Quite a few eyebrows were raised when I recently tweeted about my plans to visit Oly Pub at Kolkata’s Park Street for the first time in my life.
Folks couldn’t believe that I had grown up at Kolkata and yet never been to Oly Pub. For Oly Pub was the favoured place for school and college kids of Kolkata to shed their Bacchanalian virginity. Oly Pub was the watering hole even for the more experienced as it was cheap and that too in a city which redefined ‘inexpensive’. Plus I remember that Oly Pub, along with Blue Fox, was rated highly for its steaks in the 90s. Time hasn’t been kind on Blue Fox and this grand dame of Park Street now sports the Golden Arch.
But, yes, I had never been to Oly Pub in school or at college or during my post grad days. Yes, I admit to being a ‘bhalo chhele’ or good boy then. Well, not entirely a science club nerd but no, I hadn’t been to Oly Pub. I did try to go there last year with a college batch mate. Turned out she was the only woman around there that night and we beat a hasty retreat.
But I was not giving in. The thirties were running out and this was a rites of passage long due. So I began rustling up an expedition party. A Facebook friend and food aficionado who assured me that Oly Pub was quite woman friendly too. His wife, an Oly Pub, regular joined us. As did my classmate who had accompanied me in my last attempt. We were reunited sometime back through FB. Adding to our posse was a chef, raconteur, archaeologist, a Parsi married to a Bong, a Finely Chopped Facebook page friend from Mumbai. We had never met there but turned out that we were both at Kolkata at the same time. And his wife was a Oly Pub fan too. Add a recent twitter contact from Kolkata, an Oly Pub regular, who joined us as we met for the first time and later discovered that we shared the same lane at Kolkata. Closing the ranks was my blogger friend who had moved to Kolkata from Mumbai sometime back and had never been to Oly Pub. Whom I managed to convince to join us after shedding her inhibitions about going to a grimy place, with strangers and being the only non Bong among Bengalis. Add to this the blog reader who recognised me and came up to me at the Park Street Metro to say hi, and you have got the plot of an evening put together by‘The Social Network’. And, unlike the film, in Oly Pub, we had a winner.
We entered Oly Pub and trooped up the stairs. The ground floor was for men only apparently. We went up to a two sectioned area lit by bright tube lights. Much brighter than earlier said my kid brother wisely when he saw the photo. He obviously was no Oly novice. Oly ‘Pub’ screamed ‘bar’ all over. It was a drinking place and made no bones about it.
My first impression of Oly Pub was an all pervasive smell of pee. It slowly subsided thankfully and I saw that we were sitting close to the ‘Ladies Toilet’. Where, intriguingly, a number of men were headed. This puzzle was solved later in the evening as we figured out that behind the door was a passage to smoke in and the promised little girl’s room came after that.
|The view from the smoking passage|
|A riddle solved|
Talking of ‘ladies’, there were quite a few mixed gender tables upstairs that Saturday at Oly Pub and one table with just two or three members of the fairer sex.
|Not a male bastion... Jaggo who accompanied me in my last attempt, Ash and Oly Pub lover Monishita show the way|
|Sukanto, a tweep who shoots|
|Kaniska & Manishita, The couple who made this trip happen|
|Kurush,Chef, raconteur, archaeologist, Parsi married to a Bong, a friend from Mumbai whom I met for the first time that evening at Kolkata|
Oly Pub, as I said, is a drinking place though none in our group were big drinkers that night. You had waiters assigned to individual tables and no one else would serve you. The service, when you caught your man’s eye and when he was free, was competent. Drinks were poured out of bottles brought to your table and into peg measures. What was in those bottles was anyone’s guess. As a wise man once told me, ‘go for the basic denominator in places you are not sure off’. I wanted a good old Old Monk but had to settle with Mc Dowell’s. There was beer, fresh lime soda and the odd vodka on the table. A request for orange juice was met with orange squash. In a peg measure. Lady you don’t make Screw Drivers at Oly Pub!
|Two non Bongs are witness to a Bengali rites of passage completed and documented|
But it was the food at Oly Pub that really stood out. The quality and taste and sheer wizardry of the food was so unexpected. There is a Bengali idiom which goes ‘gobore poddo phul’ or a lotus blooming in a heap of dung. With no disrespect to Oly
From the unlimited dalmoot which came with the drinks on the house. The potato fries which reminded you of chubby babies whose rosy cheeks people couldn’t stop pinching...crisp, soft with a mischievous dash of pepper. The fish fries which were recommended online by the Bengali wife who our Parsi friend had left behind at Mumbai. The fish fries were served with the special house Kasundi or the thick local spicy mustard dip.
|Unlimited dalmoot. i was heckled by our table for taking this snap. Food snob I was dubbed|
|Kasundi served with fish fingers|
The steaks were everything that the newspapers of the 90s had promised. We tried the pepper steak and the mixed grill. They didn’t ask whether you wanted it medium, rare or well done. They got it for you ‘just right’. Very soulful and poetic meat served in a sea of boiled peas.
And then there was more meat. Cocktail sausages. Spicy sausages. A sort of British Raj meets the natives dish. Very respectable pork studded with fat peppered with a near garam masalaish flavour. You just couldn’t get enough of these.
|Garam masala sausages|
We finished off our order with the highly recommended chicken a la kiev. Never has been a dish so out of place in its surroundings. For, the chicken a la kiev at Oly Pub, belonged to the world of fine dining. Or even to the world of style and haute couture. Immaculately shaped. ‘The trick is to eat it while it is hot’ I was urged as I clicked away. I took a knife and fork and did the honours. One firm cut and I realised that the dish was hollow inside and out oozed a stream of butter across the batter coated chicken into omnipresent boiled green peas. The chicken a la kiev at Oly Pub blended in as well into its surrounding as a court dancer of Shirazuddaulah, the last Nawab of Bengal, would blend into a country liquour bar meant for masons and farmers. This was haute cuisine... even if slightly art deco. A warm buttery end to an evening of boisterous conversations, simple hardworking alcohol, smoky passages and spectacular food... all of which came to Rs 250 (5 USD) per head for a group of seven.
|Unveiling the chicken a la kiev at Oly Pub|
|I can still taste it...epiphany|
|The Finely Chopped Knights Table at Kolkata|
On the way down we spoke to the manager and found out the Oly Pub was opened in 1947. The year of India’s independence. Ironic given the number of students who came here to seek their freedom. We found out that Oly Pub was started by a Parsi family and till this day was run by a Parsi lady named Mrs Z S Tangdi. A discovery so unexpected in the middle of Calcutta that both Mumbaikars, the Parsi gentleman married to a Bengali and the Bengali married to a Parsi girl, were stumped.
I guess there stories are all around you at Oly Pub. All you have to do is ask.
Note: The last order at Oly Pub is taken at 11 PM
Note: The last order at Oly Pub is taken at 11 PM
|Digging up the Oly Pub story|
|paans outside Oly Pub|
|Park Street J'etaime|