THE SECRET LIFE OF CAFÉ NEW YORK
Café New York is an Irani restaurant in Gamdevi that serves Continental, Chinese as well as traditional Parsi food. Highlights include a jukebox that churns out retro numbers and drinks that don’t burn a hole in your pocket.
Café New York, 44, Dhabolkar Building, Hughes Road, Mumbai 400 007 Phone: 022 2363 2876
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On the corner of Hughes Road and Pandita Ramabai Marg in South Bombay
stands Café New York, one of the oldest Parsi cafés in the city. Unlike traditional Irani joints however, this one houses a secret – it leads a double life.
Upon first glance, Café New York appears perfectly normal – closely placed square tables with chequered cloths, menus under glass table tops, and wide doors left open to allow the sea breeze to waft in from Marine Drive. There is a small air-conditioned section, but why sit there when there’s a rare functional jukebox on the other side of the wall? From old nostalgic Bollywood songs to upbeat Beatles, you can find them all here. Pair those tunes with some delicious akuri or a burger and you’ve got yourself a zen day. It isn’t rare to find a family here arguing over what to order, or a partially deaf old man reading the newspaper and chatting with the staff about politics. On more than one occasion, I’ve just stood outside the café and marveled at the scenario being played out inside.
But this café’s secret lives directly above it. I discovered it when I was supposed to meet some friends at the café but found no one there on my arrival. A quick phone call told me to go upstairs. I was baffled, because I didn’t even know there was an “upstairs”. After an awkward conversation with the staff, I found myself apprehensively climbing up a narrow, dimly lit staircase in the corner. I opened the door at the top of the stairs and was blasted with the ending refrain of a Dire Straits song. I knew right then that I loved this place.
Stepping inside did nothing to dilute this impression. Dark wood filled the room and my vision. From the bar to the pillars to the furniture – everything was a deep shade of brown. Wooden shutters filtered the harsh noon sun, making it more mellow and serene. This is it, I thought. This is the kind of place the Beatniks drank in, where the Lost Generation gathered to write. I could see myself here, sitting by a window, reading, working, catching up with a friend – everything I would eventually do several times over the next few years.
Over the course of these numerous visits, I have also explored the menu thoroughly. Different from the café classics downstairs (but similar in its inclusion of various cuisines), this menu is just as delicious. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when I haven’t ordered their nachos. Jalapeño nacho chips with peppers, gravy boats of melted cheese, and salsa? I’ll be damned if I refuse. Then there’s the crispy fish and chips, quesadilla, paprika chicken, and creamy lasagna. I’ve never left Café New York disappointed with a meal. The bar offers a variety of drinks and cocktails, which I imagine must liven up the nights they screen football and cricket matches. But it’s the quiet afternoons I love the most, when the hours seem to melt away to the beat of classic rock music playing in the background.
Photographs by Suruchi Maira