Vintage Bombay

Vintage Bombay

I’d go there with plenty of four anna coins for the jukebox, and have espressos and hot dogs for Rs1.25 each. Napoli was an open, noisy cafe. The owner always managed to have the latest vinyls, and five bucks was enough for two people to have a snack and a coffee each. One car would go down the street every half hour, a Dodge Kingsway, or a Baby Hindustan – the precursor to the Ambassador, modeled after the Morris Minor – or an Austin A40, or a Studebaker Commander, and it would always be jam-packed with high school or college kids, who would all pour out of it at one of the spots on the streets. We’d listen and dance to Elvis, Bill Haley and the Comets, Connie Francis, Helen Shapiro…in the evenings we’d go to Moka at the Airlines Hotel (near the Ritz Hotel). At first none of us knew what the name meant, but soon our Parsi teachers at Xavier’s Boys’ Academy told us that it was a coffee drink.”

That’s just one of the many stories I hear from my dad a few times every year. They come up at all sorts of times. Like when we walk down Marine Drive to Veer Nariman Road after dinner to have ice cream sandwiches at K. Rustom. Or when we have a family dessert of Baked Alaska at Gaylord. Napoli, Talk of The Town and Volga are just some of the other places he would frequent. And they were all in what was once Bombay’s hippest neighbourhood, in and around one street: Churchgate Street Extension, now known as Veer Nariman Road.

The area may have lost some of its shine over the last decade, but from the 1960s until the mid ’80s, it was home to the most popular dining and drinking establishments in town. Restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani, who opened Mocha in 2001 in the spot previously occupied by his father’s restaurant Berry’s, continues to be bullish about the stretch, and will soon open a Salt Water Cafe in the same location. “It’s an arterial road in the heart of Bombay’s Art Deco district, and a very historic space in Mumbai’s nightlife,” he says.