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Delhi may become pubbing capital

August 06, 2003 11:14 IST

Why is Bangalore a hot and happening destination for pub crawlers? Because it has 2,400 bar licences compared to Mumbai's 1,400 and Delhi's meagre 270.

But there's some good news for the capital's serial bar and restaurant hoppers. A slew of new hangouts -- pubs cum speciality cuisine joints -- are opening in the city in the next few months.

For starters, FTV, the French fashion television channel, is ready for a blockbuster opening of its world cuisine and restro-bar in Delhi. Called FTV Cafe & Bar, the place is coming up at a prime location near Lado Sarai golf course in south Delhi.

FTV's first bar operates out of Le Meridien in Bangalore. Last week, Opus Lounge, a multi-cuisine bar lounge opened in Vasant Vihar and Shalom, a Mediterranean restro-lounge, is slated to come up in Greater Kailash in the second week of September.

Clearly, the pub and bar industry in Delhi is on a new high, despite reports of closure or re-launch of some of the existing joints. Several major pub brands from other cities are hitting town too. The Bangalore pub, 180 Proof, is going to Pune, Kolkata and cities in Punjab besides coming to Delhi.

According to 180 Proof Bar's promoter Jai Singh, there are plans to set up the bar in Goa too. Singh is also the licensee for the FTV bar in Delhi.

Meanwhile, Mumbai-based Velocity and Fire & Ice are also negotiating to open bars in Delhi. Micky Choudhury, partner in Velocity and Capitol in Delhi, says he's scouting for a five-star property in the city. The Amlas -- Amit and Arjun -- who run Ssteel at Ashok Hotel, have similar plans.

"There's a deluge of requests to open bars. But right now we are talking to a five-star group in Delhi," says Amit Amla. The Amlas are also looking at franchisees to take their brand to Bangalore and Goa.

Despite new players coming to town, the fact remains that several operating joints are feeling the heat. Industry sources say that some of the hip joints have started focusing on food rather than liquor to improve operating margins.

Bars like Iridium and Suede, set up less than two years ago, have either shut down, changed hands or are focusing on low price, big volume business. Others are increasingly resorting to marketing gimmicks like organising bikini shows or inviting belly dancers to draw crowds.

Says restaurant owner Praveen Juneja: "If three girls walk in and spend three hours in pub over a bottle of beer, what's your turnover likely to be?" Juneja is the franchisee for Subway fast food outlets in Delhi and recently bought over Suede.

Today, Suede is a fine dining restaurant. "Ultimately, you have to serve good food to pull in customers," he points out.

Like Juneja, Priyank Sukheja, owner of a pub called RPM in Malcha Marg, is also planning to focus on food.  In its new avatar, RPM will serve Chinese and Thai cuisine. "Earlier we focused on music, dancing and drinks but there is no loyalty factor in dancing clubs. Concept bars die with time," he observes.

No Escape owner Dhiraj Arora is also focusing on food, with his second project Shalom. And former owner of Suede, Vishal Choudhury, is now trying his luck in a bar called Latitude, which will be part of an oriental bistro called East 1O1 at Gurgaon's Global Business Park mall.

"In this business, you have to keep investing in new things to stay ahead of the market," says Choudhury.

Points out Gagan Kapur of Buzz, which recently took its brand to Gurgaon's DLF City Centre, "Concept places don't do well. In India, you have to have a generic place where a 25-year-old will be as comfortable as someone aged 60." Though not everybody agrees, the fact remains that pubs do have a high burn out rate.

But since the returns in the business are attractive -- between 25 and 35 per cent -- exporters, investment bankers and anybody with Rs 1 crore (Rs 10 million) to Rs 3 crore (Rs 30 million) to spare, is getting into the restro-bar business.

For pub crawlers, there's no dearth of places to keep them in high spirits.
Maitreyee Handique