TIME TO GIVE COFFEE O’CLOCK A CHANCE
Coffee O’Clock is a café on Veera Desai Road, Andheri that serves a mean hazelnut cappuccino. Don’t be surprised if you find it empty; the neighbourhood residents are still getting used to its presence.
Coffee O’Clock, Shop No. 2, Nirmal LTD, Veera Desai Road, Andheri (w), Mumbai 400 053. Phone: 098208 31321
For weeks after it materialised out of the ether, you could read the thoughts of locals passing by. We didn’t quite know what to make of Coffee O’Clock, yet there it appeared every time we looked, sandwiched like 12 Grimmauld Place between a Montessori school and my Wi-Fi guy. Like all sensible non-Muggles, we were wary of its nefariously tasteful interiors, so we – retirees hobbling to the park, Women of the House returning with plastic cloth bags full of vegetables, a befuddled istriwallah cycling by – stopped and stared.
Not too long ago, our little part of Veera Desai Road was a peaceful cluster of old, grey two- and three-storey buildings; the one now under construction is 21 storeys high. When a Domino’s snuck in and set up camp overnight, we knew Raju had started to become a gentleman. When a Café Coffee Day infiltrated our homeland and the traitors amongst us were caught trading cutting chai for a lukewarm cup of air-conditioning, we realised who put the gentry in our gentrification. But when Coffee O’Clock’s mug besmirched our fair vista, we clenched our fists and had coffee at home like we were meant to. Sometimes, I wondered if it wouldn’t be nice to break the tedium of my daily filter coffee with something new. Coffee O’Clock is literally a stone’s throw away; naturally, I never went.
My uncle, who lives in the next building, asked me if I’d “managed to go to Coffee O’Clock” with an expression that suggested a visit to a bordello. His son, who had managed, admitted to his indiscretion in a tone that implied said bordello was located on some distant, insurmountable peak. “The owner is a Malayalee,” supplied another uncle, apropos of nothing.
The multitudes that queue up to admire our local Ganpati pandal gazed at the café like an art installation that made no sense. The small throng of garba revellers who bumble around our single bedsheet of a community ground peered at the occasional patron – obviously from a foreign pin code – as they would at someone who showed up dressed in the wrong colour for that particular raatri. Late one night, the sight of its warmly lit space made the itinerant kulfiwallah forget to harangue me with his saab-aaj-kuch-nahin-bika spiel; together, we contemplated Coffee O’Clock’s pool table (70 rupees per frame), which appeared to be the only table occupied by customers. “Saab, yahaan koi aata bhi hai kya?”
And why would they? It is situated two buildings away from the main road. There are no signs. Or nearby offices with suits who attend business meetings. Or colleges apart from a maritime training institute that busses its students in and out, so no coffee for them.
We didn’t quite know what to make of Coffee O’Clock, yet there it appeared every time we looked.
I began to worry for the coffee-shop I wouldn’t dream of entering.
And then, one day, a friend came home on short notice and I was out of coffee decoction (Gasp!), so I crossed over to the dark side – paying for coffee.
Coffee O’Clock wants you to know that it loves motorcycles; it reiterates this everywhere you look: biking magazines and keychains, a diminutive model of a racing bike, a wheel-shaped chandelier with bulbs instead of spokes, and a discomfiting sign that just says: “Coffee + Gasoline”. Here, PMS apparently stands for Parked Motorcycle Syndrome (don’t miss the Royal Enfield usually stationed out front), and a poster asserts, “Some do drugs, some pop bottles, we solve our problems with wide open throttles”. The men’s and women’s loos are identified by pictures of a motorcycle and a scooter, which isn’t sexist at all.
But on the wall behind the counter are black-and-white portraits of an elderly couple. I spot a small, well-tended altar. And I’m relieved by the absence of the usual coffee-shop din and the aroma of coffee designed to make you want to hand over your wallet to the barista and ask him to keep you topped up all day.
At 5.30 p.m. on a Friday evening, no one else is here. A young boy and a younger girl walk in, then go behind the counter; they are the baristas. We are all dressed in our home best. The girl takes my order, while the guy glares at me with suspicion as I write this. The girl sets down my hazelnut cappuccino (very good) and cookies (also good), says “sorry for heart” and grins; the floating foam heart in my coffee looks like a flat, pouting fish or a very large clove of garlic, depending upon which way you look.
I’m starting to like my coffee-shop. Umm, it’s not my coffee-shop, but I’d miss it if it were gone.