One of the best things to do at The Quarter is people-watching. Seat yourself at the all-day cafe, nibble on cake, and watch folks flit in and out of the jazz club, mill around in the garden drinking wine, line up in front of the Royal Opera House — their smartphones ready to ‘gram the heck out of the evening. Since the property opened in late October, The Quarter is gradually cementing its position as Mumbai’s premier live music destination, one act at a time. And what does a place like that do? Attract the most interesting, eclectic crowd you’ll see in a single space. The local railway stations offer that as well, but you know what I mean.
Conceptualised and founded by Nico Goghavala, Ashu Phatak, Nakul Toshniwal and Ranjit Barot, The Quarter, a four-pronged music and dining experience, consists of an all-day cafe, a mozzarella bar upstairs, a 70-seater jazz club, and an al fresco restaurant, which is set to open doors next week. While the four sections can be enjoyed individually, the spaces flow seamlessly into each other, coming together as a cohesive venue for the arts, cuisine and conversation.
Sitting at the mozzarella bar, poker buddies Phatak and Toshniwal look relaxed even though a gazillion things need to be looked at. Phatak, one of the people behind Blue Frog, has his hands full with the True School of Music (TSM), which he has founded as well, and the ever-increasing roster of artistes scheduled to perform at the Opera House and the jazz club. “While travelling abroad, my wife and I would go to jazz clubs. I felt that it would be great to have a place like that in Mumbai, but I’m not really into the hospitality business, so I called Phatak,” says Toshniwal. “I thought the school could be connected to this, and the artistes from there could have an industry-level venue. I reached out to Ranjit Barot, who also teaches at TSM, and the three of us began looking for spaces,” says Phatak. The search was unfruitful till he met Goghavala at an awards show. “Nico and I get talking and he says he wants to start a jazz club. He already had a space inside the Opera House,” says Phatak.
Unknown to them, Goghavala had successfully bid for a restaurant space in the premises. The initial idea of a jazz club grew, and now included a restaurant, “because the money needed to come from somewhere,” says Phatak, who also trained his eyes to the Opera House as a venue for live acts that would span genres and continents.
The Quarter has booked 100 days at the Opera, and since their first show with dream-pop duo Parekh & Singh, they have brought down acts such as Grammy-winning Tuareg band Tinariwen, Uzbek artiste Abbos Kosimov who performed with percussionist Taufiq Qureshi, indie acts such as Ankur & the Ghalat Family, French jazz trumpet player Erik Truffaz and more.
“We also have an Artist in Residence programme, where we curate two shows — one for the Opera House, and one for the jazz club. That way, the audience is introduced to two facets of the same performer. We have masterclasses for jazz, world and western classical music as well,” says Phatak. Every other weekend, city artistes come together for Sunday Sundowners. “Curating such a line-up has been possible because of the kinds of musicians living in Mumbai, the brilliant faculty at TSM, and serious music lovers. We can get creative because people are actually listening,” says Toshniwal.
Barring the range of artistes, one of the major draws of attending concerts organised by The Quarter is the pricing of the shows at the Opera House. Fully restored to its former baroque glory by conservation architect Abha Narain Lambah (who has also designed the art-deco jazz club, the Parisian-chic cafe and the Southern-inspired al fresco restaurant), the five floors of the venue encourage a wide section of the Mumbai public to attend jazz and world music concerts. “In the beginning of the month, you can sit down, and as the month progresses, you climb to the top floor,” says Phatak, laughing.
Goghavala now joins us for a chat about the city’s first mozzarella bar. “Mozzarella comes from the milk of water buffalos. We want to showcase new, wonderful cheese makers from the south, two from the Nilgiris; one from Haryana, another from Himachal Pradesh. We serve that with really nice sourdough bread, and we’ve created a menu of 10 dishes, from anchovies and bacon, to roasted asparagus, to eat the mozzarella with,” he says.
A wood-fired oven is on its way from Italy, and soon, the al fresco restaurant, that will specialise in a Louisiana-inspired cuisine. “I was thinking of jazz and New Orleans, and found out that a lot of our produce is similar to what is used in southern-cooking. This allows us to have our own take on staples like shrimp and grits. It is experimental but that’s also an extension of the ethos of The Quarter,” says Goghavala.