Category Archives: Travel blog

Bangalore Rock City

Ended up in a rock club last night called Purple Haze. Lots of beer and lots of young men ready to rock. A “DJ” played videos by the likes of Guns N Roses, Van Halen, Metallica, Rammstein and others, and the crowd absolutely completely loved it, singing along. Saw a guy in a Florida Gators sweatshirt rocking out, and, when I saw a guy wearing a Deicide t-shirt, I had to strike up a conversation. A couple of pitchers of beer later, and my attitude about Bangalore had considerably changed. It was a great night and made it clear exactly why so many people hold this city’s pub culture in such high regard. It was convivial and LOUD. Lots of fun. Sadly, it looks as though places like this are becoming the minority, replaced by higher-toned “restobars” and ultralounges. I got blocked from entering a dance club (Spinn) because I wasn’t wearing the right kind of shoes. A trip back to the hotel and a return to the place made me wish I had just stayed at Purple Haze, as it definitely wasn’t worth the effort. Very full of itself and pointlessly beautiful.

I’m going to see some more places in Bangalore tonight, but I’m cutting my stay here short so I can head back to my favorite city in the world, and breathe in a little more of that Mumbai air before I head home.

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Bangalore is a mess

I thought Chennai was a bit muted, especially considering its size and population. All the bars had to be connected to hotels, which (of course) limits the number and diversity of places.

But, now that I’m in Bangalore, I think I’d prefer to be back in Chennai. For years, all I heard was how great Bangalore was, how intense its nightlife was and how much FUN it was. Sure, recently some people had been telling me that Hyderabad was the new hot place and that Bangalore was sort of washed up … but I didn’t believe them.

I should have.

The IT boom here has completely ruined this city. First off, it’s incredibly expensive; hotels that would be $150 or so in Mumbai or $200 or so in the US are $300 here. And, sadly, it’s not because it’s a great place to be, it’s just because the city is so overwhelmed with people that real estate has gotten prohibitively expensive and, with a nonstop flow of foreign business people, these hotels can charge pretty much whatever they want to.

This population explosion (nearly 10 times as many people live here now, as opposed to 10 years ago) has also ruined the city’s main appeal: it’s lush greenery and relatively laid-back vibe. Although the weather is still pleasant (I took a walk last night and it was almost — ALMOST — cool), there’s little relaxing or verdant here.

Worse, Bangalore’s famed “pub culture” has diminished thanks both to an overabundance of mediocre places (MG Road is like Bourbon Street … but smellier and with less boobs) and those ever-more-frequent government crackdowns. Bars here close at 11:30. 11:30! And, the “morals police” also ensure that nobody is dancing or even THINKING of dancing; if a DJ plays music that could inspire dancing, he could get a ticket … if you dance, so could you. And by dancing, I mean tapping a foot or moving ever so slightly.

So the pubs are filled with middle-of-the-road rock music (I’ve never heard so much Sting) and way-downtempo electro-fusion. Not objectionable, but certainly not a recipe for a great night out. There are quite a few “hard rock” clubs, but, the music isn’t so great.

Sadly, I’m spending five days here. I wish I was in Chennai … or Mumbai … or Delhi. Or, even better, home with my family.

That’s the trick

14 hours of straight sleep and I’m in good shape. Of course, that means I woke up at 2 in the afternoon, but that’s fine. I’m doing this work at night anyway, right?

Last night, I went to a few places. The Czar bar and Dome are both in my hotel, the former a vodka bar (with rather unimaginative bartenders who nonetheless mix a mean martini) and the latter a rooftop lounge a la Sky 60 (lots of white couches and a sticky breeze coming off the Arabian Sea). Also went to three other hotel bars, one of which was fancy (Opium Den at the Oberoi), one of which was a bit dated (Bay View Bar, also at the Oberoi; furniture that was “upscale” in the late ’80s, a jazz duo that wasn’t half bad and no view of the bay unless you were right at the bar … and the windows weren’t fogged up) and one of which was a bit corny (Geoffrey’s, one of a chain of “pubs” that reminded me of nothing less than a Chili’s with a British pub theme). Drinks in these places aren’t cheap (beer starts around 3 bucks; cocktails at the Opium Den started at 10 bucks!) and the clientele was predictably staid. Of course, it was a Monday night, which meant it was mainly tourists and business people, so that’s to be expected.

