Bandra's Yacht Resto Bar. Now served with no added nostalgia

Bright lights separate the past from the present at Bandra's Yacht Bar

  • Yacht is a dive bar in Bandra which has had a facelift recently. 
  • I went there for the first time recently and the post is on what I saw, drank and ate
  • My visit to Yacht also made me wonder that with restaurant prices hitting the roof, where would young folks go to for a good meal today

Twenty years too late?

I finally made it to Bandra's Yacht Bar, or Resto Bar as it is called now, last weekend after spending close to twenty years in the suburb. 

Yacht Resto Bar, is a small bar at the end of Hill Road and is located where the road forks towards Chimbai at one end and Bandstand at the other end. You can call it a 'dive bar' out of politeness or political correctness. The young folks I went there with last Sunday kept referring to it as 'sleazy' when we made plans to go there. They were regulars there though. Perhaps they were trying to be seen as 'good boys' in my eyes. These were a couple of young chefs who have just joined a top hotel group after having finished their catering course. They have come to Mumbai to start their careers just as I had twenty years back. Different fields though. I had come to the city as a market researcher after all.

Bandra...the wonder years

I had passed by the Yacht Bar a million times till recently but had never gone in. 

There's a reason why I hadn't been to Yacht all this while. It's not that I didn't look for places for cheap daroo (booze)  twenty years back, as most first jobbers do. There was a bunch of us at work who had come from across the country to Mumbai then. We stayed as PGites in Bandra. However south Mumbai, and not Bandra, is where we would go to hang out after work. When we wanted a cheap drink then Gokul at Colaba is where we would go to. Not to Yacht. Nor to Janta Bar at Bandra's Pali Naka.

I have seen Yacht and Janta become more popular and famous over the last couple of decades than they were before. I feel that this could be a factor of the action shifting to Bandra and the suburbs as Mumbai expands.  'Town' or South Mumbai is no longer the city's hub. The flipside of this expansion is that rents at Bandra have shot up and it is not longer affordable for early jobbers to stay here like we once did.

I tried to find out a bit about the history of Yacht when I visited the place last weekend.  From what I could figure out from the two friendly and smiling managers at the counter, Yacht is about 70 years old. It started as an Irani Cafe. Its ownership has changed hands since then. From an Irani cafe, it became a beer bar. Then, a few decades back, they got a liquor permit and that's when business went through the roof. From what I gathered, it is now a place to go to drink and to drink hard at that. The alcoholic haze that enshrouds the place helps break all social differences here.

As for me, I don't drink much these days and the question of going to dive bars doesn't arise. When I do go to one of them now, I go as an outsider. More a faux ethnographer or a sociologist as you could wryly say.

People Watching at Yacht Resto Bar

From Bar to Resto Bar

I had recently noticed that Yacht had got a facelift. The shop front was painted a fresh. A snazzy signboard was put up too. 

I wondered what would be the impact of this 'gentrification'. As it is there are very few cheap eateries or drinking holes left in Bandra west. Would Yacht become out of reach too?

As the news of Yacht's botox spread, there were a series of laments and heartfelt cries on social media about how things will not be the same again. This was from folks who hung out there when younger and who were now well established in life and no longer go there.

Unfortunately, I had not been to Yacht before so I do not have a benchmark to go by. If you have, then I would love to hear from you. 

Now here's the thing about memories. They are often coloured by nostalgia and lose a bit of objectivity in the process. However, what is important from a business point of is what today's customers want. Do they want some change and glitter and gloss? Would they like the new avatar?

The first thing that struck me when I entered Yacht was the bright lights that lit up the place and then the happy buzz that emanated from the restaurants. Barring the odd guy drinking by himself with a look of solemn concentration, there was plenty of good cheer around. Yacht is a 'bar' and not a 'pub' so there's no music in the background. I even saw a couple of young men who were sitting alone, nursing their drinks with phones propped on the table, playing their favourite videos.

