A year after World War II, a red and white coffee shop with latticed frames opened on Hill Road. Before too long, a Bollywood siren moved in upstairs and some years later, a movie sweetheart set her heart on its cold coffee and pastries. She ordered her birthday cake from here every year and while the number of candles varied, the request was the same: sponge cake with pink buttercream frosting. May we have a slice?
Mumbai coffee shops have always been pivotal to Bollywood's creative life. It isn't all alcohol and tea, no matter what Manto wrote: scripts have been dreamed up, songs composed and financial deals hammered out at café tables all over the city.
As coffee changed, so did the industry. The 80s and 90s belonged to 24-hour cafés at suburban hotels: film folks describe these places with a fondness typically reserved for the Chelsea Hotel. (Although, no room was set on fire at any of these properties: we checked.) With the advent of coffee chains in the early 2000s, the rock-n-roll vibe was scrubbed clean (unless you were the struggler currying favours in the bathroom). Today, the quality of beans is pivotal, as are the different types of nut milk served. Those hipsters, they ruin everything.
Steaming, long black, foaming at the mouth and laced with alcohol: here’s our investigation of the film industry’s coffee time-line, from Dilip Kumar to Dev Patel (just visiting), Nargis to Nawazuddin.
Mac Ronells, Bandra
This was one of the first stand-alone coffee shops that Bollywood fell in love with. Stars like Madhubala, Dilip Kumar and Amitabh Bachchan often sent chauffeurs or spot boys over for a chicken patty and coffee run, perhaps because Mac Ronells catered on big budget shoots.
Nargis Dutt ordered her pink frosted birthday cake from here every year, while Helen watched from the good seats upstairs where she lived, before she became Helen Aunty. “Helen loved the pineapple pastry, but she was equally fond of my father,” says Allan Pereira, son of Mac Ronells founder Cajetan, “and hung out at the coffee shop a lot.” That Helen’s home was later occupied by something called The Wanton House might be just a coincidence. Mac Ronells shut in 1985.
This was “quite the Bollywood adda,” says Rinki Roy Bhattacharya, columnist, documentary filmmaker and daughter of director Bimal Roy. Raj Kapoor was often spotted here, but the café’s mainstays were composers Shankar-Jaikishan, whose permanently reserved table (number 15) served as their office.
Nargis Dutt ordered her pink frosted birthday cake from here every year, while Helen watched from the good seats upstairs where she lived, before she became Helen Aunty.
Bombelli’s, Peddar Road
Salman Rushdie wrote about the “marquis cake and one yard of chocolates” at Bombelli’s, the Swiss confectionery where 1950s kids went for cold coffee, black forest cake and hot dogs (each priced at Re 1), but he failed to mention that actor Shashi Kapoor was there every other day. The place shut down in the mid-60s, but by then a good cold coffee, like Shashi-ji, was easy to spot elsewhere.
Kit-Kat, Marine Lines
South Bombay industry wallahs catching a first-day-first-show of their own movie at Metro Cinema, celebrated or mourned over roomali roti + kebabs + coffee here.
Juhu Hotel, Juhu
Close to Kishore Kumar’s bungalow, the Bollywood legend often enjoyed the sea view (and yodeled?) over a cuppa Joe / tea at the hotel's coffee shop. With ground floor shacks to rent, the Juhu Hotel was always wild, but Mr Kumar would never get to meet the hotel’s resident discotheque Razzberry Rhinoceros, now extinct.
Bombelli's shut down in the mid-60s, but by then a good cold coffee, like Shashi-ji, was easy to spot elsewhere.
1970 to 1990
Holiday Inn & Sun-n-Sand, Juhu
The coffee shop was a favourite with producer Mukesh Bhatt and actor Aamir Khan, who plotted the fastest route to Khandala over kathi rolls and Americanos. Their Rocky-est regular: Sanjay Dutt.
