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14.02.2017

Where did your folks go for coffee before erroneous spellers took over Bombay’s baristas? Where did they dance in shoes made by Bata, while stealing kisses over a Cassata? We spoke to our parents and friends’ parents and maybe even yours, getting a list of yesteryear date places that are still open, making sure to skip the usual five star hotel and theatre coffee shops. 

Let’s go together?

Table For Geeta Nayyar & Subhash Parab At Gondola, Bandra: It’s 4 pm on a Saturday in 1973. Geeta enters Gondola in her powder blue bell bottoms, the flared ends still twirling from the afternoon jam session at Lurick’s. 

Elvis’ All Shook Up is playing on the speaker, which means the twirl needn’t die down. Her date Subhash is waiting with a single red rose in his hand – “everyone should date a Libran” – and a fresh pineapple pastry on stand-by, in case the gesture is not enough. It is, but the pineapple pastry sits between them anyway, while the manager behind the life-size gondola shaped counter watches over all the dates like a love lifeguard.

Decades later, the manager, one Mr Ishtiaaq still works at Gondola, which has long morphed from an evening hot spot that played the Beatles and prided itself on its club sandwiches, into a mostly Chinese restaurant for families in the neighbourhood. Geeta and Subhash Parab, now married for 36 years, last visited Gondola six months ago with friends they used to double date with in the 70s. “We ordered the club sandwich and it tasted exactly the same,” they tell us on a call from Goa, where they are spending Valentine’s Day with friends. The life-size gondola is no longer around, but as it appears, the love still is.

Getting there: Gondola, 4, Silver Croft, Pali Naka, next to Soul Fry, Bandra (W), call 09820655373. Bandra regulars recommend the beef burger as a take-away.

By the time the crunchy noodles in American chopsuey have softened to gumminess, they’ve begun a conversation that keeps going long after they step out into a light evening drizzle, under his umbrella.

Table For Shobha Menon & Sukumar Nair At Flora Chinese Restaurant, Worli: It’s monsoon in 1982, and a pretty schoolteacher steals away for dinner with a curly-haired young sales executive who happens to be her new husband. For their first unsupervised meeting, Sukumar chooses Flora, a pearl twinkling just off the jaw of Worli Seaface, not far from their tiny home near Century Bazaar.

Closed off from the breeze and view, Flora is no hippie seaside shack: it’s bright and modern and looks very grown-up - just like all the young families occupying its tables are trying to be. No wonder these two habitual BEST bus commuters have driven up here in a taxi. (Only the fluttering embroidered lace curtains at the windows hint at a bit of mischief.)

Sukumar is just recovering from a bout of typhoid that has left him looking like a forlorn spring chicken in his wedding pictures, but encouraged by her smile and a rich, mellow sweet corn soup, he opens up. Shobha wishes, at first, that he hadn’t: he likes to grumble. Luckily, the mixed fried rice arrives quickly and they’re on their way to being friends. By the time the crunchy noodles in American chopsuey have softened to gumminess, they’ve begun a conversation that keeps going long after they step out into a light evening drizzle, under his umbrella.

Getting there: Flora Chinese Restaurant, KhannaConstruction House, RG Thadani Marg, Worli Seaface, call 24936602. (The Nairs’ daughter is now a frequent visitor and recommends the steamed shrimp wontons.)

Table For Rokeya Sheikh & Ashok Bhave, Oyster (now Oasis Restaurant & Bar), Andheri (W): When these two Bank of Baroda employees meet on dates in the late 1970s, it’s almost always at Versova Seaface. Their job at the same branch of the same bank have brought them together, but is also keeping them apart: he’s been transferred to a different city, and can visit only once in 15 days. “The beach is the only place they can’t throw you out no matter how long you sit there,” Rooki says.

