THE phone has been ringing incessantly at Farzi Cafe. The upscale eatery, owned by Zoravar Kalra’s Massive Restaurants, is a mere few feet away from the site of Thursday night’s tragedy. They are sticking to the plans for New Year’s Eve with DJ Conrad. Their patrons, many of who have booked spots for the restaurant’s New Year’s Eve package starting at Rs 4,000 per head, are now both curious and concerned. Is the restaurant open? Is it even safe to be there? “They are calling for reassurance, and that’s only expected. But we haven’t faced any cancellations yet so we will go as per our plan,” said Abdul Ansari of Farzi Cafe.
Kamala Mills Complex in Lower Parel houses over 30 restaurants, pubs and nightclubs, and houses several office complexes. The vast stretch of the complex extends from Tulsi Pipe Road right up to Pandurang Budhkar Marg and also includes land from Victoria Mills, redeveloped as Oasis City. Standing at Gate No 4 at the rear end of the compound, which overlooks Oasis City, it is easy to believe that all is good this Friday afternoon. Restaurants are open for business, patrons are flitting in and out and boards announcing their plans for the New Year’s Eve are placed near the entrances. It’s business as usual. However, many restaurateurs there confessed that they have called for huddles with their teams to reassess the situation.
“With the tragedy so near New Year’s Eve, it’s a difficult decision to take,” said Jaydeep Singh Bika, owner of Talaiva. The restaurant, which serves royal Indian cuisines, is located in Oasis City that is part of the Kamala Mills compound. “We have booked a DJ and called in resources according to the bookings, especially since we have permissions to stay open till 4 am. It’s an investment and now we are not sure if the guests will be in a mood for DJ music or prefer a quiet candlelit dinner. We are now preparing for both,” he added.
The teams at the popular restaurant, The Bombay Canteen, as well as the newly-opened Lady Baga by A D Singh said they are taking a stock of the situation and want to take every hour as it comes. The Bombay Canteen’s December 31 plans include ‘Canteen House Party’ where the restaurant will be open till 3 am. Lady Baga has planned a live music night with a special drinks and food menu.
But it seems unlikely that the restaurants and pubs will alter their plans in the wake of the tragedy that took place next door. Several pubs within the complex, including Verbena, Farzi Cafe and Play Lounge, went ahead with the special DJ nights scheduled to cater to the Friday night crowd.
However, many properties view the next few days as challenging. On one hand is the fear that business may suffer. “It’s peak season and we feel guests may not be confident of visiting open-air properties in the complex,” pointed out Amit Singh, the general manager of Verbena Brewpub & Skygarden. Located on the top floor of one of the buildings in Kamala Mills, Verbena’s USP is the al fresco section and the view.
On the other is the scramble to make sure all paperwork is ready in case of an inspection by the BMC officials. Work was on at Sky View Cafe this afternoon, for instance, to dismantle the temporary structure erected using bamboos.
The buzz in the industry is that restaurateurs are worried BMC may come down heavy on them, perhaps even find a scapegoat or two to prove they are taking action. However, everyone The Indian Express spoke to claims to be fire compliant. Singh said that the team at Verbena carries out fire drills every three months and Joseph Machado of Grandmama’s Cafe added that they have a staff trained in managing accidents. “We are fully supportive of the policies and regulations in place to ensure tragedies like this do not happen,” added AD Singh.