New Delhi: Certain watering holes don't have to serve great food and fabulous drinks to become a part of a city's edible landscape. They thrive on memories of growing up, of breaking free, of losing one's alcoholic virginity. They keep drawing back the same old crowd because they are associated with milestones, with wild nights that did not seem to end, with lovers' tiffs that appear incredibly funny when you look back, and with plans that never took off but were never given up. If only life were a canoe ride down a gentle creek!
When Turquoise Cottage from the Orient (TC for regulars) opened some time in the mid-1990s in that maze of a village named Adhchini-hemmed in by bumper-kissing traffic and cheek-by-jowl construction off Aurobindo Marg-we didn't give it much of a chance (and that may be why its owners are driving around in Mercs and getting suits made at Jermyn Street, and we are where we were). At the peak of our national obsession with Indipop, TC unleashed a rock revolution in the capital of balle balle , playing the music that we-India's Doordarshan generation-had first heard from 33rpm gramophone records or on Yuva Vani.
The evenings would take off with Elvis, move on to the unsurpassable Roger Waters and Pink Floyd's anthemic numbers, and get progressively groovy, before melting into the wee hours with the sonorous serenades of Frank Sinatra. The music cast a magic spell. TC became the magnet for young people who were up to their ears with Daler Mehndi's brand of unbearable pop, homesick outof- towners trying hard to come to terms with a city they continued to regard as just a glorified extension of Haryana's cowbelt, and of course, struggling musicians with nothing more than hope in their eyes and holes in the pocket. In the days when Delhi had the nightlife of a deserted island, and Gurgaon was just another swathe of wild grass, TC was the place for good music, good- looking people and the deadly LIIT that has made many a veteran tippler a bit wobbly in the knees.
Then the MCD struck under the Supreme Court's orders and shut down the place, turning the party destination that never went to sleep into a ghost of its former self. TC moved to a new address in Vasant Vihar, sharing a building part-occupied by McDonald's, and its old haunt faded into oblivion. The new TC still plays good music and serves average food, but there's something missing. That something is the atmosphere. It's hard to replicate the vibe of an urban village that goes back to the time of the Lodis (the early 1500s). Or maybe it's the absence of abiding memories-the new TC is just too new, and just too predictable.
Not surprisingly, the return of the old TC-in its new avatar as TC Bar & Restaurant (thanks to the second life given to these addresses as part of the city's preparations for Commonwealth Games)-has been a cause of celebration among those who've grown up with the original TC (and aged with its rockers). A lot has changed, of course.
Old-TC-in-new-avatar is on the ground floor(and not in the basement that brought it under MCD's hammer) and it's brightly lit. A bright- eyed hostess greets you at the door with a welcoming smile, and you have to speak in Hindi to get better service-it's no longer its old la-di-da self. Don't expect fine food, slick talk and white gloved service. TC must be the only restaurant between the Yamuna and the Thames that insists on serving wine in glasses that went out of fashion with the Mughals. Its waiters are in dire need of a memory tonic-they have the attention spans of houseflies on LSD and forget orders even before they leave your side.
I am not complaining because of Shukla ji , the waiter who served us with a ready smile and the constant gentle reminder to keep replenishing our drinks before the end of happy hours. He'd show up miraculously before we could start complaining to explain why the waiters had kept goofing up. And the music was as groovy as ever. So was the menu's comfort factor-we had prawn sui mai and chicken satay, and we were not let down. And the drinks? Well, we didn't have the LIIT, but the wine (Sula Sauvignon Blanc 2009) was cooled to perfection and so was the beer.
What more can you ask of a restaurant where the table next to you unleashes a deluge of fond memories? Memories of a time when you had little cash but lots of aspirations, memories of a relationship taking off on the strains of Cyndi Lauper's unforgettable number, Time After Time.