Yacht and the Death of the Dive Bar


Yacht and the Death of the Dive Bar

Illustration: Sushant Ahire

December 2007. 7 am.


There’s a nip in the Bombay air. Three 17-year-old college students seated on red faux-leather sofas that have seen better days, huddle over a table at a grungy bar. The ceiling is low, the room smells of smoke, the floor still scattered with the detritus of a thousand drunken nights. It’s a bar scene straight out of ’90s and early 2000’s Brit cinema, replete with dirty drunks and the scent of disease in the air. Throw in a few punters for good measure, add a dash of saltiness from the waiters, garnish with an owner who doesn’t give a fuck whether you’re a regular or not, and you’ve got the Bandra institution, Yacht.

These three budding alcoholics are in the company of a slew of seasoned drinkers, uncles so addicted to alcohol, that they wake up and hurry to the nearest bar when the previous night’s utaara (downer) kicks in. There’s a bunch of older college kids, there to wash down their dope with some beer, and two annas in sweaty polyester shirts with the top four buttons undone, pens precariously perched over one ear.

The sunmica-topped tables have lost their lustre thanks to years of having ashtrays, glasses, and plates slide across their once shiny tops. You can see the marks, looking like tiny, discoloured shooting stars across a pale blue sunmica sky.

The kids are subsisting on a meagre allowance of 50 rupees a day, which needs to also cover bus or train fare, cigarettes, and stationery.

They order a quarter of Haywards whisky, amber-coloured, with a top note of turpentine, an acrid bouquet of burnt wood, and a terse finish that makes even the hardest alcoholic clench their teeth. They dilute the poison with tepid tap water and tear into the bhurji pav before coughing up 50 bucks each and hightailing it to nearby St. Andrew’s for a couple of hours of instruction.

August 1, 2017. 9 pm.

The same students, now sporting beards and branded sneakers, huddle around the same table. Only this time, the table is spanking new; the dinginess from 10 years ago is gone; there are no crusty old drunks anymore. The low ceilings and dirty floors have given way to clean counter tops and bright lights. If not for the boisterous bunch of Bandra ad execs on the next table, this might as well have been a tapas bar in Barcelona.

But this is Yacht, the bar of my childhood. The bar where I first scored weed, the bar where I proposed to my first girlfriend, the bar I’ve been escorted out of at 2 am, the bar I love. I’ve stuck by it when people called it out for being unhygienic and unsanitary, or as a friend put it, “Where STDs are airborne”. Sure, the beef chilly made you run willy nilly to the toilet, which in turn reminded me of the one from Trainspotting and left me gagging every time I went in for a piss. But I still loved it.

Sure I like the occasional cocktail, but I like my Old Monk and water with chakli and schezuan sauce even more, and with each passing bar that goes under the knife, I find my options dwindling.

Now that the bar – like many other dives across the city (and if Yacht merits the classification of a dive) – has got this brothel-lite makeover, I somehow resent it. Its clean floors, new tables, and of all things, spotless new toilets, grate on my nerves. I cannot brook its cheap, overlit Dilli-shaadi-banquet-hall aesthetic. But what I hate most of all, is that a part of my adolescence has vanished with it.

Up until five years ago there was an abundance of “shady”, “hole in the wall” “quarter bars”, remnants of the city’s booming permit room culture. Here, working-class men hung out post-work rubbing shoulders with penniless journos. Gangsters came to pregame here, prior to going out to “bajao game” which meant one of two things: Killing someone or fucking someone. But this patina of danger and seediness was essential preparation for life. It was in places like these that kids like me got their first taste of adulthood, 42.8 per cent alcohol by volume.

However gentrification has reared its ugly head again, bringing its own acche din to these chheds in the wall. Abhinandan has become AB’s The Dining Bar; Jagdamba became JD’s. Bars once named after deities now follow the “Two Letter” Dining Bar naming convention. The faded Kingfisher poster has given way to a swank Jack Daniel’s decal, even though Jack Daniel’s has never set foot in this bar. The “Dining” usually means the management has upped the prices on the chakna and got a new tandoor and exhaust installed. Gone is the peeling paint, the old tables, the slightly uncomfortable seating which added a squeeze of reality to your drink. The waiters who’d make you uncomfortable when you overstayed your welcome, now look uncomfortable themselves, in their matching uniforms and polished shoes.

I don’t know if I’m going back to Yacht again but then, I don’t know where else to go.  I sometimes also wonder what has become of my drinking companions at Yacht, the ones with whom I once sat in companionable silence. Have they, like me, taken to drinking at home, hiding from the prying eyes of their wives and kids? Or have they turned the alleys behind their offices into little car-o-bars? Wherever they are, I raise my glass to them in memory of the place we once called home. Perhaps we will find another soon.