor: Enigma has a large dance floor, a small stage (for performers from MTV or elsewhere), and bar punctuated by an enormous, tri-color chandelier. Pure bombast in Bombay.
The Good: As the club is located in the Juhu Marriott, a hotel whose giant, outdoor torchieres make you think you’re entering the Thunder Dome, it tends to stay open later than most. This is a great place to spot Bollywood stars (of the A, B, and C lists), boozing cricketers, and the occasional international act (e.g., Flipsyde played there recently)
The Bad: Music, mostly Hindi, is played at a bpm so high, you can hardly even dance to it.
The Ugly: The last and only time I was there was when the club reopened last year. At that time, many of the patrons were gulping down shots that were poured down tubes by hyperactive bartenders. My guess is that many of the club-goers were newly rich techno-geeks who’d missed out on the beer bongs during college at M.I.T. Sloppy.

Name: Squeeze
Location: Bandra
Decor: Like Zenzi, Squeeze makes use of indoor and outdoor space. There are benches and a sort of rock garden as you enter. Then, the dance floor, which seems to take up about 5 floors of a building, is completely glassed-in.
The Good: Opened only in May 2005, Squeeze promised to fill the void and to be a place for dancing first, schmoozing second. For a Bombay disco, the DJs tend to take a few more risks than those at others. But, it still plays all the club faves ? Bollywood, Gwen Stefani, Madonna, 50 Cent.
The Bad: Bad bar design downstairs. On a regular night, it takes at least 15 minutes to get a drink. Even though the men at the velvet rope seem strict, the place always seems to crowded.
The Ugly: The perpetual cover. Like Seijo with its ridiculously priced drinks, this place is all about “squeezing” as much money out of you as possible ? even if they are aware that their being shut down 10 minutes after you pay.

Name: Olive Bar and Restaurant
Location: Bandra
Decor: This is a restaurant first and foremost, with a wonderful al fresco Mediterranean thing going on.
The Good: Around for some years now, Olive is the standby for the Bandra blingerati. It isn’t uncommon to be blinded by video cameras as news crews follow stars into the bar. Of course, this is a plus for people-watchers.
The Bad: It’s boring. The music may be nice, and the drinks cold, but ultimately you end up standing around Olive like an idiot. Instead of dancing, people are too busy preening and posturing.
The Ugly: See “The Bad.”

South Bombay (Bandra and Juhu)
Name: Indigo
Location: Mandalik Road, Colaba
Decor: High ceilings and clean lines are the hallmark of Indigo, one of the first restaurant/bars to change the social scene in Bombay. The downstairs is divided into a largish dining room and a railway-car shaped bar whose limitations are evident on crowded weekend nights. The seating is also a bit low-slung, making the furniture feel more like a liability than good design. Upstairs includes alfresco dining and an enclosed, sexy-looking bar.
The Good: Indigo is still one of the few places in South Bombay that has a “bar-like” feel. You can order drinks, stand around with friends, and chat or check other people out. It’s also one of the few places in South Bombay with an ever-changing, innovative, and decent western menu.
The Bad: I was bored with Indigo before I ever even visited the first time. I think the name just puts me off. A friend remarked when I told her about the place (I’m loosely quoting, here) “there’s not a town left in the world without a bar named Indigo.”
The Ugly: If you’re going for dinner, watch out: friends of mine cite the restaurant as the source of many a food poisoning. Not sure why. Perhaps they don’t filter the water for their ice? You’ve been warned.

Name: Saltwater Grill
Location: On Marine Drive, Chowpatty Beach area
Decor: As far as I can tell, Saltwater Grill’s dining area is almost entirely outdoors. So the designers decided to with an organic beach theme: picnic table-style seating, palm fronds, torchieres, etc. It’s nice without being cheesy.
The Good: Opened in 2004, Saltwater Grill is one of the newest South Bombay restaurant hangouts. Diners can sink their feet in the sand, while those who go to the bar (tucked away on the opposite end of the entrance) can lie around in hammocks. It’s relaxing.
The Bad: In my opinion, the restaurant has only three or four good months per year: November through February. During the other months, if you wish to dine or relax outdoors, you have to contend with still, humid air or monsoon threats. I’ve also heard of other scares of food poisoning from Saltwater Grill during its infancy. I think it’s got its act together now.
The Ugly: The location on the beach is gorgeous – and so is the view of the sweep of the Queen’s Necklace. Then, you realize that you’re near Chowpatty Beach, rife with its trash and occasional wafting smells.

Name: Polyester
Location: Gordon House Hotel, Colaba
Decor: Disco-light floor, strobe lights, big dancefloor: for better or worse, this club has the disco-era down. Polyester is an exact replica of all the other disco-themed “Polyester”-named clubs in the world, though, this being India, it’s surely a knock-off and not part of the actual chain.
The Good: If the music is right, you can actually dance at Polyester. No need for small talk.
The Bad: Unfortunately, Polyester is swarming with young college students who want to make small talk with you.
The Ugly: Polyester sticks to mostly fun music, not just 70s hits. But, what’s the deal with Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69” being played every, single time?

Well, that’s about all of my North/South Bombay club round-up, even though there are many other places I didn’t touch on, including Red Light, Lush, RA, Bed, Insomnia, Bohemia, et al. If you want to read up on some other Bombay clubs, check out this guide from the Guardian.

Hope some of you find this useful…