Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A pub standing testimony to the bygone era......

Q1 - For Hindi film buffs.
From which film of the 1970s is the following dialogue taken: “Mere pass maa hain!”

(Shame if you can’t answer it correctly. After all, this is one of the top ten memorable dialogues in the history of Hindi films. It is also hugely significant as it portrays mamma mania in a very successful manner)

Q 2: For scotch lovers and those who are clued in about advertising
Which Scotch whisky brand delivered the first motion picture advertisement for a drink in 19th century which was broadcasted on the roof of a building?
Apparently, it caused traffic to halt in amazement!

Well no, I am not veering towards ‘How to increase your general knowledge in 10 days” kind of a post. This blog is neither about quotable quotes from Hindi films or about marketing strategies in the 19th century; this is about a pub. An unusual pub steeped in history, located in a nondescript locale in Bangalore and boasts of the motliest crowd I have ever seen under one roof. The name of the pub is interesting; it shares the same name as the film whose dialogue I have mentioned above and that of one of world’s most respected blended scotch whiskey.

Yes, it is called Dewar’s!
The spelling differs a bit, of course.
And no, be assured that one doesn’t need to narrate verbatim the entire emotionally charged, over-the-top vocal combat between the two screen brothers (Amitabh Bacchan and Sashi Kapoor) or know the brewing history of Scotland before gaining rights to admission to Bangalore’s oldest pub!

A friend of mine, A (just the first alphabet of his name to keep it simple) was enjoying a much needed break from his hectic work schedule in Bangalore last month. Over drinks one evening, I lamented that I am yet to start exploring Bangalore properly; by that I mean delving into the nooks and corners and various hidden treasures that makes Bangalore as a city, special. As an answer to this, A, who has been an inhabitant of Bangalore for long offered benevolently to take me out to Dewar’s. He mentioned that it is definitely one of those places in Bangalore that I must visit and I was keen on taking his advice. His confidence when he stated that it is indeed very, very different from the pubs I am used to visiting roused my curiosity!

Disclaimer: If you are prima donna types, there is a high possibility that you may NOT warm up to this place. I am mentioning this upfront. But the ones, who are explorers and like unusual places, please try and visit it as and when you can; am sure it will add to your quota of anecdotes.

I started checking with the few friends who keep visiting different places with the purpose of gathering some information about Dewar’s; most had either not heard or have heard but not visited Dewar’s. Only one of my close friends had been there and he gave me a friendly warning on hearing me out, “Please do not go in a girls gang, it not that kind of place, have a few male friends/ colleagues with you incase you are that adamant.”

Now, statements like this always brings out the Mata Hari in me; I was now totally determined to not let go of the first opportunity of visiting Dewar’s that presents itself to me. I did inform my husband and another male friend R (as a back up in case hubby has to indulge in far more important activities like staring intently at his laptop) to be on stand-by as my ‘hang out buddy cum bodyguard’ as and when I go gallivanting there.

But now that I have visited it, I can vouch that it is women friendly. However, a small word of caution for the women readers; to me it did not seem like a place where you wear “come hither” cocktail dresses and giggle with your gang of girls. But if you are part of a mixed crowd of men and women and have everyday casual wear on, you should feel perfectly comfortable.

Finally, the rendezvous:
Finally one Friday afternoon, couple of weeks back, A & me decided that its time for our Dewar’s tryst. By the time we picked up another of A’s friend who was to accompany us and headed towards Dewar’s, dusk had set in. I always feel that there is something distinctly different about a Friday evening; somehow the streets seem full of chirpier crowds and people look brighter and seem happier. In fact that day, the brightly lit street lights (this is not always the case with Bangalore) on the roads made the city look like a gold swathed damsel ready-to-party, as we zoomed past in a gung-ho mood, indulging in light banter as we headed towards our coveted destination for the evening.

Dewar’s is situated on suggestively named “Cockburn” road near Cantonment station. Honestly, even I thought that’s such a cheesy name for a road!
The entrance is run down and dingy. Upon entering, I had a strange feeling that I am walking into a movie set. Not the yuppie and flashy Yash Chopra or Karan Johar ones, but that of the 1950’s; being a Bengali I could visualize Uttam Kumar (one of our legendary heroes) seated in one of the chairs, clad in middle-class get up, ordering snacks to the bearer!

Let me acknowledge what Dewar’s stands for before I venture further.
Dewar’s is grunge. Dewar’s is Raj era. Dewar’s has refused to let time play with it and is not into cosmetic looks; Dewar’s is proud of its wrinkles. And no, Dewar’s does not play music; the hum of conversation is the only background score available.
Yes, I could see and feel that Dewar’s is different!

Brief history:
Dewar’s was set up in the 1920s (20s or 30s are debatable) when Bangalore was divided into City and Cantonment. In those pre independence days, one did not see a single Indian face at Dewar's except that of the owner and his family. The owner Mr. Naidu was a successful business man who ran one of the most popular watering hole with an iron hand. Apparently, the building was earlier a hakim's shop selling native medicines, which was converted to a bar. During that period, many Indian establishments used Anglicised names to appeal to the British ears.

