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13.11.2017

In 2011, when renovations began at the then-decrepit Opera House, this writer took a walk around the block, asking the neighbours how they felt about the impending revival of their old pile. Everyone had a memory about the theatre’s long, eccentric first life. “Of course we’ll go again if it re-opens,” all the local businessmen said fondly, as we ate Jim-Jams at the local Irani and reminisced about the silver jubilee of Navrang and that one Mughal-e-Azam show.

Now the theatre is open even as the neighbourhood is falling asleep. The Quarter, the Opera House’s new “property,” consisting of a restaurant, a jazz club on the premises of the former canteen, and music programming for the theatre itself, has lit up the premises since its launch last fortnight. Needless to say, it isn’t designed with old Mr Dinshaw of Café de la Paix and Mr Vora of Vora Automobiles in mind. It’s for you, dear young(ish) avocado-toast aficionado: the sort of place where you’ll almost certainly run into someone you didn’t plan to meet, and from where it will seem like everyone on your timeline is broadcasting Instagram stories on big nights. Opera glasses? You’ll need sunglasses. And a fake moustache.

(Ranjit) Barot & Stick

The highlight of the Quarter’s ‘first day first show’ late last month was evidently its Miles Davis tribute concert, which took place in the Sanctuary, a little black box with a couch and low lighting that will make you think you’re in Khar-Bandra. To recall the spirit of early Blue Frog, some of whose partners are involved in this project, would be a hopeless jinx. It’s enough that this little place creates its own living-room magic. “Sprawl on that couch and you could be at a jam session at a friend’s home,” a music journalist we bumped into (see?) remarked.

This unlikely stroke of luck for South Bombay seemed, at least on the night, to contrast poorly with the nervy, lukewarm jazz and blues concert at the theatre itself, a mess of striking individual performances and embarrassingly boring ones. In spite of Mohini Dey’s chemical-fire basslines, our worst fears for the Opera House seemed realised: can really frank, free, joyous performances take place in a recreated Edwardian cake-box?

Vertigo-go Girls

Apparently, yes. In spite of seats at the back of the theatre in the realest “nosebleed section” you’ll find in this city, The Quarter pulls off a near-perfect concert for Tinariwen in their second week of operations. Hesitant to expect too much out of the clash between North African rock-and-roll and a no-clapping-between-movements auditorium, we brace ourselves for the worst.

Yet the organisation, the acoustics and the mood all combine to create magic for these beloved Touareg musicians, whom we last saw bravely trying to distract the intelligentsia from a laal-maas buffet at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2014. For this writer, who discovered them, like most city kids, through Audiogalaxy bootlegs in the mid-aughts, it’s a dream: our butts are on plush red cushions, but with our eyes shut, we are all cycling at the borders of the Sahara with a radio strapped to the handlebars.

Mozar(t)ella

We have to go back on a quiet afternoon to get anything approaching service at the Quarter’s other big innovation, a glass-fronted café where scoring a nimbu paani and the cheque is an ordeal for us and the staff, completely overwhelmed by sangeet-level crowds milling about The Quarter’s courtyard bar, clamouring for fava bean salad to go with their Chianti.

Without a world-famous band on the premises, the café is a sweet, airy place, good to while away an afternoon if you don’t mind a somewhat anodyne lunch. On a menu with a “mozzarella bar,” where salads, sandwiches and pastas all seem perfectly designed to be trendy and forgettable, a masala omelette open sandwich made with “local” feta - does that mean it’s from a Malabar Hill department store? - tastes like it could have come from anywhere in the world. So does a blameless hunk of almond-flour lemon cake.

It’s exactly the sort of lunch you can expect to eat when you’re seated at a distressed-white café table, looking out at a parking lot fronted by the brutalised hunks of two once-tall trees, drinking over-roasted coffee. It’s not a bad way to spend an afternoon filling out GST returns or making notes for book club. Mr Vora and Mr Dinshaw must be somewhere around, eating chana jor garam and fafda-jalebi, but this sanctuary is for us, now.

Getting there: The Quarter, Royal Opera House, Pandit Paluskar Marg. A sandwich and coffee cost around Rs 550.

Accessibility: Wheelchairs may enter the courtyard and jazz club. The theatre and café are only accessible via stairs.  

This review was contributed by Supriya Nair.

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