Sleepless in Goa

Veena Venugopal | Updated on April 17, 2014

If Goa is the party centre of the country, then, indisputably, Tito’s is its very nucleus. Photo: Veena Venugopal

The end of an evening at Tito's Photo: Veena Venugopal

Waiting for the gymnast at Café Mambo Photo: Veena Venugopal

Nikita Khattar and her friends Photo: Veena Venugopal

The line outside Tito’s nightclub at 1 am Photo: Veena Venugopal

In the last decade and a half, Tito’s lane has become the place to party in Goa. The making of Goa’s golden mile, surprisingly, began with a tiny bar

By 6pm the lights come on. The music is turned up, just a notch, so that you know where it’s coming from, even if you can’t make out which song is playing. Tanned bodies stumble in from the beach at one end of the lane. At the other, the young and the beautiful spill out of their rented cars, the fumes of their freshly spritzed perfumes filling the air. In the middle of the lane, a man tries to take a few steps, staggers, tries to hold himself steady and then gives up. He sits on the pavement, and after a moment’s consideration, lies down. He is unshodden, dirty, and too drunk to care. Behind him, a white billboard flickers into life. In bold red, it says, “Tito’s. Where else?!”

If Goa is the party centre of the country, then, indisputably, Tito’s is its very nucleus. From September to March, when it’s officially tourist season, on any weekend in Goa, there are about a 1,000 people who wake up with a hangover they are likely to have acquired in Tito’s lane. On special days — New Years’ Eve and Christmas, this number multiplies four or five fold. Tito’s is a name so popular in Goa, that not only is it inscribed on every graffiti-free wall that is available from the airport to the northern beaches of Baga and Calangute, it has also taken over an entire lane.

All told, Tito’s lane is only about 900m long. It breaks off the Aguada Siolim Road — the preferred route to pay pilgrimage to all of Goa’s northern beaches — and starts unobtrusively enough with a grocery store in the corner. This is where the practical-minded can stock up on bottled water to stay hydrated on a night on the lane. From there, barring an occasional store selling the kind of trifle only a tourist would buy, the lane is so packed with bars, pubs and nightclubs that it seems like another universe altogether; one that was created exclusively for hedonism.

Even though it’s too early for the party to swing in right earnest, I am happy to skirt past the shoeless drunk to step into Tito’s. The restaurant. Not to be confused with Tito’s the nightclub next door. Like Meryl Streep in a sea of Kim Kardashians, Tito’s the restaurant is shimmeringly adult and sexily grown up. The furniture is dark wood and chiffon-like canopies flutter in the breeze from the sea. At a table, on a platform raised just so that it feels like you are floating above the road, David Andrew De Souza is waiting for me. Trim and with a face that belies his 44 years, David, along with his brother, Ricardo, are the co-owners of Tito’s. Not just the eponymous restaurant and the nightclub. In one form or the other, the De Souza brothers have a stake in most of Tito’s lane.

In a while, De Souza would tell me which establishments are his, but first, in the facetiousness that can only be afforded by the really successful, he tells me he rarely wears pants. When I peep down the table, I notice they are heavy-duty pants — cargo khakis with multiple pockets. I am dutifully grateful. “Tito’s is ours — the club and the restaurant. Then we own Club Mambo. I co-own Kamaki with a friend. Not the property, just the business. And we own Café Cape Town across the road. Café Del Mar on the beach is ours,” he counts off, and then thinks for a while before adding, “and a few others here and there”. It is hard to tell if De Souza is boastfully modest or modestly boastful (“I love making money. I hate counting it.” “I make do without a sports car; I make do without a plane.”) Either way, he has earned his story. For in the beginning, there were only five tables and a balcony.

In 1971, David’s father, Tito Henry De Souza, came to Goa from East Africa and decided to start a restaurant. Goa was hippie-central then and tourists came from Germany, USA and England, and stayed six months at a time. Having lived abroad, Tito and his wife were comfortable in this milieu and decided to start a place that would get the expatriates together. De Souza was a good cook and could turn up a mean fish and chips or a fillet of beef. Starved of familiar fare, foreign tourists flocked to Tito’s for comfort food. The restaurant soon became a community. Tourists would have their mails delivered here, leave notes for each other on a board. Often, they brought their own music cassettes and played them in a small player in the restaurant. Romances flourished and friendships were forged across the tables at Tito’s.

