Even though the title suggests beer, the session can vary from rum and whiskey to-in this particular episode-Bhutanese Red Bull and Sonfy liquor that could easily pass off as absinthe.
What started off as a blog has now become a pilgrimage of sorts for three city boys to drink themselves silly with just enough sense left to talk about it that very night for their fortnightly podcast called The Adventures of Cheap Beer.
I for one am a fan of crappy dives bars venerated for its local bustle and fanfare. So when a chance showed upon me to join the trio on a night out as their guest, I immediately said cheers to it.
Siddhant Mehta (freelance journalist and former writer at nh7.in), Karan Agarwal (writer, director) and Suyash Barve (advertising professional turned podcast and web series guy) have been scouting and exploring character bars known for their underdog coolness or shady vibes in Bombay for over seven months now.
Me with Mehta and Barve amused with the vegetarian spread
Through their podcast, they earn a license to drink with a purpose, while voicing their views about topics ranging from customer service and ambience to cleanliness of their loos and its female-friendliness. Their podcast recordings had started on a sober note initially and have now become a more fun and drunken oral review that sometimes stretches to over 30 minutes.
My outing with them was for their sixteenth episode to Vithal’s Family Restaurant and Bar, a South Bombay dive located in the Fort area that served vegetarian food. That’s right. Wait; let me put it this way. The bar served only vegetarian food, with chaats as their specialty.
Vithal's family restaurant and bar
And by that I mean, all the chaat items from their certified golden bhel and dahi batata puri to sev and pani puri. This must be the only bar that served chaat food, I’m sure. According to Agarwal, the joint started as a roadside stall by Vithal Khadawala in 1875 and eventually moved to a shop. “This current avatar is run by his grandson and is located next to the original Vithal bhelwala,” Agarwal explains. As it stands today, Vithal features a bhel restaurant on the ground floor and a bar on the first floor.
Being a Malayali, drinking at a vegetarian bar is a strict no-no for me. But strangely, only halfway through our session, after I stuffed myself with the above mentioned items, I realized I wasn’t missing my beef and chicken starters or ‘touchings’ as we say in Kerala. In fact, I loved it.
Now that’s a big fat point for this bar. Now here’s the clincher; free unlimited chaknas comprising vegetable salads, pakodas and all those crunchy snack line-up.
“Yeh sab aate rahenge?” I asked the waiter about the free flowing chaknas to which he nodded a yes. Also it’s female friendly, so.
The bar's speciality lies in its free flowing chaats and chaknas
Now for the dampener; the fucking expensive booze price that’s much beyond bar standards, if you ask me. A small old monk, spelt as bold monk on the menu costs 150 bucks and that kind of does it for me.
The night started off on the wrong foot with the waiters giving us the cold vibe that kind of warmed up over the course of the next few hours. Don’t know if it was the booze that warmed it up for us or our general chicanery and animated banter that did it for them. Either way, the chaats were awesome, the chaknas kept staring at me on the crowded table and the booze fought for space in our stomach, much like Bombay’s real estate.
The cheap beer guys at the end of the session
From Kit Kat bar near Metro Cinema to the Yacht bar and restaurant in Bandra, the podcasting crew has been on an endeavor to pin down all such hangouts with their camaraderie and wit that goes way back, and a herculean liver that goes into mission preparedness every fortnight. Not that they stay sober the rest of the week.
“It’s become more fun recording the podcast right after the drinking session,” says Agarwal. Some of their fans agree too.
And of course, the bar food and alcohol concoctions are given in-depth scrutiny and the verdict is based on a pint system rather than a star system at the end of each episode.
I’m not the talker kind so you won’t be hearing much of me on the podcast although I have a feeling some of my profound statements are missing from the episode.
So go ahead and check out The Adventures of Cheap Beer to dive in for your next fix of booze and vibes.
By Mohan KK