The first time someone told me what a pub crawl was, I was stunned. “You mean to say,” I asked my sage friend that day, a decade ago, “that we’re allowed to leave the place we’re at and go to a different one? In the same night?” A youthful naïf, I had assumed there was only a brief window at the beginning of the evening when you enter and scope your surroundings to see if it’s worth it. No takesy-backsies. The new discovery was liberating.
Variants of Traditional F&B Evenings include, but are not limited to: pre-gaming before going to a club in nice clothes; house parties; or sitting at a dive talking about current affairs, history and art (Googling these things under the table). Then you have activity-outings, which means food and drinks and AN Other, like maybe shooting pool or going to a gig. There’s Gentlemen’s Night, where a guy goes with a female friend to a pub on Ladies’ Night, and she sneaks him free drinks all evening until both get kicked out.
The pub crawl is not to be confused with these. It is a specific set of circumstances where you jump (hop, skip, crawl, twist, stagger, wobble) from one bar to another nearby in semi-planned fashion. You experience various aspects of the nightlife in small doses: cheap drinks at one place, great food at another, good-looking, pretty-smelling people at a third, colourful cocktails at a fourth, fancy bathrooms at the fifth — if you make it that far. Just don’t eat too much at the salad bar and you’re good.
What it offers is hope: the promise of something new. By design, the night never drags. It builds up in leaps, in quick bursts, erratically. Sure, now that I’m a senior citizen in my thirties, it sounds exhausting: I want to sit in a comfortable chair all night and bitch out my peers over a few light beers (alternating with glasses of water). Pub crawls require you to be young, a little daring, a little adventurous, more than a little stupid. And very energetic. You have to be, in other words, in your twenties.
Teenagers in Delhi don’t do it; they have to get permission from “momdad” and inform them of their whereabouts. Old-money uncles and aunties don’t do it either: that’s what going to the Gymkhana for whiskey-Sprites and complaining about domestic workers, then driving over to IIC for shots, then IHC for a nightcap, &c., is for.
Pub crawlers are almost always early-career professionals, late-college kids, and bachelorette parties. Their numbers are growing, both because of the demographic dividend, and because there’s no better time to be bar-crawling in Delhi than now. One reason is of course app-based discounts, one of the true great arithmetical inventions (definitely more valuable than BODMAS).
Then there’s the slow sprouting of centralised nightlife areas in Delhi—something that more advanced cities like Bangalore and Mumbai have always had—has made the prospect of bar-hopping even more appealing in recent years. Take just Connaught Place. Admittedly, every bar there is awful, with loud décor, loud music, cramped spaces, and couples sitting on the same side of the table. But they’re also ridiculously cheap: in case you haven’t been there in a while, know that the little blackboards outside advertise MRPs.
You have the hellish Hauz Khas Village, which is great if you want to be in not one but many bar fights through the night. Saket has all those malls, literally begging for crawlers. There are the vast dystopian settlements of Gurgaon and catching-up-quickly Noida, with a bunch of mall-based bars opening up in that particular nightmare of a city. A personal favourite, if only for being the most boring and predictable space in all of India: Khan Market, which has a series of small gastropubs and restaurant-bars. (The other reason the pub crawl has attained popularity is, of course, is the radio cab system. I say this specifically for the Khan Market chachajis whom you have to wake up in the parking lot at The Ambassador to take you anywhere after 11.30 pm.)
A particularly appealing crawl for me winds through Hauz Khas, Green Park and Aurobindo Marg. You start at Turquoise Cottage for light rock ‘n’ roll and nostalgia. Walk thirty steps over to Raasta, which has a terrace that, in the winter, can cause serious freezage. A quick auto-ride away lies the somehow-still-not-just-surviving-but-thriving Summerhouse Café, where you’re likely to run into a bunch of people you dislike, and who dislike you. Providing an escape from those awkward hi-hellos is Auro, literally a stone’s throw away, which now has good food too.
Outside of this golden and lopsided quadrangle, however, these concentrations of youthful decadence tend to be rubbish. Delhi has terrible bars, and no amount of garden-variety kitsch or foreign-returned restaurateurs with innovative ideas seems to change that. And so, tempting as it is to find the least worst option and plant yourself there till the waiters turn the lights on (or off, depends), it can sometimes be better to bounce before things go south.
Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer based in New Delhi.
Photo Credit: Instagram.com/maduaevia_onroad
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