British India Greets the English Pub. Part VIII.

Disappeared Old-School Pubs of Bangalore

Zac O’Yeah – I would presume a nom de plume, but am not certain – is an accomplished, Bengalaru-based detective novelist and journalist.

He has an earlier history in Europe as rock musician and music producer. You may learn more of him from his website, and biographical notes in Good Reads.

See also a sampling of his journalism collected in The Indian Express.

He is Swedish-born and -raised but has long resided in Bengalaru, known still to many in the west as Bangalore.

He has, from my gleaning, re-invented himself as an Indian resident and writer, giving his unique slant on the east and cross-cultural phenomena such as Scandinavistan.

He writes in both Swedish and English.

Bangalore is one of India’s prominent urban communities, counting almost 9,000,000 people and nerve centre of Karnataka state in the South.

In my previous post I discussed Dewar’s, a now-defunct, British-type bar in Bangalore that originated between the two world wars, hence relatively late in the British Raj.

Modern pub culture in Bangalore dates from the 1980s, as also discussed in my previous post.

Dewar’s dated from before that time, when Indian pubs still reflected, in decor, drinks, and patronage, the British period.

O’Yeah has written an article that memorialized Dewar’s and other disappeared pubs of that earlier period in Bangalore.

(The scope of this series does not permit to address the course of alcohol policy in India since Independence in 1947. Suffice to say it has gone throught different phases, e.g. an early one of discouragement if not repression. Bangalore was it seems an exception, due probably to a marked history of British brewing in the city).

Probably inadvertently, and quite apart the value of the piece as general journalism, O’Yeah has provided an undoubted service to beer historical studies.

His article, entitled “Last orders at Beer-Uru’s Classic Watering Holes”, appeared in The Hindu Business Line on January 15, 2018.

He collected a half-dozen of the old school beer pubs of the city, offering pungent and otherwise informative memories and other information. Consider this article-opener:
“Where did they go?” I gently lament as I tread on, with the high-altitude Deccan sun, augmented by global warming and shrinking green cover, hammering down on my balding pate. The name Bengaluru is, according to local lore, Kannada slang for ‘beer galore’. If you were ET and landed anywhere in town in the 1990s, there’d be a handy watering hole within 333 metres of your UFO, as attested to by statistical data (three per sq km was the norm), which made this city attract lots of aliens who wished to get ‘Bangalored’.
Of Dewar’s he wrote:

… I spent so much time lounging in the cane chairs at Dewar’s in Bamboo Bazaar that some drunks mistook me for the portrait of Queen Elizabeth that hung behind the bar — I am unapologetically nostalgic. Dewar’s, born in 1933 and gone in 2010, was like a caring mother, a homely bungalow where those in lungis mingled with khadi-clad intellectuals, and everybody felt safe, as the rosewood tables were too heavy to be used in bar battles. The beer snacks were excellent, too. Apparently the bread-crumb coated fish fillets were introduced by an Irishman who manned the kitchen until he went home after Independence.

Among the establishments he canvassed was Sarovara on Lavelle Road, “an unpretentious beer hall”. He notes that in 1995 the site formed the set for the “epic bar fight scene” in “the gangster classic OM (1995)”.

He adds the property was later sold to an upscale hotel chain, and today only a filmic record exists of Sarovara (at least publicly, I’d infer).

The hugely popular film earns regular re-release. The famous fight sequence has been uploaded to YouTube, you may view it here. Indeed clear images of the bar appear, in what seems perhaps an eastern pastiche of a Europa-era beer hall.

The name Sarovara appears at the outset, in red letters on a white canopy over the bar counter.

A broad, undivided hall is shown, painted white with shades of pastel;  an outdoor component also appears. Some scenes picture drinks on the bar: glasses of beer in apparently two shades,* and bottles of liquor.

Another stroke of fortune for beer historical studies.

I will never sit in the fraying cane chairs of a Dewar’s, never place a drink on its rosewood tables the colour of Jack Daniel’s whiskey, sent from prewar Malaya.

I will never know the ambience of a Sarovara.

But these resources help to get some sense of it, and that has value in itself, I hope you will agree.

*Unless one is whisky-and-soda or similar.





2 thoughts on “British India Greets the English Pub. Part VIII.”

  1. Thank you for this. The Shivarajkumar super fight scene is fantastic.

    I’ve been in Indian-American restaurants where the beer flowed freely and the food was a mix of both cultures, and there was probably a faint echo of Dewar’s, but only very, very faint.

    • Thank you Clark. I see what you mean by an echo of Dewar’s in that context. Now that you mention it, I think I’ve seen similar, in UK in Westbourne Grove, London, and maybe here. Maybe not so faint, who knows?


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