“We knew all the guests then. Business was about relationships. My father met this man in a ditch once. Literally. He was coming back from the bar. And this man was going to the bar to get more booze. It was monsoon. Dad fell into the ditch. And found this guy there. They helped each other out of it, became friends and eventually, business partners. Now his son works with me in Kamaki. But the Goa of that time is gone,” says De Souza.

In 1985, the senior De Souza succumbed to liver cancer and Ricardo and David had the choice of continuing their education or running the business. They chose the latter. Ricardo ran the kitchen and forced David to handle the bar, only because it meant an extra hour of work every day. David mixed drinks and ran from the bar to the kitchen with food orders.

“Slowly, we just began to get busier. The number of tables went up from five to seven, then 10. And soon we were running out of place. When the plot next to us became available, we bought that and expanded. And so on. Until now,” he shrugs. At the time, in the late ’80s and early ’90s, the young De Souzas would make about ₹2,500 on Christmas night. Now, that’s the entry charge for any of their clubs on a big night.

The start of this millennium was the inflection point in the life of Tito’s. Indians had begun travelling. And they were looking for the ‘mother of all parties’ as the calendar changed from 1999 to 2000. Goa had, for a few years then, been the favoured year-end destination for people in Mumbai and Bangalore. But for New Year’s Eve 2000, the young and hip across the country descended on Goa. A lot of local bars advertised mega-nights of loud music and unlimited booze. But several of them did not have the required licences. Alarmed by the crowd and worried that something might go spectacularly wrong, the authorities refused to allow any party which didn’t have a proper permit. Almost everyone who was in North Goa ended up at Tito’s. De Souza placed a stage that opened onto the beach, and even at 7 the following morning people were screaming for more. Tito’s had arrived.

De Souza is not entirely sanguine about the change in clientele. “The backpackers did not have money. But they made Tito’s for me. Indian tourists have money and we are packed every night. It isn’t necessarily the crowd I’d like. But hey, I like their money,” he says.

By the time I step out of the restaurant, the buzz outside has grown to a steady din. Masses of people are walking in from both ends of the road. Occasionally, a car lumbers in, only to be left stranded while people mill past it like wildebeest in a Serengeti documentary. It’s a great mass of humanity, primed for a Friday night, when enjoy they must. Caught among the young and the eager to party, is a group of elderly tourists. Speaking Telugu and clutching their handbags and pallus, they gawk at the displays of affection and affectation playing out in the lane with a mixture of fear and revulsion. For a while they look trapped, as though they were accidentally ejected there from a time machine. Eventually they recover and hurry their friends along. At the end of the lane they cross over to the main road and stand there watching the spectacle of new India dressed up and ready to drink the night away, safe from behind an imaginary wall of passing cars.

There is a line outside Tito’s nightclub. A dozen or so men are poring over the poster. I walk past them, find a gap in the wall of black-shirted bouncers guarding the entrance and enter Club Mambo. The tables outside are filled with large groups of tourists — brown and white-skinned — and most of them are in that middle stage of a long evening of drinking — loud, yet affable. Inside, at the centre is a raised platform with a long sash hanging from the ceiling. At some point in the night, a Russian gymnast is expected to perform an acrobatic dance on it. The dance floor, waxed and wooden, runs around it. The DJ spins the latest rave tunes and a hundred or so people move with it. The strobe lights fly all over the room and everything is visible only as a blur. Everyone in Mambo, it seems to me, is young. And they are all beautiful.

When I step out, I notice the crowd outside has gone past the affable stage of drunkenness and is now well into its affected stages. I sit on a stool by the bar and a bunch of girls, all dressed in what designers are lately prone to calling ‘resort wear’ — long, flimsy dresses and halter neck tops — are taking photographs of each other. They pose with their index and little finger flexed, the gesture of coolness now current to teenagers around the world. Every few minutes one of them calls for a group hug and they converge. It is a wonder the hug doesn’t collapse on the ground in a heap. Somehow they manage to stumble out of it, even if it involves several lurches and many mis-steps.

It’s well past midnight when I leave Mambo. The crowd has thinned a little. Yet, outside Tito’s nightclub there is still a line waiting to check past the metal detector. I feel too old and too tired, to go in and so I walk on. I stop at Café Cape Town, which is as much a café as Starbucks is a bar, and order a drink and some food. The pork chops when they arrive are a delight and the king fish is the size of a cushion. Next to me, two girls are busy texting on their phones.

Like most foreigners in Goa now, my texting aficionado neighbours — Masha and Polina — are also from Russia. Masha works in a travel company and lives in Goa for six months in the year. Polina is here visiting. They tell me they come to Tito’s lane every day.

