The flashiest gold door in Bombay lies above a ghost town. Four banks of groaning escalators will carry you away from a forlorn entryway, past peeled-off signs and doors crossed off with tape. On every floor, a little jewellery store or lehenga boutique stays eerily open, a single light making each one seem like the last saloon in the Wild West.
Atria Mall may have embraced darkness over the last couple of years, but its lights are coming on again. Behind the shimmering doors on the fourth floor, new nightclub Matahaari, which opened this fortnight, revives old-fashioned ideas like cover charges, dress codes and VVIP sections for Bombayites who're feeling too lazy for a weekend in Dubai. At terrace level, a giant new rooftop bar, Swey, attempts to woo downtown kids with blue cheese martinis and the Haji Ali breeze.
Just below the rooftop, a brand-new INOX theatre is currently under construction, and will open in late April or early May. (An INOX rep won’t divulge the details, but two other people associated with the mall claim that the multiplex will have five screens and be “super-luxe,” filled with recliners and personal butler services. Chair-raising!)
Just below the rooftop, a brand-new INOX theatre is currently under construction, and will open in late April or early May.
What’s re-animating Atria, which has been “dead for seven years,” as one of our interviewees said? It was so poorly off three years ago that its owners were reportedly looking to sell it outright. Chetan Shah, second-generation owner of the property, says it expired for a reason in the first place.
“Over the last two years, we’ve been vacating the smaller stores bit by bit. One of the reasons the mall went wrong was all the small shops and too many alleyways.” Now, he says, it’s up for a full-scale “revamp,” only negotiating with labels that will rent at least 3000-4000 sq ft of retail space, and restaurants that will take up at least 5000 sq ft.
There's talk of an upcoming Starbucks, although the coffee chain won't confirm or deny this to us. A restaurateur who works with the mall also claims that Burger King and McDonald’s have been in talks with Atria. The mall’s only big hit over the last year — apart from the steady ghostly outflow of Rolls-Royces — is a stand-alone Barbeque Nation that we’re told is heaving with families from the Mumbai Central area every weekend.
Chetan Shah, Atria’s owner, says he’s going to reset the mall to “provide an experience totally different from Phoenix, Palladium, or anything in this part of town.”
Atria "is reviving as a food and drinks hub,” explains Paulomi Shah of Matahaari. Her team picked this mall for their big experiment for convenience: it’s easy to get to; has parking space for over 600 vehicles; and a "porch entrance,” as Paulomi points out, means “it’s safe to get to, especially if you’re a woman arriving late at night.” Matahaari also has dedicated elevators at lobby-level to avoid the ghost-town trip up.
Swey — in the process of installing its own lift — picked Atria over Phoenix Mills and Kamala Mills, says owner Gaurav Dabrai, “because we went with our gut.” (The soccer rink that Swey replaces is in the process of moving to Kamala, we hear.) On his pretty terrace, Gaurav looks out at all the new-ish office buildings around Atria, filled with people who make lots of money and need lots of drinks. Atria enticed him with the same charms that swayed Matahaari, but also for an opposite reason: the chance to do something “more relaxed,” he says, “without depending on snob value.”
Neither Atria nor its shabby-genteel neighbour SoBo Central, née Crossroads, has been anywhere near as successful as Lower Parel’s mill-malls. (“Phoenix just blew everything out of the water,” Gaurav says.) But Chetan Shah, Atria’s owner, says he’s going to reset the mall to “provide an experience totally different from Phoenix, Palladium, or anything in this part of town.”
None of this enthusiasm answers a fundamental concern that’s always plagued South Bombay’s malls — namely that they have no reason to exist because no one in town really needs them. As rents and traffic suck the joy out of the Tulsi Pipe Road stretch, though, we can see why a(nother) revival of this old haunt is in the offing. There’s no telling what a killer specialty drink and a blindingly bright door will do, nor those burnt-tasting flat-whites, should they end up making an appearance in these echoing halls. And if that INOX really is going to be filled with La-Z Boyz, we get why the mood may be changing from decline to recline.
Getting there: Atria Mall, Dr Annie Besant Road, opposite Poonam Chambers, Worli.
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