The bright lights, I was told by my young friends, was the result of the 'facelift'. As are the new tables and chairs with the typical 'wedding hall' look. The place is still non-airconditioned. The facelift is restricted to the section at the entrance. From what I gathered, the changes are possibly not as life changing as it is made out to be. Or maybe it is. Who am I to decide? I'd not even been there before after all. 

When I looked around, I saw that the clientele seemed to belong to all social classes, ages (within legal age limits I am guessing) and to both genders. There were quite a few women/ girls there who were either part of mixed gender groups or by themselves. I am pointing this out as this is not always the case in the cheaper bars of Mumbai which often tend to be male bastions. However, the Yachts and Jantas of the world have their hipster constituents and mixed crowds too unlike the 'hardcore bars' of Parel and Dadar and the ones in Bandra near the Lucky restaurant end of Hill Road.

Despite becoming a 'resto bar, Yacht was packed on a Sunday night and every table was occupied. On each table there were many glasses, bottles, plates of food, used tissue papers and the odd chicken bone. As Indrajit Lahiri had recently written in his blog post about Shaw's Bar in Kolkata, "you don't look down at the floor at such places."

The darker inside section. The iPhone 7Plus took care of the
low lights!

As the newly done up brightly lit section was full, we were sent to a section to the left, the entry to which is located beside he cash counter. This was a long passage like section and was a lot darker than the outer section. More crumbled tissues papers were strewn all over here than outside. The demographic and pyschographic mix of the crowd was the same as outside, as are the prices. More folks were smoking here. The advantage of being in this section was that if you look out of the windows then you get a touch of the sea breeze flowing in from Chimbai down the road and you don't feel that cloistered in. Once you get over the fact that this section looks less dolled up from outside, you actually begin to feel more comfortable and at home here than in the outside freshly painted section. The windows make it feel very different from Gokul in Colaba which has no windows and therefore seems more broody. It's another matter that the window sills would have crumpled tissues thrown carelessly across them. You do not come to Yacht if you have OCD, as one of my young friends observed. He visibly had it though and both of us tried to shove the tissues away while there.

Yacht in brighter lights. The outside section

We were told, just as our drinks arrived, that a table had got empty in the refurbished section. We got up, took our drinks and walked there, waited for a million chicken bones to be cleaned up from the table and then sat down once it was wiped clean.

F&B at Yacht

The way of the monk

I had ordered Old Monk and Coke for us, tipping my hat to days gone by. My young friends told me that this is their favourite tipple here too. You don't order a negroni at Yacht or a Rose or a 18 year old single malt for that matter.

Our first round of Old Monk was with Thums Up, which as some folks on Instagram pointed out, outshouts the rum. The next was with Coke. We ordered our drink by 'quarter bottles'. What we used to call 'nip' in Kolkata. Two bottles between us and we were done that evening at Yacht. I am not 20 anymore and those who were me had a pool party to head to after that.

On seeing me put up pictures on Instagram, people asked me about my 'review' of the food. Well, I don't think anyone goes to Yacht to eat so I am not going to spend more much time on that. 

The best tasting dish at Yacht that evening. Chakli out of a plastic bag

In fact, even in our Gokul days, we would drink at Gokul and then eat the rather mediocre fare at Bade Miya outside than eat at Gokul. A recent visit has shown me that Gokul actually serves pretty good food. Much better than what we had at Yacht the other night. My advice would be to stick to the chakli with chutney to have with your drink when at Yacht.

Crispy chicken at Yacht

If you like spicy, MSG heavy, red coloured, deep fried stuff then you can try the crispy chicken chilli like we did. One of my table-mates, who is a regular here, loves it.

Mandeli at Yacht

We also tried the mandeli... deep fried anchovies, painted red with masalas. The fish was nice and crunchy, chewing the bones is not a problem and they don't bother you unless you are a Punjabi as one of us at the table was. It was very high on salt though.

Chicken malai tikka

The third dish that we tried was the chicken malai tikka which consisted of reasonably juicy chicken tikkas, salt levels toned down a bit compared to the mandeli. It was covered with a thick pool of slightly sour cream and was served with coleslaw on the side. I had a bit of the coleslaw and then stopped as I am wary of having raw salads and fruits at such places from a hygiene point of view. 

