Metres away from air-conditioned coffee-shops dotting the Outer Circle of Connaught Place, liveried bearers carry trays of frothy cold coffee and chilled orange squash to customers — old and young, all trying to go easy on their pockets as they spend hours chatting idly, discussing work or doodling on notepads at the Indian Coffee House, on the terrace of the old-world shopping centre Mohan Singh Place.
Set up in 1957, the Indian Coffee House is said to have been a melting pot for politicians, journalists, writers, teachers and students. It was a place where ideas were proposed and turned down, and debates continued over endless cups of affordable coffee and cutlets.
“At least nine Prime Ministers have been to this coffee shop so far,” Rajesh Kumar, one of the younger waiters at the Coffee House, claims. When asked how he knows that, Rajesh explains, “There are pictures of them with former waiters, in our head office … This place has a legacy… though none of the famous people come here any longer.”
Among the customers are two men, both in their late sixties, retired from their day jobs and now practising as lawyers in local courts. They sit at their fixed spot on the open terrace, downing their cups of coffee. “This has been our routine for over 40 years,” says Raman while his friend nods in agreement.
The number of customers might have dwindled, but this place still buzzes with regular customers who have remained loyal to it over decades. “Earlier, this Coffee House bustled with healthy political discussions… we used to run into so many top political leaders here and chat with them, as access was far easier. Be it Indira Gandhi, I K Gujral or Atal Bihari Vajpayee, we have seen them all here,” says Raman.
Virender Singh, assistant manager of the Coffee House, says, “Hordes of young college-goers come here every day. Some finish their college work, others write or chat with each other. Even now, we have at least 800 customers every day, who mostly ask for our special coffee and South Indian snacks like vadas and dosas. As a matter of principle, we keep no aerated drinks but only squashes.”
Students like Arushi Ralli praise the ‘old-world charm’ and the ‘pocket-friendliness’ of the place. “As long as there are cash-strapped students, this coffee house will have customers. This place might be old-fashioned and have a limited menu, but it has no match when it comes to ambience. I spend hours here, writing my blogs or discussing issues with my friends. And the best part is no waiter comes to chase us away even if the coffee is long over,” she says.
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