Growing up in Bangalore in the 2000s meant being privy to the extensive urban legends that were hidden in the nooks and crannies of the city. From the abandoned old haunted house on St. Mark’s Road to the infamous legend of the ‘Naale Baa’ witch; a childhood in this city meant being actively indulgent in the odd, nostalgic, yet strangely uniting oral history that came out of it.
Similarly, the juxtaposition of the colonial vintage buildings placed amidst the bustling roads and reaching sky-scrapers on M.G Road presented quite accurately both the history and the future of this IT Hub. On that very stretch, right beside the likes of the iconic Hard Rock Cafe, and placed in between a throng of watering holes and local bars and pubs is the legendary Koshy’s restaurant. Hearing Koshy’s in any conversation would instantly remind any Bangalorean of the fish and chips that the restaurant was once famous for.
Walking down this road on a specifically cold winter afternoon with my best friend and she stops outside the building to remark, “Did you know that Koshy’s used to cater to the Queen back in the day?”
This was almost a premeditated ritual in our friendship; to walk past the same old city haunts and state the same old facts and trivia that we knew about these spaces. We sounded fairly amused every time but neither of us really went back to verify our facts. It was an unusual trait that strengthened our friendship. Years later, I passed the building alone but this time, I had the curiosity to actually learn more. Here are my findings.
The First AC Restaurant In South India
Back in the early 1940s while the world was reeling from the after-math of the World War II, a certain Mr. Oomen Koshy decided to open a humble bakery in the midst of the Cantonment area of Bengaluru which now makes for a significant portion of St. Mark’s and M.G Road. With an increasing demand for his freshly baked bread, Mr Koshy decided to lease a plot behind the majestic St. Marks Cathedral to set up his very first bakery named Parade Cafe.
It was only after 10 years in 1962 that a breakthrough addition took place in this vintage establishment. The installation of air conditioners with a live band and a dance floor, shot up Koshy’s reputation as the first every restaurant in all of South-India to have such amenities. An exciting addition to this was a jukebox that churned out its patrons’ favourite tunes for a meagre four annas.
Where Royalty Once Dined
Koshy’s as an extension of Parade Cafe was not a radical idea in terms of its recipes or menu. It was the era for colonial style-Indian bakeries and cafés to sprout up in the city, but as the last standing ones, it is interesting to observe the factors that make the establishment so very successful and iconic to this very day.
According to several sources (and now to attest to my best friend’s statements), Koshy’s indeed was a crowd favourite amongst the British royals and soldiers who were known to polish plates of roast chicken at the neighbouring Bowring Club where Koshys used to officially cater. Amongst this roster of notable clients was the Queen of England herself, who has dined at this modest looking establishment. This was followed by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and more such noteworthy figures of India’s colonial era.
Remnants Of A 70-Year Legacy
The decades have passed, generations come and gone, yet, time unintentionally stands till inside this cafe to this very day. Its current owner, Mr Prem Koshy believes that authenticity of a Koshy’s experience continues to remain unchanged.
Speaking to CN Traveller in an interview he remarks, “The staff handles everything. They carry it forward. Most of them have been around for 30-40 years; they have carried us on their shoulders and looked after us. Of the 900 odd items on the menu, they even remember what someone had 50 years ago.”
With the pandemic unleashing its wrathful consequences, Koshy’s was left helpless and shut for a long period of time. Two years later as the world still struggles to crawl back into normalcy, so is this 70 year old establishment. Using its regular patrons support and love as a crutch to inch back into business, Koshy’s continues to stand tall as a stark example of what happens when history is treated right.
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