Exceptions may be made for Oasis, which used to be called Oyster when Rooki went to college in this neighbourhood. A Parsi-owned restaurant, Oasis’ blockbuster selling point is location, on the ground floor of the Amber-Oscar-Minor multiplex, the mothership to every college student of the 1970s and 1980s in the vicinity. There’s dhansak and Goan fish curry on the menu, but for that really special touch, you can order Cassata ice-cream. Years later, she returns and feels a pang at how ordinary the place has become. Still, it’s a miracle it’s there at all, long after Amber-Oscar and their Amol Palekar dreams have given way to the Andheri Shoppers’ Stop.

Getting there: Oasis, ground floor, Shoppers’ Stop, SV Road, Andheri (W), call 40722222.

Geeta enters Gondola in her powder blue bell bottoms, the flared ends still twirling from the afternoon jam session at Lurick’s. 

Table For Lipika Chowdhury and Kutu Chatterjee at Café Seaside, Bandstand: Lipika, 16 and Kutu, 23 have only one hour to spend on their first date in 1976 at Café Seaside, Bandstand. “Strict deadlines,” she shrugs. Even the Cassata ice cream melts extra slowly that day, conspiring with time to stretch one hour like strands of mozzarella.

Both dressed in jeans and T-shirts, Lipika and Kutu, like so many other couples, favour Café Seaside for the view and privacy it affords. “Once the waiter took our orders of Cassata and cold coffee, they never bothered us for the rest of the duration.” Lipika, now a French teacher and Kutu, an ad filmmaker, haven’t been back in decades.

We poked our heads in last evening however, to find a cluttered menu, but those same Spartan tables built to contrast Bandstand’s ostentatious mush.

Getting there: Café Seaside, Bandstand, Bandra(W), call 26442708.

Table For Dolly Kohli & Guldeep Sahni, Gaylord Restaurant, Churchgate: How do you impress a fiancé from Delhi in 1980? Dolly falls back on an old family favourite, from back when her father used to take her to eat fish and chips in the 1960s. At Gaylord, suburbs-born Dolly and her VIP visitor Guldeep can make a pitstop after a visit to Marine Drive or Gateway: “A day in town was the thing to do, especially at a time when Juhu was nothing more than a development scheme.” The crowd is young and suave, never one to bat an eyelash at a romancing couple. It’s also exciting: the world goes by its tree-shaded al fresco section, and you never know when Shashi or Rishi -- Kapoor, of course -- is going to stop by for a bite.

The movie stars provide Bombay dazzle, but for balance there is tender chicken malai tikka and dal makhani that will please the stoutest Punjabi heart. Gaylord is run by the same family that owns Connaught Place’s own bywords, Kwality and Embassy. Decades later, the Sahnis will ask them to cater their own children’s weddings, putting the icing on the nougat pastry.

Getting there: Gaylord, Mayfair building, Veer Nariman Road, Churchgate, call 22821529.

Even the Cassatta ice cream melts extra slowly that day, conspiring with time to stretch one hour like strands of mozzarella.

Table For Ila Sood and Amar Ahuja At JuhuHotel, Juhu: “If you didn’t want anyone to see you holding hands or stealing a kiss, Juhu Hotel’s beach side café was the salty secret you needed in the 1970s,” Ila tells us.

Even Bollywood personality Kishore Kumar frequented the place for coffee, alone though, couples and Kishore oblivious of each other. “A lot of college kids came during the afternoons and evenings to drink beer and eat cheese sandwiches. After dark though, all the kids left, because there was some talk of shady one night stands at the hotel,” they half whisper.

And did Kishore Kumar ever break into a spontaneous song during one of their dates? “If he did, we didn’t notice,” Ila laughs. “It’s hard to distract people in love.” Ila and Amar have been married for 28 years, and sometimes, on special days, they return to their salty secret, which to their delight has not yet turned into a Starbucks by the sea.

Note: Juhu Hotel’s long-shuttered in-house nightclub Razzberry Rhinoceros is re-opening this month! 90s teens, rejoice!

Getting there: Juhu Hotel, Juhu Beach, next to Mahesh Lunch Home, Juhu, call 26184014.

Happy Valentine's Day! 

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