A 60s iconic mid-tempo piano ballad swells into a singalong. With heads thrown back, beer in hand, a group of bikers release the melody: “Hey Jude, don’t make it bad, take a sad song….” Pain, anguish embedded in this deeply reflective song strikes a chord and turns into a collective catharsis of sorts. It’s going to be a long, slow evening peppered with stories of love, friendship, family, and motorcycles.
Situated next to Goa’s Baga creek locale, the Royal Enfield Garage Cafe in Arpora has a role to play in this kindred spirit connection.
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The unruffled, laid-back vibe of this cafe puts you at ease, and gives a sense of space in this half-acre property. There’s a lot to unpack here and talk more about. The slow whirring industrial fan inside the bar area (the size of 10 ceiling fans put together) adds to the spaciousness and is a definitive conversation starter. “This is the same fan that runs in our factory back in Vallam and we wanted the whole place to feel open and give you a sense of a place that’s Royal Enfield,” says Arvind Iyer, head, Strategic Initiatives.
While it’s tempting to display all of their innovations over the years inside the cafe, they carefully chose to handpick and lace together fragments of history that are hallmarks of the brand Royal Enfield. Move over to the small museum next to it, and you witness an unbundling of pure motorcycling.
Like for instance, the 1939 Flying Flea motorcycle, used by the British Army Red Berets parachute regiment in World War II for airborne drops on the battlefield. The military picked it up given its 65 kg weight, a 125cc engine and smaller overall dimensions. The bike could be dropped anywhere with a drop cage and a dispatch rider would deliver messages on it.
The other gem was the Royal Enfield Classic 500 miniature that will stop you flat in your tracks. The attention to detail is immaculate given how, for example, they outfitted a steel fuel tank that can actually hold fuel! Besides, it’s chrome plated, masked, painted, pinstriped and lacquered. It’s not a scaled model but a 1:3 size motorcycle, whose every single part has gone through the same process as that of a usual motorcycle. “It took us a little over two years to build this,” reveals Iyer.
Other stuff on display were the 1965 MK-2 750cc Interceptor, the original 1963 Continental GT cafe racer and the last cast-iron engine to roll out of the Royal Enfield factory! “It’s not about putting everything in one space. It’s a place that allows you to discover at your own pace and at a certain depth you want to go into,” said Iyer.
What amplifies the aura of the Royal Enfield Garage Cafe is the design philosophy. From the laterite walls on the outer facade – indigenous to Goa – to the specially commissioned installation hand-painted on tiles by Goan artisans as a tribute to Azulejos tile art inside the cafe, it blurs the boundaries between Royal Enfield and the soul of Goa. The design sensibility doesn’t grab your collar for attention. Simplicity and authenticity are embedded in this space, which appeals to all the senses of the bike and brand.
“From a design perspective, it has the honesty of materials. What we have done is used laterite, which is an abundantly available material in Goa and made that into a part of our design philosophy,” says Iyer.
And what ties them all together is the food, the most binding thread among every community. “It’s also a very tough one to fit to everybody’s palate,” says Jamshed Madon, the chief food curator at the Garage Cafe. This is also the place Goans recognise as the old J&A’s Little Italy. When he’s not running the restaurant, he’s mostly travelling in the Himalayas on his Royal Enfield.
With Madon, you can take it easy. He’s downright honest about his food, and loves a conversation around gastronomy and motorcycles, a cocktail he’s come to perfect. This nifty Italian joint serves up terrific woodfired pizzas and savoury aiolis. The best part is all the ingredients are locally sourced and sustainably grown. And although the menu is limited, it won’t be an overstatement to say they serve good, wholesome food with style and integrity. They know their food and do it well.
“It’s a country- style kitchen for bikers and non-bikers alike. There’s a lot of goodwill that has gone into the place. The goal is to reflect the local food and the food available on the road. How you present it to someone, that’s the challenge,” says Jamshed.
In the background though, a vinyl jukebox is quietly setting the mood as it summons the raspy voice of Janis Joplin, bringing a subtle edge to the conversations around the table. Soon, Harry Belafonte’s voice echoes and bounces as it dissipates into the breezy atmosphere, until one customer hurriedly gets up and says, “My turn to play music,” dropping a quid into the system. This golden chrome vinyl jukebox, made from ground up in the UK, was the show stealer at the cafe.
As the beat music from the 60s and 70s slowly trickles into your conscience, the slew of custom motorcycles lined up next to the gear store makes you giddy with child-like excitement. And right next to it, the Royal Enfield’s service centre takes care of all your bike issues while you quaff down a few Susegad beers and walk around the museum.
Somehow, all of this fits in place.
“When you delve deeper, you end up being surprised. Whether people spend 10 minutes or 10 hours, we wanted them to leave them with that feeling,” says Iyer.
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