Enjoy Irish Coffee & Kheema Pav At Koolar & Co.

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ENJOY IRISH COFFEE AND KHEEMA PAV AT KOOLAR & CO.

Koolar & Co. is an Irani café in a neighbourhood you wouldn’t expect to find one – Matunga. Established in 1932, it is one of the last of the old Irani cafés in the city. The eclectic menu includes the Irani café staples – brun maska and chai – as well as sandwiches, eggs, Maggi, and Irish coffee.

Koolar & Co., 541, Noor Mahal, Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Road, Matunga (e), Mumbai 400 019. Phone: 022 24125062, 022 24109873

READ SHALAKA PAI’S STORY

In 2010, I was a friendless college student living in an aunt’s place in Matunga with not too many places to go or people to see. I haunted a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf outlet in Churchgate, but the café culture hadn’t yet hit Dadar or Matunga. Then one day I decided to step into Koolar & Co.

Koolar & Co. – or Koolar’s, as it’s referred to – is an anomaly in Matunga: a rare Irani café in an area that’s primarily known for its udipi joints. Established in 1932, it is one of the last of the old Irani cafés in the city, and its menu has stayed more or less the same for decades. For less than 100 rupees, you can treat yourself to a chai, brun maska, and all manner of sandwiches. If you’re feeling ambitious (or have a dining companion), the place boasts a five-egg “wrestler’s omelette”, which is impossible for one person to finish in a single sitting.

While I do love my eggs and kheema pav, that’s not what drew me to Koolar’s. No, I went there for their Irish Coffee. Coffee liqueur and Bailey’s is a rare treat for me even now, and was rarer for me as a broke college student. But I gravitated instantly towards this menu item, weird as it was on the menu of an Irani cafe. Koolar & Co.’s Irish Coffee is not what a connoisseur is used to. You get a tall glass of strong black coffee mixed with a large shot of whiskey (I never dared ask what brand) and topped off with whipped cream. For 150 rupees, it was more than satisfactory for me.

Irish Coffee at Koolar’s became my fortnightly indulgence, a treat that I convinced myself I could afford for it was more value for money and much more delicious than a sugary ice-blended coffee at a chain café. Koolar’s was one of the few places I could find in Matunga where I didn’t need to spend too much money just to have a place to be alone. After I was served my coffee, no one paid much attention to me, and I was able to while away entire evenings at a glass-topped table watching Kings’ Circle traffic pass me by.

The wide pavement outside of Koolar’s became a landmark too, a meeting point for friends, a place to sit for a quick smoke before we moved on to our destinations. Occasionally, you’d hear a sharp volley of Gujarati curses only to look up and realise the cafe’s proprietor was swearing at someone over the phone again. I realised how much I romanticised the place when I took my mother there: while she tolerated the alcohol content in my coffee, her face twisted into despair when she heard the owners yelling profanities from behind the counter. By that point, I didn’t even notice the swearing anymore – it was just part of the charm.

Conveniently located as it is on a corner of Kings’ Circle, it had become a frequent escape for when I needed a place to be by myself and watch people and maybe drink some piping hot Irani chai. But now I have not been back to Koolar’s in years. I no longer live in Matunga, and in the time since I have moved away, Kings’ Circle has changed in small ways, as has a lot of Dadar. Instead of going back to Koolar’s and potentially being disappointed, I’d rather cherish my memories of open, welcoming place with a warm glow; one of the few places in Dadar where I could sip on a hot, alcoholic coffee and indulge myself for an evening.

Photographs by Suruchi Maira

 
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