Answering the party person's queries
Nightlife since the pandemic hit
Like every other industry, the nightlife industry is battling out one challenge after the other. While the government has permitted pubs and restaurants to open for business while maintaining the safety measures, alcohol serving permits haven’t been given yet. “Alcohol is the heart on which nightlife thrives and revolves around. It is difficult for any place to make money by just selling food. The most challenging part for us has been that we don’t know this will happen for how long. The government has not given any clarity on when we will be allowed to serve alcohol — will it be after July or beginning of August or any concrete date for our understanding. So we don’t know what to expect and for how long to wait. For The Grid, we see no sense to open just for food,” said Gaurav Karnani, owner of The Grid, one of the most buzzing party spots in the city.
The Park hotel’s Roxy, another busy party pad that stayed abuzz till the wee hours of the morning before the pandemic hit, will take its own time to weigh things before opening. “Right now no one has any idea about the future of nightclubs. As a start, we have opened our coffee shop The Bridge, as permitted by the government and will follow the directives as and when we get for other facilities. But honestly, it will take a long long time for the packed nightclub scene to come back. The vibe at most party spots would probably wear a lounge-y feel. At the moment, our prime aim is to follow our new hygiene protocol S.H.I.E.L.D. and provide the highest standards of safety and precaution both for our guests and team members,” said Pramode Bhandari, area general manager, The Park.
Nightclubs on the party and food hubs of the city — Park Street and Camac Street — are struggling to keep up with another challenge: high rentals. “Our outlets are at prime locations which attract extremely high rentals. The hope that things will get better and we shall be able to recover our losses incurred during these months, gives us the confidence to invest further in our businesses and work towards recovering them in days to come, but presently for now, things are uncertain and except for waiting one can’t do anything. How can anyone run a nightclub without alcohol? For us, this pandemic and on-going government restrictions have put a big question mark on the entire business operations and the way we look at bars, restaurants and nightclubs as a guest or as a business owner,” said Aditya Mehta, co-director of White Castle Hospitality Pvt. Ltd that owns M Bar Kitchen, Ozora and The Parking Lot on Camac Street and Kasba respectively.
Some places like Please Don’t Talk, one of the most popular spots on Ho Chi Minh Sarani, are trying to work things out with their landlords. “We are negotiating a win-win strategy with our landlord with whom we share a long-term working relationship and both of us are looking at a sustainable collaboration,” said Harsh Sonthalia, co-owner, Please Don’t Talk. For nightclubs like Nocturne on Shakespeare Sarani, there have been challenges too. “To be honest I don’t see a point in opening the club right away. We will take our time and see how things shape up and wait for concrete rules from the government. We don’t have rental issues but we underwent a renovation last year and within less than a year we had the coronavirus scenario, and when we open we again need to invest a lot of money. Plus, salary of the staff has been an issue too, we have done our best but when a place is not earning a single penny it becomes very challenging,” said Amandeep Singh, owner, Nocturne.
The new nightlife experience
Among both parties — club owners and party peeps — there is a massive fear lurking about catching the virus when they step out in places where a “packed” house is considered to have the best vibe and a club or a pub with few tables occupied is seen as “dead”. Many outlets like Refinery 091, The Spirits and Club Fenicia in Sector V have reopened and are serving only food and non-alcoholic beverages. While some needed the equipment to be up and running as a part of maintenance, others wanted to get a hang of everything like before. “Like most places, Club Fenicia has been shut for a long time, we have opened now to get it going. We are refining the services and we are putting the SOPs in place to keep the outlet better and safe for everyone,” said Suman Chakraborty, general manager of Club Fenicia.
To Gaurav of The Grid, the plan is to “not compromise on the entire experience that The Grid offers”. “We will take our time, we have waited patiently, but we have a well-thought-of detailed plan in place to roll but we just want that green signal from the government. We are now at yellow, but we want that green light because we are raring to go!” he said. There are a few stark changes being planned at the Topsia microbrewery. They are looking at separate entry and exit points so that there is no crowding near the main gate. Masks would be mandatory for anyone entering the premises, but once they are consuming food or drinks, it can be taken off temporarily.
But for nightclubs and pubs that are packed to the rafters on weekends and abuzz, how does one maintain social distance? The Grid, which used to see a footfall of 600 people on an average on a regular weekend, is now looking at 130-180 people. “We are doing a token system, where numbering will be there. The token will be handed over to the guest while entering and when they leave, one needs to return the token. That way we will have a firm grip on the count of people. That aside, we are managing each table with cue managers with enough space in between tables and one is supposed to stay only inside their defined zone. One advantage with us is, The Grid is anyway divided into several zones so we can space out very well. We are also allotting only one staff per table to take the order and will also have a sanitisation team who will be ready to sanitise a table used by a guest after they leave, keep it ready and then let the next guest use it. Temperature check of the staff allotted to the table will be done in front of the guest for reassurance,” explained Gaurav.