Sea Rock Hotel, Bandra
Even after lights off, one bidu refused to bid goodbye. “Everyone abandoned Sea Rock after the ’93 blast, but I continued to hang out in the lobby,” Jackie Shroff tells us. In the 1980s, he used “a poolside table under a palm tree” as his “office”. Practically everyone who did anything in the industry held meetings at the 24-hour coffee shop Oceanic, and moved things up to the revolving restaurant when the coffee became Irish.
Meetings were interspersed with many social Sea Rock activities. “Sunny bro (Deol) played squash here, Salman (Khan) swam laps in the pool, SRK (Shah Rukh Khan) used the dubbing facilities, and Rekhaji frequented the spa,” Jackie tells us. After the hotel rooms became defunct, the lobby raged on for a few years thanks to a bar called The Lobby Bar. Jackie continued to come by, a new neck scarf for every day of the week.
Prithvi Café, Juhu
Film regulars at Prithvi Café remember well one of the first caterers – Mrs Fernandes and her son Neel – who put out strong Irish coffees, as well as the “best” tuna salad and cheesecake. The hip list that sipped here is endless, but highlights include Kalki and Gulzar saab.
Barista, Café Coffee Day, and Costa Coffee
The early 2000s were dedicated to the flourish of coffee shop chains, several of which played supporting roles to wannabe actors. As you’ve read many times, the old Barista Versova is where strugglers hung out all day with head shots, should visiting TV show scouts take notice. Gloria Jean’s brief appearance on the scene was also home to rising stars, including music composer Vishal Dadlani.
After the hotel rooms became defunct, Sea Rock Hotel's lobby raged on for a few years thanks to a bar called The Lobby Bar. Jackie continued to come by, a new neck scarf for every day of the week.
Bombay Baking Company, Juhu
Since it opened in January 2002, The Bombay Baking Company has been the go-to spot for Bollywood’s better-latte-than-nevers. From Kajol to KJo; Twinkle Khanna and sisters Sonam and Rhea Kapoor, the A-list likes to schedule meetings here over Fraps with chocolate.
Costa Coffee & Starbucks, Khar
Once conveniently located below the Dharma office, Khar’s Costa was for years the most fun place to eavesdrop. Soon, the Starbucks – or ShahBucks as some call it - under Shah Rukh Khan’s Red Chillies office drove Costa out of business and became the hub for the Red Chillies’ crew. Supposedly, Farhan Akhtar and the Rock On 2 gang, who’ve held several meetings here, also wanted in on the pot.
Most recently, filmmaker Ayan Mukerji and actor Ranbir Kapoor were found conspiring here. Yes, superheroes need coffee too. And just last evening, we ran into Sonam Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez having a heart-to-heat, probably over lattes made with organic nut milk.
Taj Mahal Tea House, Bandra
Okay, so it’s all tea, but this café is a favourite with the crew from Ronnie Screwvala’s yet-to-be-announced production house and FOX Star Studios executives.
This members-only lounge at Taj Lands’ End is where all the serious coffee drinking and plotting happens. Recently spotted: actor Ranbir Kapoor and on another table, producer Vishesh Bhatt with a flock of digital big-wigs. Something’s Cook-ing.
And just last evening, we ran into Sonam Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez having a heart-to-heat, probably over lattes made with organic nut milk.
Leaping Windows, Andheri (W)
Say hi to actor and regular Nawazuddin Siddiqui, along with Bollywood writers who labour over lattes and work-in-progress stories.
You’ll find Kiran Rao lounging in an Eka dress at this secluded Bandra café where all the fuss is over privacy, iced Americanos and café bon bons. Slumdog Millionaire lead Dev Patel comes by often for long blacks too. No, he doesn’t live here, but the actor is currently shooting a film here, and so Mumbai’s gladly buying him coffee.
Want a soundtrack to go along with your coffee? Check out our playlist here, full of beans and Bollywood nostalgia.
Special thanks to Rinki Roy Bhattacharya for her insight into yesteryear Bollywood's coffee preferences.
Wake up to daily updates on what to eat/shop/do in your city