Are you the 90s kid reminiscing about the retro disco parties, boot-cut denims, brown lipsticks and cheap drinking dens? All of which have been now reduced to house party conversations. If you stepped into adulthood at the turn of the century, this translates into a loss of party culture—think Sukhbir and Bryan Adams!
Thankfully, somewhere over the din of millennials and hipster cocktail bars, there are still cheap and cheerful bars and restaurants in Mumbai, where high ponytails and hoop earrings are not frowned up, Bollywood tracks welcome you with open arms and if you’re lucky you’ll find a classic jukebox too.
For everyone who misses the golden 90s, here’s a guide of Mumbai’s top 12 bars for your post office catch-ups with colleagues or just hanging with your squad over the weekends!
Janata Bar and
Located in the middle of the bustling Pali Naka is Janata Bar. Is it pretty much impossible to find a Mumbai veteran who hasn't been to Janata and has a hilarious story about how they got there. Topping the chart for a budget drinking place where you don’t meet prying eyes, Janata is not known for its ambience, but the experience. It is known for its no frills and basic interiors as well as food, order yourself a plate of Bombil Fry and a glass of chilled beer to wash it down.
Gokul has not just been providing beer to parched patrons for decades now, but it has also played its part in being a cultural bystander in the changing roles of Bombay. A magazine editor once told me that Gokul was a safe space for the LGBT+ community to meet up back in the 80s. From the ‘white people’ to the rebellious South Bombay teenagers, you’d find them all here, you still do. The place has gone from being a tiny South Indian joint to a eatery with three separate seating areas selling non-vegetarian food and alcohol. The most recent revamp involves LED lights and a DJ console. If you want a place to chill with your college buddies, with a sense of nostalgia in the background, head to Gokul and pour yourself a glass of beer with a plate of Surmai fry.
For most Mumbaikars who were teenagers when the calendars turned Y2K, the answer to where they had their first drink, or where they partied back in the day, is PJ’s. Between the basic seating and the low lighting, what you get is good food, excellent service and a cheap bill. It is one-of-a-kind restaurant that is part of a private sports club which is open to outsiders for an measly entry fee. While you are here, we’d suggest calling for their bacon wrapped prawns and the butter chicken with naan.
Alps Restaurant and Beer Bar, Colaba
Walking into Alps Restaurant is like walking into the 1970s. Between the bentwood chairs and the mirrored walls, you can treat yourself to a chilled glass of beer on a hot Sunday afternoon. While you are there, call for a sizzler and some pork sausages too. They also have some cheap port wine on offer.
Cafe Leopold, Colaba
The cafe was always iconic, but it received cult status ever since Gregory David Roberts spoke about it in Shantaram, not to mention fall prey to 26/11 terrorist attacks—you’ll find the bullet holes encased behind a glass frame. Walk in and you’ll be greeted by beer towers on tables that are tightly packed in the space. The beer is complemented with either some spicy Chinese food or Indian starters. Be ready to fight for your waiter’s attention as you order the garlic naan and the kebabs with your beer.
Ghetto Pub, Breach Candy
The place will turn 25 this year and not much has changed; perhaps that’s precisely what drives people here. Back in the day if you didn’t spend your evenings here bumping into the IT crowd from Xavier’s, Sydenham and HR, you were, in Blair Waldorf's words, “banished”. The place is dingy with awkward light, graffiti-stained walls and serving of free but bad popcorn. It makes up, however, with its music and a pool table. You don’t go here for the place, rather the cult experience. Order yourself a glass of beer while you are there. And maybe some kheema pav.
Yacht Resto Bar, Bandra
The dive bar in Bandra has had a facelift and is no longer the ‘sleazy’ spot that is was back in the day. However, don’t worry about the place losing its nostalgic charm, except for brighter lights, the place is still the same. The food is nothing to write home about (they’ve stopped serving the iconic beef chilli); we’d suggest opting for the spicy crispy chicken chilli and the Mandeli or simply Khichiya Masala Papad with a serving of Old Monk with coke. Cheers to the 90s.
& Bar, Dhobi Talao
If you are a Xavierite you probably know this as the unofficial hangout joint for students. You’d also know that this is essentially just a dark (is that an ironic take?) place with Shah Rukh Khan songs playing on a loop as you get drunk around couples making out. Sigh such golden times the 90s were! Call for the Bombil fry, chicken ‘69’, and their signature butter popcorn while you are reliving your college days.
Hawaiian Shack, Bandra
If you did not head to Bandra's Hawaiian Shack to party on Saturdays, you were probably not living in Mumbai. Known for its boat-shaped bars, peppy cocktails and lack of dresscode, the place offers the perfect bet if you are looking for loud music and a space to dance.
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Harbour Bar, Colaba
The city’s first bar, Harbour Bar is located inside the Taj Mahal Palace and offers the perfect spot for an expensive date. Think plush sofas, mood lighting and the charm of the 70s. Make sure you order their signature cocktail, From the Harbour, while you are there (trivia to impress the date: it’s been on the menu since 1933).
Toto's Garage, Bandra
If it's past 10:00 pm it's practically impossible to find a table at Toto's Garage. A journalist friend once described the place as "thrills but no frills", and that's as honest as it gets. People come here more for the nostalgia than the ambience and the food. However, this is the perfect place to feel right at home, mainly because the waiters don't hesitate to reprimand you for moving around too much. Feels exactly like an Indian family drawing room! Beer is the choice of beverage here, and we recommend ordering the chicken and cheese-omelette and kheema pao before you hear the tiny bell go off at 12:40 am, asking for the last order.
Gallops is one of Mumbai's best-kept secret. If you manage to find a reservation, you'll be steered through the white picket fences to the dining room. The place may be open to all, but it has a significant members-only feel with the upper booth and a choice of starters reserved for them and the regulars. The onion soup is a must-have while you can opt for the chilli cheese toast, the Rogan Josh and Ma Ki Dal to accompany your glass of wine.
Featured image courtesy: Cafe Leopold
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