I’ve lived near Club Road in Punjabi Bagh, west Delhi, most of my life, but I’ve always associated it more with the iconic red sign of Prince Paan than with the hot nightlife scene that it’s now synonymous with. So on a recent Saturday night, I decided to see how the newer watering holes have altered the wakhra swag of West Delhi’s nightlife destination on a pub crawl.
A string of at least a dozen restobars, interspersed with a couple of late-night waffle cafes, line both sides of the street, which is cramped with the BMWs and Mercedes of the area’s uber-posh citizenry. This 1.5 kilometre stretch was unimaginatively named after the private community club at its eastern end, but the name has acquired a more literal meaning over the past few years.
A majority of the new establishments are two to three years old and have a loose theme. For the (mostly Punjabi) locals, Club Road provides an easily traversable venue for #ragingscenes closer to home than the once preferred watering hole of Hauz Khas Village.
On one end of the road is locally notorious Hawalat Lounge & Bar by Gautam Gambhir. The theme of the pub is “Angrezon Ke Zamaane Ke Jailor” from Sholay, with couches placed behind bars and props such as police inspector hats, batons and handcuffs. A giant mural of Sunny Deol circa Tareekh Pe Tareekh looms over it all.
The main lure of this bar—-its name—-turns out to be false advertising. The owner isn’t the famous cricketer, who is a teetotaller and who actually sued the owner, another Gautam Gambhir for opening Hawalat and Ghunghroo by Gautam Gambhir”. The cricketer’s plea was rejected by the Delhi High Court. and the restaurauteur got the last word, when he said " Woh celebrity aur bahut bade cricketer hain toh meri bhi koi apni identity hai. Ab unka naam Gautam Gambhir hai toh main kya apna naam change kar loon?" (“He’s a celebrity and a big cricketer, but I have my own identity too. If his name is Gautam Gambhir, should I change mine?”) It’s a fascinating question, but the place is sadly less than intriguing.
A large family (again) took up most of the space. The dudes wore black leather jackets and sat at a separate table from the women, who were rocking their spangly gowns. Eventually they all got up to dance, the dudes pausing to take selfies with a bottle of Jameson and a baby, while the women looked on.
With a heavy heart and low blood-alcohol level, I walked towards the neon letters spelling out Headphones, a bar that made a big splash when it opened in July last year. Its success has already bankrolled a second location in South Delhi.
Like Pritam "taking inspiration" from Korean songs, Headphones replicates Ae Dil Hai Mushkil’s “The Breakup Song” in Punjabi Bagh. One of the owners, Nitin Bhojwani, told me over the phone that he and his partners actually went to London after watching the movie to buy the wireless headphones, which transmit three music channels while the house DJ pumps out something else.
In solidarity with a baby girl being forced to dance with headphones on by her family, I closed my eyes and covered my ears. “Daaru Party” and “Laila Main Laila” faded away and Arijit Singh greeted me with “Suno Na Sangemarmar”.
I opened my eyes. The juxtaposition of Jackie Bhagnani smoothly romancing my ears, with the contained violence of slow pelvic thrusting to “Amplifier” on the dance floor was kind of awesome. It was random bro Ajay’s bachelor party, and his entourage hit an orgiastic crescendo to “Tenu Ghodi Kinne Chadaya Bhootni Ke”. I caught up with them in the smoking area, where they were asking each other for ciggies: “Gulaaaabo, arre biddi peila do". We then took a selfie to check which camera took better selfies. At the designated selfie station, of course.
Where to next? There’s Masabaa, with its chained lion; Raftaar, the “High Speed Lounge & Bar” where both drinking and driving are encouraged; Take off Scarlet which seems to have an American Revolution-meets-Wakanda theme; and Sixth Empirica with its golden sarcophagi and Sufi nights. Not to mention a whole lot of places with such dubious names as Lost Street Door, MRP, and La eMe Cafe.
But what I had started to realise was that despite the stress on super-cool themes, at every bar on this road, the playlist and prices were all the same. The people too: mainly a weiner carnival with women as accessories. And large families celebrating birthdays.
So, I headed to The Submarine Lounge, which seemed like an appropriate place to drown my disappointment. I walked in to Akon’s “I Wanna Love You”, diving right down to an idea of cool from the mid-2000s (the bar opened in 2016). Spread out over two floors, Submarine has gigantic couches and a long bar, all under a dim haze the colour of paan stains. One of the two occupied tables was a family out for dinner: the father drinking and the other men eating chicken tikka while the women and children looked on longingly. In the background, the great Punjabi philosopher Yo Yo Honey Singh crooned an affirmation: "Main sharabi, main sharabi".
But I wasn’t here to observe Punjabi Bagh’s inability to cope with progressive dining habits despite an influx of post-liberalisation new monies, but for Submarine’s USP: an actual fucking submarine. Where was it?
My server, 36-year old JP told me, “They have a pandubi on a wall in the lower deck, but not an actual submarine.” This turned out to be a steam-punk installations of cogs, wheels and pipes, and, yes, a model sub, but nothing I could get into to properly soak in my sorrows. The fact that the bar had no Captain Morgan, or Bacardi Black, or even Old Monk—just an unfathomable elixir called “Dark Rum”—didn’t help.
I left, thinking how unfortunate it was that the bars on Club Road have the opposite problem as Gautam Gambhir—they may have different names, but they’re all the same.
Follow Parthshri Arora on Twitter.