The highlight was a bar called The Ghetto, over in a neighborhood called Breach Candy. Very grungy and friendly, with a pool table, Green Day on the stereo and wrestling on the TV. Nice. It was, of course, right next to an ad hoc temple, where there were some riotous Ganesh festivities going on. My cab driver (Him: “You want a girl? I’ll get you a girl.” Me: “No thanks.” Him: “Hmmph.”) said that with the Ganesh Ganapatis going on, most people are curtailing their drinking in favor of visiting temples, etc. There were huge groups of kids hanging out along Marine Drive and all over town, spontaneous bursts of dancing would happen with one kid banging a drum and everyone else spazzing out around him. It was great.

 

 

Chennai is hot hot hot hot hot

No, not the nightlife scene, unfortunately. It’s just drippingly, suffocatingly hot. 95 degrees (with a low in the mid-80s) and, like, 1000% humidity. Took a short walk and probably sweated off a couple of pounds.

After-dark activities here are somewhat limited, and given how big Chennai is, I’m sort of surprised at that. It reminds me a lot of Bombay a half-decade ago, when the only real nightlife was centered in the five-star hotels. Yes, there are some nice bars in the five-stars here, but little else to be found. I’m going to a tapas place tonight that’s supposed to be pretty happening and, sure, there are a handful of nice places, but it’s really quite limited.

My hotel’s wonderful (and home to the city’s hottest nightclub, apparently) and very fancy-pants. Lots of business people doing business people things. Hmmmm.

Some more pictures

A billboard for a bar in Calcutta:

A view of Connaught Place in downtown Delhi:

A surprisingly ironic image in the hallway of my hotel in Chennai:

My hotel in Chennai:

A billboard for “India’s first 3-D saree”:

Dancing in Bosnia

Okay, maybe not dancing IN Bosnia, but I went to a party last night in Delhi and watched the Bosnian ambassador to India get shitfaced drunk and dance to everything from “Karma Chameleon” to “Lady In Red.” (Of course, this music was performed by a small group of … Thai singers.) It was at a “restobar” called Thai Wok, on the top floor of a high-end shopping complex in South Delhi. The rooftop view was in the slim shadow of the Qutub Minar … truly impressive.

I went to this party with the owner of QBA (a very hip restaurant/bar in Central Delhi) and his wife. QBA is an amazing place, huge and very comfortable, with an unique atmosphere of Miami-meets-Middle-East. It’s quite the gathering place in Delhi (Bill Clinton is supposed to come by on his next visit to India and Rahul Gandhi is something of a regular) and it’s easy to see why. It’s quite luxurious, but very casual and inviting. I could easily imagine whiling away many an hour there, drinking their fabulous mojitos and lounging on their super-soft couches.

I seriously underestimated Delhi. Previous visits led me to believe it was just a button-down government city, bu the past few years have really pumped some energy into it. Again, the preponderance of cars running on CNG rather than gasoline means the air there is MUCH cleaner than it has been, and the construction of a subway system is beginning to ease congestion on the street. (I still say that the most evil legacy of the British in India is the roundabout.) I saw a few other places, some great (Laidback Waters), some overrated (Shalom) and some just clueless (Orange Room).

Lots more to tell, but I’ve just arrived in Chennai and need to get my bearings.

Party at the mall!

In Delhi, just like in much of India, nightspots tend to be tucked away in neighborhoods, accessed by traversing a warren of small streets that are navigable by only the bravest of driving souls. Or, conversely, they can be found in the luxe confines of five-star hotels.

But, unlike the rest of India, Delhi seems to have taken quite a fancy to the idea of “entertainment complexes.” In Bombay, I ran across one — High Street Phoenix, in an old mill compound — but Delhi has no less than three. Bars, dance clubs, restaurants (including McDonalds and TGI Fridays of course), coffee shops and movie theaters centralized for easy access. It sort of makes sense that Delhi — a government city that’s quite orderly and organized — would cotton to such a development, but it’s still somewhat disconcerting to have entertainment be available so EASILY and, frankly, stress-free. Sorta takes the fun out of it in a sense, but it also beats having to stop every two minutes and ask directions.