Takeaway

Feeling Majestic

Zac O' Yeah | Updated on November 09, 2018

Lording over: On film opening nights, towering cut-outs of superstars in Bengaluru’s Majestic area are festooned with gargantuan garlands   -  IMAGES: ZAC O’YEAH

There’s never a dull or hungry moment in one of Bengaluru’s busiest areas

It’s Friday and I’m going to party in Bengaluru, but not in the microbreweries of Indiranagar or Koramangala. I prefer good old Majestic, the city’s traditional entertainment district, any day. Despite many of the cinemas being torn down, including the august Majestic Talkies that gave the area its name, to be replaced by shopping malls with multiplexes, there’s still a fair number of stand-alones left. On opening nights, their towering cut-outs of superstars are festooned with gargantuan garlands.

The area is rather congested but compact, so it’s better to ditch the rickshaw and enter on foot. I get off outside Janatha Bazaar, once the flagship department store in town, now looming forlornly, vacant and fenced-in. I admire its grandeur as I take a turn up 5th Main. Apparently, and not surprisingly for this shady interzone city-within-a-city, the palatial complex was erected in the 1940s for a Ponzi-scheme scam bank that tricked the Nobel Prize winner CV Raman into parting with his award money. When it went bust, the building was taken over by the PWD and turned into Janatha Bazaar in the mid ’60s.

Back then, Majestic had the largest number of cinemas per sq km anywhere, and of all the bars in Karnataka (of which 38 per cent is in Bengaluru) a majority are still concentrated in Majestic — the lion’s share of the city’s annual consumption of 455 million beers and 590 million bottles of hard liquor takes place here. While the gorgeous cinemas are butchered because of the Dubaification and Singaporisation of the city — the landmark Tribhuvan, which stood next to Janatha Bazaar, being one such casualty — it’s business as usual in the indoor bazaars. National Market may no longer be a hub of video piracy, now that unlimited downloadability comes with every smartphone, but remains a fun spot to haggle over electronics and whatnots.

Above all, around here there’s no dearth of bars that might inspire the Friday revelry — which, in some of the dives, starts as early as eight in the morning. Although such bars invariably are where punters aren’t encouraged to linger, there are decent sit-down joints, too, for a more meditative mug. Diagonally across from National Market, on a great corner spot, Talk of the Town (2nd Cross) may look like an average fast-food joint, but I push open the discreet door behind the open-air grill section and find a rather gorgeous, if shabby, dimly lit bar that dates back to the 1970s and is decorated with replicas of Paul Fernandes’s drawings of vintage Bengaluru. I start my evening with spicy tandoori chicken, shawarma rolls and too much beer, before exploring other backstreet drinking options.

 

Good to go: The variety of great food is due to the fact that Majestic has a huge floating population

 

 

Although traditionally the heart of the local Sandalwood film industry, life is very come-as-you-are, and no waiter will look twice at one’s bathroom slippers. I’ve heard from friends in the industry that the most popular whiskey in Majestic is Director’s Special, usually followed by a spot of casting-couch-surfing. A well-known filmi bar is the cavernous Green Hotel, in a quiet BB Naidu Road backyard, which was inaugurated by a superstar in 1990, its board still adorned by the motto: Film Industry’s Favourite Place.

Although I doubt the celluloid crowd drops by any more, the cobwebby décor certainly hasn’t changed in the decades I’ve hung out, and drink rates are among the cheapest for a sit-down bar.

Incidentally, a large beer in Majestic can be had for about ₹150 while a peg is rarely above ₹100, if going for local spirits.

But the Green’s grub is so-so. After the soggy cardboard-flavoured finger chips I carry on up the street until I reach Sujatha Complex, renowned for the tucked-away Fishland, an iconic seafood canteen dating back to the 1950s. The catch is incredibly fresh; the basic fish thali at ₹190 is decent value, but for a more upmarket experience, I pop into the adjacent sister restaurant, Status Deluxe AC Bar, which essentially serves the same crab, clams and prawns but in an elegant Art Deco setting where one can wash the snacks down with a somewhat dubious cocktail. For the price-conscious, Fishland just opened a fast-food counter on the ground floor, though you’ll not get to tipple there.

The variety of great food is due to the fact that Majestic has a huge floating population — people from all over India come to the adjacent main bus stand and the city junction, recently renamed Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna Railway Station. And obviously, travellers want enjoyable suppers. For one last port of call, I stop at the next corner where the huge Port of Pavilion (1st Main Road) virtually rules local nightlife — spread over several floors, it started out as a cultish Karnataka coastal eatery and still cooks up a mean chicken ghee roast. It has grown into a versatile nightclub; the other day I read in the papers that it gets raided by police once in a while for having lady staff working in one of its bar rooms. But I prefer the more masculine beer hall on the covered rooftop to relax over a few cheap drinks.

With that, the best value-for-money bar tour in pub city is complete, but I am already looking forward to my next visit to Majestic. Just give me an excuse!

 

 

Zac O’Yeah is a part-time travel writer and part-time detective novelist;

Email: zacnet@email.com

Published on November 09, 2018

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