Please Don’t Talk, that is also broken into zones, is looking at giving spaces exclusively to groups with a butler so that the exposure is minimised. “We would be keeping enough distance between tables so that the experience for any guest is not compromised. It becomes a lot easier when guests come in groups and choose to have a section to them without having to worry. As a practice, we would rather do fewer covers than to stop patrons from having a good time. The major change would be in the density of the crowd and with table service only. We will have to plan our evenings and reservations more precisely,” said Harsh.
If you want to visit M Bar Kitchen or Ozora when they open, apart from the regular chemical sanitisation, Arogya Setu app monitoring and thermometer checks, watch out for multiple technologies to enrich the experience. Aditya explains: “Use of oximeter checks on all our staff and guests, UVC robots for deep disinfection, continuous UV sanitisation chambers for storage of all our cutlery, glassware and silverware, are some of the added measures. We are even infusing bio-oxygen on our HVAC systems to continuously disinfect and sterilise the indoor air quality.”
What happens to hookah?
Flavoured hookahs have been a must for party peeps in the city, so much so that many national brands that don’t serve shisha had to include the same in their Calcutta outlets. But with a direct oral usage, questions like will it be safe and how will hygiene be maintained, crop up. “To serve shisha we first need a go-ahead from the government. Once we get that we have a clear set of rules. First we won’t be allowing multiple people to share one hookah, then we have all disposable pipes for our shishas and then once it is used, it will go for sterilisation and then come back and only then will it be used again,” said Gaurav. M Bar Kitchen will have bases sanitised and sealed only to be opened in front of the guest. “The flavour would be given charge in front of you; yes you would have to do a little extra effort of drawing the first smoke out, but it would be worth the pull. And we will also have disposable pipes,” explained Aditya.
Besides maintaining cleaning and sanitising procedures of the base and the pipe, PDT is also looking at selling hookah bases. “For guests who would like to buy, we will have a new hookah base and we will make it available at a cost. This will add up well in parties where they plan to use it over a few hours,” said Harsh.
To avoid guests creating a crowd in the smoking area, The Grid will do away with the smoking room for now. If one has to smoke, they need to go out, have a smoke and come back. Polomi Jaiswal, co-owner of The Brewhive, a Sector V party spot, explains: “The problem is not only about shisha being unsafe, people share cigarettes too and the spread of virus can also happen through that. Anyway we would provide individual hookah filters that people could change while sharing a drag, but now we will introduce multi-hose shisha as an option for additional safety.”
And we twist, but where?
Grooving with your bae or dancing hysterically alone while tripping on music — that might be a thing of the past with restrictions on the dance floor. For places like PDT, The Grid and The Brewhive, one needs to dance around their own table and designated area when they open. For nightclubs, the road to recovery seems like a distant dream. “Nightclubs will definitely be challenging to operate and we don’t see a sustainable revenue model for the remainder of this year. However, we are committed to offer our patrons the best experience. We have a reservation system in place through which we will allot different sections to the guests where they can dance. Getting back to a full house dance floor is a thing of the past right now,” added Aditya of M Bar Kitchen.
Please don’t stop the music...
Music has been continuing to lift the spirit of many party people, thanks to some of the city DJs who have ensured that the music didn’t stop through the lockdown. While some play regularly from their homes for live online sessions, others are playing from their empty clubs, which people can tune in to on social media. Nocturne has seen resident DJ Amyt churn out dance numbers while on World Music Day the band All Square performed live from the club. “Music is the only thing we can happily offer our patrons so we ensured they get their dose of Nocturne music online, be it DJ set or acoustic music that we are known for and we have been very happy with the feedback really. Without much promotion on social media we had around 80 viewers at a time when we went live, which is not bad right now,” said Amandeep.
Most places that thrive on alcohol sale have started testing waters with their delivery services. The Brewhive rolled out their delivery services after quarantining their staff for two weeks. They started with their tipple delivery first, followed by their food delivery with a well-curated menu that included cuisines like Indian, Italian and Chinese. “Our menu has been well appreciated and we have had repeat guests, which is a big positive and has encouraged us to give our best,” said Polomi.
If you are looking at having a party at home, PDT is offering alcohol and food services. M Bar Kitchen, too, is delivering alcohol “through the excise department portal and soon on other delivery apps. However, the initial surge in demand is no longer there and the movement of liquor deliveries is almost negligible”. If you have been missing the yum craft beers at The Grid, there could be some good news. “We are in talking terms with the excise department about delivering our beers in growlers. We have so far got positive feedback and we are hoping for the best,” Gaurav told t2. #WeCan’tWait