See, this is what I meant when I said that I am an 'outsider' here. I would have mopped up the coleslaw twenty years back. At that time my motto, when presented with a plate of food, was 'leave no prisoner behind.' Today I am in my early 40s and espouse the values of 'portion control'. Priorities change after all with time.

They have an extensive Chinese menu at Yacht but I avoided that as I don't handle MSG too well these days and such places put an excess of it as the crispy chicken showed. 

From what I figured out, it was perhaps more the bright lights which made the owners of Yacht add 'resto' to 'bar' in the name than the food there!

The beef chilli that folks on social media told me about is now an urban legend. They stopped serving it a while back I was told at the restaurant.

One of the young chefs who were with me passed by the kitchen when he went to use the washroom. He came back and told me that the kitchen at yacht looked quite spic and span to his trained eyes. Something that Jamshed uncle had noticed about the Gokul kitchen too. I must add that my stomach lasted the night well. However, if you are looking for an inexpensive but nourishing meal in Bandra, I would recommend the National Restaurant at Bandra any day but that's a restaurant of course and not a bar.

The ties of rum

As the evening progressed, one thread that emerged as common between my twenty year old past self and my young friends was our that of our hunger for good food. They spoke of the same issues of trying to fend for oneself while away from home and of paying Mumbai rents with meagre salaries which consumed me back then. What was common between us was also a shared love for our adopted city of Mumbai and the excitement, freedom, hope and opportunity that it stood for.

A polarised new restaurant order

"We need to eat at top restaurant to see what the latest trends are but they are so expensive. How can one manage that?" was one of the many questions that they asked me as the night went on. 

Their question did remind me of something that I have been thinking about a lot of late. The fact that almost all the new restaurant openings that I hear about in Mumbai are those of very expensive places. All offering promises of exotic produces, big name chefs, food and alcohol from world over or from the farms and palaces in India, served in places with cutting edge design and ambience . All of which translates into a high spends.

I do understand the reason why restaurants today are expensive. Rents are sky high as are demands of investors, virgin or angel. Consumer aspirations are high too and comfortable chairs, air-conditioning and toilets and valet parking and English speaking wait staff, which are expected today, cost money after all. As do salaries especially if they want to attract good, trained talent such as my friends at Yacht.

On the whole I think that the opening of big budget, standalone restaurants in Mumbai is not a bad thing. If done well, for customers this translate into culinary experiences that we have not had in the city before. And from the business side, it offers employment opportunities of course.

My worry though, though is that not enough of the moderately priced restaurants are opening anymore. I am talking of the equivalents of the heritage restaurants of South Mumbai. Many of those date from the time when India had just became independent and most of them offered prices then, and still do, which the average office denizen of business districts of Mumbai of yore can afford without breaking the bank.

Hunger needs to be fed and dreams need to be fuelled. Places such as Yacht are good to come to unwind, to forget, or to create fresh memories. However, we do need more of Nationals and Crystals too to feed young folks wholesome food and at prices that they can afford. Man can't live on quarter bottles alone.

Youth is not the time for self imposed boundaries

My advise to my young chef friends was to seek inspiration in places such as Yacht and local family run joints and to jump on to a train and backpack across the country for more ideas which could wake up the jaded palates of today's world travelled diners. Respecting and treasuring and reviving local food, regional food and home food is the emerging trend in India and globally too. Having the 'freedom' to not be bound by comfort is, after all, the strength of youth. As they grow older, they would be less likely to go to such places and would then perhaps depend on nostalgia for research, and nostalgia can be a slippery slope after all.

And who knows, these experiences might give them ideas on how to come up with places which offer great food without skyrocketing prices. I would like to think that it would.

Reliving my Gokul years,
20 years later at Bandra's Yacht Resto Bar

2 quarter bottles of Old Monk, some colas, 2 chaklis, 3 side dishes came to around Rs 900 at Yacht in August 2017. There's no service charge levied here.

Places referred to in this post:

1. Memories of Gokul

3. Crystal restaurant. The hostelier's delight.