If you’re looking for music blasting at a decibel where you cannot have a conversation or overpriced cocktails, read no further. In this era of gentrification, such bars or pubs are everywhere. More often than not, you will find them inside fancy shopping malls. But if you are an analogy person in a digital world and enjoy the old-world charm of pocket-friendly dive bars from time to time, Kolkata has some real gems. You can get your gang together and visit these bars or enjoy a quiet drink by yourself at a cozy corner table with no fuss.
Here are some bars in Kolkata which fit the bill:
The most famous establishment on Park Street deserves to be on top of the list. You will not find fancy lighting or cocktails with outlandish names here. In Olypub you get exactly what you came for — cheap booze and friendly service. The servers are amiable although they might struggle a bit with taking your orders unless you pronounce it clearly and repetitively for them. Once I had ordered a whiskey sour and they came up to my table with a 60ml peg of whiskey with utmost confidence. It took me a while to understand that they had heard whiskey ‘shaat’ (shaat in Bengali means sixty) and hence the result. Well, I didn’t mind for I got a good drink and a funny anecdote to go with it. Olypub is renowned for its cheap and heavenly beek steak which is perfect to wash down with some beer. The joint has become synonymous with Kolkata as legendary Bengali icons like Uttam Kumar and Satyajit Ray were regulars here.
II. Hotel Broadway
Broadway, located in Chandni Chowk, is one of my favorite places. It has wonderful warm lighting and comfortable couches. On Sundays, you can hear local musicians perform here. The architecture of the hotel with the half-whitewashed and half-brick red walls, French windows, high ceilings, and wooden interiors exudes an old colonial charm. The spacious bar is located on the ground floor and the rest of the building is the hotel. Here you can drink for cheap to your heart’s content and if you get too drunk to go home, you can always spend the night in one of the hotel rooms above. Broadway is popular with people from all age groups and walks of life from students to professionals. Legendary sports icons have been guests at Broadway and if you’re lucky some of the old waiters will share intriguing stories and incidents with you.
III. Shaw Brothers (Chotta Bristol)
Chotta Bristol is a hidden gem, situated near the Esplanade crossing, inside a narrow lane. With Whiskey prices starting at only INR 57 (30ml) and beer at INR 115, it is no wonder that the place is always packed and has many regulars. Make sure to reach there by 5 pm to find yourself a spot. The atmosphere will remind you of Bombay’s Irani cafes. The menu is on a LED board and the servers expect you to know what to order. Make sure you do not dilly-dally too much with your order. No food is served here but you will find several shops just outside serving the best chaat like chili chicken and mutton beja fry. It is a noisy bar with a lot of drunk men but that is a part of Old Calcutta's charm. However, it is a men-only bar.
IV. Tripti Bar
Tripti's is one of the oldest and most affordable bars in Kolkata. It is located at Jadubabu Bazar in the Bhawanipore area. This age-old building has two-way entrances with seating areas of AC & Non AC separately. The ambiance constitutes retro Calcuttan dining halls with long fans and live bar counters. You can also get a balcony view with large windows. The drinks are available for a pocket pinch but the food options are limited. Women aren't prohibited in this bar but it is mostly a haunt for men.
V. New Empire
Located in Taltala, the New Empire bar stands right above what used to be the single-screen New Empire cinema hall. You will find a variety of cocktails (not too diverse a variety though) here and the quality of food is good. From light snacks like potato wedges to full-fledged meals like chelo kebab, the options are aplenty. The staff is polite and courteous but don’t let their charms coax you into a drunken blackout. Try and ask if Sandip Mandal is there to serve you — he’s the best.
If you enjoyed reading this, here's more from Homegrown: