Bangalore is where things have traditionally been put to pasture. Hyder Ali tried to retire his troublesome army chief quietly, in Bangalore. The British turned Bangalore into a hospice for weak and wounded soldiers. Professors, accountants, and army officers retired in Bangalore to escape the heat and disorderliness of the plains. Ageing rock bands perform swan-song concerts in Bangalore. Old and unhip foreign institutions open new botoxed-up avatars in Bangalore, hoping for a final blaze of glory before biting the dust.
One such institution opened quietly on St. Marks road this year. I watched in distress as the antique-chic Barista and Nineteen Twelve were scooped out of the old Bible Society buildings, and fused into one huge space. My Indian sensitivities bristled as the yellow neon Hard Rock Cafe sign was hoisted over the door. I was only slightly mollified when a sign that said "Bengaluru" was tacked on underneath it. I watched them knock down walls, open up windows and re-structure courtyards. I hoped and prayed that they wouldn't convert the beautiful old building into another jarring modern eyesore that we certainly didn't need.
Fortunately, they didn't. It looked just as pretty as before, notwithstanding the yellow neon. As expected, people flocked in on the opening weekend. I didn't feel like battling the crowds, so I stayed home and did my nails for a couple of weeks till they died down. This weekend, a cousin and I finally decided to go find out what all the fuss was about.
"Hi surrrrrh", sang the ubiquitous Manipuri maitre d'ni, as we walked in and looked around. The old granite walls of the building had been left intact. The newly installed distressed wood flooring and furniture gelled perfectly with the rough stone. The mezzanine floor had been ripped out and a purple-lit bar put in its place. The old vaulted Mangalore tiled roof soared high above us. Elegant picture windows looked out at the the beautiful LIC building across the road. Slightly scuffed rock memorabilia, guitars, costumes and photographs glared down at us from glass coffins all around.
"Vyelkam to Hord Raak Cyaf-fayyyy!!" screeched our waiter Manjunath 'Call me Mannie' S.V., and went away while we studied the menu. Aside from standard American fare, it had an enigmatically named section called "Namma Bengaluru", that featured 'local specialities' like paneer wraps, pita bread and hummus. Wonder what my grandmother would have had to say about that.
"TGIF plus fifty rupis, no?" remarked the cousin as we glanced nervously at the prices. This was true. The menu read exactly like a marked up version of the already overpriced TGIF in Indiranagar. Luckily for us, they had half portion salads and the like, which we instantly ordered. "They'd better be good", I grumbled. "Medam, just I will check if Vanill 'odka shtack is there and come won minit." said Manju to the cousin. After a brief consultation with the ever-grinning bartender, he returned triumphantly, glass in hand.
The drinks were pleasant. The salads and mashed potatoes (yeah I know, whats the point) that we ordered were nice. The service was courteous and unobtrusive. The DJ played lovely classic rock. The obnoxious bartender interrupted our reverie periodically by yelling out to people that arrived and left. The gifts section had endearing "Hard Rock Cafe Bengaluru" tshirts, and little autorickshaw keychains.
I have to admit though, that they've succeeded somewhat in giving the place a Bangalore twist. Perhaps it was the familiarity of the music and the old building, or the comfortable kannada accents of the waiters that did it. In fact, for some bizarre reason, it reminded me of a big bad super rich cross between Guzzlers Inn and Windsor Pub. As for the grinny screechy bartender, I'm going to ask Manju to wrap him in a Bengaluru speciality and drown him in a barrel of Vanill'odka.
Old Bangytown has proven itself yet again, to be a perfect pasture ground: this time, for an ageing temple of Rock. To enter it, however, you need what most Bangalorean rock lovers do not have: TGIF plus 50rs.
Acknowledgements: Photo of the Hard Rock Cafe from SloganMurugan's brilliant photoblog.