“Why?” I ask.

“Good music, good people,” Masha says.

Even in St Petersburg, where she lives the rest of the year, Masha cannot go out as safely so late in the night, she tells me. Perhaps it is the vintage bar top and the slightly older clientele, but it does exude a feeling of security, while across the road, Kamaki is pumping out high-decibel music and beaming technicolour videos on giant television screens. Although De Souza attributes the success of his business to just being at the right place at the right time, it is clear that he has carefully curated his portfolio of bars in Tito’s lane. And Café Cape Town is where he intends for the older demographic of his clientele to head.

“This place is fun and no problem,” Polina says. “We come here every day.”

The following evening I find neither Masha nor Polina at Café Cape Town. But at the next table are half a dozen 20-somethings talking Hinglish in the manner that is mostly heard in Mumbai. One of them, a wiry girl with a ballerina’s body and a Barbie’s head, stands by the table dancing alone. Her eyes are closed and she sways away, occasionally lifting a knee or pumping her fist in the air. The waiters walk around her, watching out for an errant elbow which could send their tray of drinks crashing. Her friends continue to chat like she isn’t there. And since this is in Tito’s lane, no one stares.

It is Saturday and the crowd on the lane has only grown larger. The few shops on the lane, which are not bars, are filled with shoppers — buying what passes off as turquoise and silver jewellery, fake-original branded T-shirts and brightly coloured flip-flops. The lane is strewn with fliers announcing Tito’s deal for the day, written prominently in English and Russian. ‘Free entry for ladies.’ And ‘Free unlimited drinks.’ But men pay ₹1,500 for entry.

Nikita Khattar and her three friends arrived just that afternoon from Delhi. I find them bargaining with a street vendor for party accessories — fluorescent bands that are wrapped around the wrist, forehead or waist. Eventually they buy hairbands with big bows on them, like aspirants for a Minnie Mouse Club, and pose for photographs.

Khattar runs a tiki bar in Delhi, she tells me, and so in a way her job is to have a good time. But she has heard so much about Goa, she just had to come here. “Like had to had to, you know,” she insists.

I ask her where they are going. And the four of them chorus, “Tito’s! Where else?!”

“Delhi clubbing is very different,” Khattar explains, “you have to be careful about what you wear.”

“Because it’s unsafe?” I ask her.

“No,” she tells me, fixing me with a look that suggests wonder at which planet I’ve come from. “Because people are always judging you, man. You have to be with it with it, you know. You can’t be yourself in Delhi.”

Important psycho-social lesson about Delhi learned, I walk on. Though I reach the entrance of Tito’s five minutes later, I don’t see Khattar or her friends. A line of 50 or so men are waiting their turn to enter the nightclub. Each time the doors open you can hear the thump-thump of the music playing inside. Necks crane to sneak a peek, like they are expecting a movie star to walk out. I hang back.

It’s past 1am when I finally walk into the nightclub. Being ‘ladies’ I don’t have to pay or queue up. I pass through the metal detector and get my bags checked. Despite myself, I feel excited. Like something epic is about to happen to me. I am told the door on my left is “western” and the one on my right is Bollywood. People are sitting everywhere. A loud argument breaks out on my right, so I pick the door on the left and walk in. Inside is a large dance floor. Chock-full of men dancing with each other. Women seem to prefer the floor upstairs. Within seconds, there are half a dozen men around me asking me if I was alone and insisting that I dance with them. “Let me buy you a drink,” pleads one repeatedly. When I consistently refuse, he says, “I was only offering because it’s free,” and walks away. I walk over to the other door and it is simply more of the same.

Perhaps it’s the fact that I am closer to 40 than 20, but I am disappointed by Tito’s, the nightclub. Like most places in the country, it’s just a bunch of men dancing with each other while getting roaring drunk. It is impossible to see this as a place where you could meet new people or have your mail delivered or attempt any kind of human contact more meaningful than swaying next to a sweaty body. Tito’s now occupies perhaps all that was visible from its balcony once. It would be dramatic to say that it has lost its soul. Certainly, it has changed in character.

It’s nearly 3am when I walk out. The smell of booze and sweat is so strong that it overpowers the stink of the sea. Three young men walk out behind me. Two of them stand swaying and just like that, with no warning whatsoever, the middle one crumples. I leave him lying on the pavement, as his friends stand guard, a few yards away from where the shoeless drunk lay just a day earlier. It could be my writer’s luck, this circular end, or this could be what happens in Tito’s lane just about every night.

Published on February 07, 2014

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