Back in business: Calcutta rejoices as bars reopen
After months of remaining shut due to the pandemic and no permit to serve alcohol as a precautionary measure against the spread of Covid-19, bars have finally been allowed to serve alcohol from September 1 by the West Bengal government. The notice that came in on Monday states nine vital points that clearly mentions that “service of liquor may take place within any service area attached to such bar in case there be any such area duly approved in this regard by the competent authority” and that “the operating hours for liquor service will be according to the operating hours of food in restaurants as specified by appropriate authorities in view of the pandemic situation”. The news has come as a breath of fresh air for the F&B and nightlife industry that have been technically out of business for more than five months as running an outlet without tipple — that constitutes 60 per cent of their daily business — did not make much sense to most owners.
F&B outlets can now serve alcohol by following a 50 per cent occupancy protocol, maintaining enough distance between tables and abiding by Food Hygiene and Safety guidelines of FASSAI. Among one of the big don’ts in the notice is the presence of anyone on the dance floor for social distancing reasons. The excise department’s order also mentions that service of alcohol will depend on the bars and restaurants, thus not making it mandatory.
We spoke to owners of restaurants and pubs, bartenders and party peeps to gauge their reaction...
“This feels like getting a second life and taking my first baby steps again! Can’t explain how happy and excited I am right now to be able to go behind the bar and show my skills and, most importantly, shake up drinks for my guests and help them start the party mood. Honestly, the entire bartending community was living with a fear of no future but with this news it gives me and everyone associated with it a ray of hope,” said Indranil Chatterjee, mixologist at Pa Pa Ya.
“I am on cloud nine after hearing the news! It’s been a crazy and long wait for months where the future of the industry seems to be in question. We are raring to go now, as we already have guests calling for private party bookings. Currently as per rule we wouldn’t engage the dance floor but guests can enjoy around their seat and we will now take order and serve cocktails on the tables. Our santisation tunnel has been well appreciated by our guests who are going to places with high cleanliness and safety. The alcohol permit is a step closer to getting back on our feet in terms of doing business, especially with the upcoming festive season,” said Ramesh Agarwal, co-owner of Refinery 091 in Sector V.
“The industry has lost a lot in the last many months due to the pandemic. We are grateful to the government of West Bengal for this permission and it will help in the long recovery process and getting jobs back. We at The Park are fully ready with our hygiene and safety protocol and are now preparing to open our F&B outlets as soon as possible,” said Pramode Bhandari, area general manager The Park Kolkata.
“This is the best news we have heard in a long time from an industry perspective. Now it is the responsibility of each individual, be it a restaurant/bar owner, an employee working in this industry or our guests to ensure that the new rules of socialising are maintained with the highest precautions. Food sales are already seeing an upward curve and with the bars now open it is only further good news for all of us. M Bar is going to open immediately. We will be having a table-only service format. We plan to reduce the capacity of the club to only a select 70 guests on each night and guests will have to have their names on our guest list for the night. We have created an online application system at mbar.wchindia.com/guestlist for our guests to reserve their tables,” said Aditya Mehta, director M Bar Kitchen and Ozora.
“Elated to know that service of alcohol will resume. It’s been a long heist and can’t wait to get the fun times rolling. For a place like Please Don’t Talk, it would not have made sense to start operations without service of alcohol. While we commence operations, it will be of paramount importance to balance guest entertainment with safety. We are looking at offering zones exclusively to groups to keep them comfortable without worrying about mixing with other tables. We also have DIY kits available — it allow guests to mix their own drink with the spirit, mixer, ice and garnish,” said Harsh Sonthalia, co-owner Please Don’t Talk.
“This decision is more important for the thousands of people whose families are associated/dependent on this trade, who were making literally no money over these difficult months. We promise to be very responsible in terms of social distancing and sanitisation purpose. We have taken few measures, like sanitisation of the entire kitchen every 1.5 hours, maintaining a gap between two tables and running with 50 per cent occupancy, deep cleaning of glasses and dishes is utmost priority beside other SOPs like temperature checks, masks etc. We are re-opening our bar with a new liquor and food menu,” said Rajdeep Chakraborty, co-owner Whats In D Name.
“We are elated to come back to business to say the least. The F&B industry has been badly hit due to the pandemic and this news of the bars being allowed to open has come as a welcome relief. To start with, we will only be opening Aura SkyBar & Brewhouse, while MoJo & Blu will remain closed for the time being. Aura has its advantages of being a brewery, a big place and an open-air lounge, which makes it safer for the customers to hang out at. All safety norms will be followed to the T,” said Dimple Saini, managing director, Aauris hotel.
Priyanka Rati Pal is ecstatic at the news of the alcohol permission. “I’m extremely fond of alcohol and I relish my glass of whisky but that doesn’t mean I sit at home and drink just for the sake of drinking and then go off to sleep. My idea of drinking is to enjoy the moment to the fullest, plan for the evening, getting dolled up, going out with my favourite people, drinking and dancing like nobody is watching! Obviously I couldn’t do all that in the last six months and I have been pitifully craving all these. I can’t wait to meet my friends and go out, of course, by maintaining and following the norms,” said Priyanka, actor-model, spotted here with friends Abhishek Dutta and Navdha Taparia at a pub pre-Covid.
“When I learnt about this, it felt like reuniting with your ex-boyfriend! Mixed emotions but totally looking forward to chugging some heady concoctions across all the pubs and party places in the city! However, it is important to keep safe and follow precautions,” said Priyanjali Ghosh.
Davina Thacker, a fashionista and avid party goer, was all smiles when we contacted her for her reaction. “It’s high time this happened for the bars as slowly everything is getting back in place but having said that people should still take loads of precautions if and when they are going out. I’m feeling cheerful, pleased and totally grateful to hear the news. Alcohol licence also means finally my high heels can come back,” laughed Davina.