As I always say, “There lies numerous Calcutta inside Calcutta”….. When I told one of my friends that there’s a bar located almost on Esplanade crossing, where till date, Tuborg beer is priced at 115/- all inclusive, all I got was a glance of disbelief. And when I said, that the bar is also having AC and proper seating arrangement, he was nearly sure that I am on grass. So, the journey started for arguably Kolkata’s one of the oldest (and cheapest) bar with a pinch of history tucked in and some chilled beer.
Location and timing:
Standing in front of the famous K C Das sweet shop at the esplanade crossing, one needs to take the Lenin Sarani towards Moulali and the first dingy lane on right is the (in)famous Metro gully. Get in and on your right, you can find one place where numerous bikes are parked. The adjacent door is closely guarded by one security guy and lots of people waiting outside for their piece of chair. Its open on all regular days till 10 PM. Just a piece of warning. Please avoid 530-7 PM, as its almost impossible to get a seat there as is full (mostly regulars). The service is closed during 6-615 PM, when the daily puja is performed at the counter. Mr Gour chandra Shaw is extremely particular in this aspect. Just when you get in those doors, you’ll find the menu on your right printed on a glow sign and tucked on wall and one LED screen displaying the liquor prices. Welcome to Chhota Bristol (once again).
Inside it seems like you’re in a market. everybody’s shouting, rather talking among themselves, having small talks- the topics ranging from politics to football, political leaders to religious leaders and any damn thing in between. The first challenge is to find a chair, or even to find one shared chair and getting settled. Once you start settling, your hearing capacity shifts its focus from the humming to individual talks and chit chats. And suddenly, out of nowhere a waiter appears. No, its against the norm there to carry a drinks card. They expect you to know your drinks and off course, you’re not expecting any fancy cocktail there. Order your drinks and pay the waiter (its a pre-paid world). He’ll come back with your drinks and exact change and drinks for a more tables/ persons in a unique fashion. And in my last 15 years of experience there I’ve never seen them mixing up orders- never. with booze, comes a complementary chat of chhola, sliced giner and rock salt. You need to pay 2/- for a bowl of ice though.
The beer is chilled and the glass is clean. Please don’t try to look down at the floors, as they say, let the sleeping dogs lie. Chhota Bristol doesn’t have a kitchen or food option, neither they plan to have it in near future. Instead there are snacks vendors. There are small joints outside on the road, who make some excellent chat and they sell it inside. Tip them around 5/- extra and special care will be taken for your order. The range varies from peanuts (6/-) to mutton liver stir fried with onion and sliced green chilly (70/-). The mandatory fish finger is there 8 pcs for 70/-) with humble kasundi and mutton Bheja Fry. A lot many other options are there like chilly chicken, cheese cubes (diced in small cubes), salted cashew etc but one can’t have all at one go. The food is good, but nothing extraordinary. Regular honest spicy food, which goes well with booze. So, one can eat his heart out within 200-250/- per head.
As I said, the food is not extra ordinary, but the overall ambiance is. In a place like this, you get to see the real Calcutta. Normal people from nearby offices, college goers, junior to mid level executives, businessmen- they all come down. Its more like a adda-khana with booze thrown in. Rather it’s more like a small version of the city herself, in its brilliant diverse state. Snobs are not welcome here, I heard neither are women (probably ladies wouldn’t have felt comfortable even). Its a dedicated men’s world inside and its preferred this way. Even, here, I’ve seen a waiter denying drinks to a guest saying “boudi has allowed only 2 pegs and I won’t serve you more than that”. Now, Calcutta is meant to be this personal, whether we like it or not. In last probably more than 100 years, Chhota Bristol has been like this only (only the AC has been added). And frankly, we don’t normally mind that. Certain places are meant to represent a city- its insider stories and this is one of them….. Needless to say, I’ve won the bet from my friend and now, even he’s a regular at this joint.
P.S: If you’re still looking for dinner, you may try the nearby Anarkali Restaurant, for its Indian chilly chicken…..
Bon apetite !!!
Comments and critics welcome.
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