Dewar’s =Nostalgia:
As you enter, you pass a small lobby that has soot stained walls on both sides. It leads to a main sitting area which has few rosewood tables that seems age proof surrounded by cane chairs reminiscent of the garden chairs of our childhood; nothing showy, but sturdy, and comfortable ones. Apparently the materials were imported from Singapore and some weaver in Shivajinagar has done a fine job of them. The place also boasts of two private areas for those who seek to be away from prying eyes. These cozy nooks are basically small areas partitioned with wooden walls and flower patterned curtains, with rexine sofas which are tattered with sponges sticking out in places.

The bar counter has out-of-this-world d├ęcor. The walls behind the counter, every inch of it, are filled with photographs of Hindu deities. Mind you, in keeping with the British era, it also has a photograph of Queen Elizabeth and of the British royal family. The third generation owner Mr. Vardharaj manages the counter. It seemed as if the pantheon of deities are blessing while somrasa is being served.

As we made ourselves comfortable, Bhaskar, one of the popular waiters, headed towards us with a smile on his weather beaten face. He rattled off the favourite snack items and we settled for fish filet and chicken roast to accompany our drinks.
FYI: Most of the staff has been with Dewar’s for decades; the present cook Richard included.
I took in the surrounding while we waited for the snacks to arrive. The ceiling fans seemed from another century. They even moved at the same speed as they used to decades back; Bangalore was then truly the garden city and had excellent climate that made fans redundant most of the year. There were two steel almirah set against one wall, which had some upturned, unused chairs on top of them. I have never seen or heard of steel cupboard in a bar – such is Dewar’s uniqueness! (The extra stock is kept there, by the way)
There were hooks fixed on wooden doors of the partitions of private areas, perhaps for hanging coats when that was a must in one’s outdoor wardrobe. The place also had some antique, pre independence era ceiling lights, reminiscent of Havelis and Zamindars, as seen in various black and white movies. For the second time I felt, I am part of a troupe in a movie set.

My mind had wandered; it was as if I am back in those colonial times, when horse driven carriages used to line up in the main entrance and British soldiers would visit Dewar’s seeking their favourite snacks and drinks.
I was jolted back from daydream as the aroma of fish fillet filled my nostrils…and I must admit it was one of the most delicious fillets I have had in a long, long time.

Recipe for the mouth watering fillet:
Take any large fish, preferably seer or something else that has a single bone. Cut off the head and the tail, wash the remaining part thoroughly and remove the skin. The fish then needs to be cut lengthwise, to de-bone it. Once sliced into large chunks, it should be marinated with salt, turmeric powder, chili powder and vinegar. Breadcrumbs should be used to get the binding. Dewar’s stores the slices in the refrigerator and they are taken out just before frying.

The recipe has an interesting history too.
I was told that the above mentioned recipe is that of an Irish cook who worked here during the present owners’ father’s days. Apparently, the Irish cook was the personal cook of a jockey named Duffy. When Duffy went out of Bangalore to ride in races in other places for six months or more at a stretch, he would leave his cook at Dewar’s, for safekeeping!

Dewar’s is a haven for the carnivorous. It is known for the spicy spares preparations (liver, kidneys and brains) that are served. Brain fried with onions is a hot favourite here and so are the keema (minced meat) balls.

Dewar’s sits about 35-40 and a wide array of regular customers visit this homely, old joint. Not the typical techie crowd of IT hub, but people of different age groups, of different demographics. I was also informed that if a table has seating capacity of five and only two are occupying it, then if a group of 2 or 3 people come in, they may sit in the same table, not waiting for the previous two to vacate it. The newly arrived carries on with their conversation, while you carry on yours. This is a practice I have noticed even when I visited the Coffee House on MG Road and honestly I find the practice bizarre and intrusive, but well...each place has its own rules.

We ended up ordering another round of drinks while I quizzed Bhaskar about the history and interesting facets about the bar. Apart from the few regular’s that Bhaskar pointed out, I also saw some coolies (railway porters) and some beggars stroll in for their drinks. They paid for their drinks and had them at the counter itself. There were also a few youngsters who were making merry on one table with rebellious sounding t-shirts. As I stated in the beginning, it entertained the most dissimilar crowd, which I have ever seen. Dewar’s seemed to me a platform where the haves and have not’s of the society can stand shoulder to shoulder and have their drinks; each respectful of the other. Power to true democracy!

It was a well spent evening. As I walked back to the car, thanking Bhaskar for the food and information, I just had one strong wish. I just hoped that places like Dewar’s stay the way they are. Forever. So that, we can glimpse the past, as it used to be, years back. And I raised a silent toast to that.

3, Cockburn Road
Frazer Town, Bangalore
Tel: +91- 080.2555.5460.

The photograph of the bar and the interior is courtesy: