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Booze bar forces restaurants to keep shut



Restaurants and cafes were allowed to reopen on June 8, a week after Unlock 1 had started, but many places are still shut.

The bar on serving alcohol has prevented the re-opening of most of these establishments. The list includes some fine-dining spots that had a loyal food fan base. But liquor was the backbone of their revenue.

If an unhindered view of the twinkling Calcutta skyline was the USP of a rooftop restaurant, the pool was the top draw of another place. At a microbrewery, the Sunday brunch was the talk of the town.

The shut places include M Bar Kitchen, Mama Goto and Barf Soda Paani on Park Street, Nocturne on Theatre Road, The Grid in Topsia, Irish House (Quest Mall) in Ballygunge, Ozora (Acropolis) in Kasba and 10 Downing Street, Raize the Bar and Pour House in Salt Lake, to name only a few.

The virus has altered the definition of “having a good time” — something that all these places competed to offer patrons.

The owners of these places said the long Covid-19 shutdown has brought business to a grinding halt. They are already having to pay salaries, rent and other fixed cost components. The losses would only multiply if they resume services without serving booze, the owners said.

Mama Goto at Park Street on Monday.

“Having to bear the fixed cost without earning anything has brought me to the edge of a cliff. Re-opening without serving liquor will be akin to jumping off the cliff,” said Varun Mimani, the co-founder and director of M Bar Kitchen and Ozora.

Liquor generates around 90 per cent of the revenue at the former and 50 per cent at the latter, he said.

Mimani has to pay “Rs 60-70 lakh” in rent and salaries every month, no matter the places are open or shut. Re-opening now would call for investment in sanitisation and social distancing protocols and rise in costs on account of electricity and security.

“Without alcohol, the footfall is likely to be very low. It will only add to my losses,” he said.

The Grid, a popular microbrewery in Topsia, has remained shut since March 20. “When the retail liquor shops are open and home delivery of booze has started through online aggregators, it is disheartening to see us being left out,” said Gaurav Karnani, the owner.

Karnani has to spend over Rs 25 lakh a month in salaries and other fixed cost components. He does not have to pay rent because he owns the property. But he has an additional expenditure — refrigeration cost.

“I have to store the beer that I produce. I have stopped production but I need to spend over Rs 8,000 per day to store the beer already produced,” he said.

The Grid at Topsia on Monday

The restaurants that have opened are also seeing a dip in revenue because of the lid on booze.

“I am serving food and fresh lime soda on the table. What is the problem with serving a bottle of beer? The sanitisation and social distancing protocols are in place,” said Anand Puri of Trincas. The old favourite on Park Street re-opened on June 18.

The traditional favourites like Peter Cat, Mocambo and Bar-B-Q have been seeing a steady flow of patrons since reopening on June 8. But the owners said the bar on booze had affected business.

Nitin Kothari, the owner of Mocambo and Peter Cat, said: “Apart from the bar on serving liquor, the 9pm deadline is also hurting us.”

Lords and Barons at Park Street on Monday

Rajiv Kothari, who owns Bar-B-Q said: “The footfall has been affected by the bar on serving alcohol. People come here for food, but many of them like a drink to go with it.”

A top restaurateur whose places are more known for their food than the drinks said: “B has been knocked out of the F&B (food and beverage) business. I am in no hurry (to reopen)”.

“Dining out with friends and family is an experience as much as it is about good food. With all the restrictions now, the ambience is more like a hospital than a restaurant.”

The associations of restaurant owners are negotiating with the authorities to get some riders on serving alcohol inside the eateries.

“We hope that restrictions on the sale of alcohol in restaurants will be lifted soon. We also hope that the 9pm curfew is not extended beyond June 30. We have made several representations to the Centre and the state and we shall continue to press for the restrictions to be lifted,” said Sagar Daryani, the co-founder and CEO of Wow!Momo and the chapter head of the National Restaurants Association of India, Kolkata.

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