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Drought in the Pub City


For many city folk, weekend plans include pub hopping — we are, after all, known as the Pub Capital of India. But all that changed on Saturday, when pubs and bars wore a deserted look after the Supreme Court banned liquor shops within 500 metres on either side of the national and state highways. This includes areas that are popular for their watering holes, such as Brigade Road, Church Street, MG Road, and parts of Koramangala and Indiranagar — basically, everywhere one went to unwind over drinks.

With little choice, restaurateurs in the city are hopeful that the government will sort out the issue and the highways that run through Bengaluru will be denotified. But the biggest concern at the moment seems to be the impending loss of jobs that will invariably have to be suffered by staff if the 731 watering holes in the city are not allowed to serve alcohol soon. The responses of most pub owners that Bangalore Times spoke to was on similar lines — “We have no idea what we are going to do with our employees.”

Siddharth Poojari, owner, City Bar, says that all restauranteers are trying to retain their staff for as long as possible, but adds that there is likely to be loss of labour eventually. “We are expecting this loss to be in thousands. Many staff members are the only earning members of their families, so it will be a tough time. Even if we have to find them other jobs, where can we move them? There are close to 800 venues closing, but 800 others are not opening.”

Sriram Gowda (name changed), manager of a pub on Church Street, says, “We had an internal meeting at 2 am on Saturday, and then again at 9 am, to decide what to do with our employees in case the ban stays, and we drew a blank. The bouncers, valet parking guys, bartenders and even some of the kitchen staff will be out of jobs if pubs are shut, even if they switch to being a non-alcoholic restaurants, as business is bound to be hit. It’s going to be a weekend Bengaluru has never seen before.”

Dilip Nair, director of operations, House of Commons, says that their aim is to retain all their employees, but that will only be possible if the outlet on Rest House Road makes money. “We have assured our staff that they will not lose their jobs. We are looking at the next 15 days to see what happens. At the end of the day, the staff gets paid only because we do business.”

Since it is only pubs/bars and liquor shops that are 500 metres from the highways that have been hit, one option floated is to shift the venue. But having invested heavily in their ventures, restaurant owners say they can’t just up and leave. “How can we move after having invested crores of rupees? What can we take from there? Nothing. The return on investment is 2-3 years, and only after that do you start to look at profits. There are many restaurants that have been around for only about a year, like ours; everyone can’t move overnight,” says Siddharth.

Switching from gastropubs to non-alcoholic restaurants isn’t an option either for many. For pubs that have a liquor storage room, only that was sealed by the authorities on Saturday, but for those that don’t have a separate storage, the entire pub had to remain shut.

“We were not prepared for this as we received the notice only 3-4 days ago. Unfortunately, the government didn’t sound any alarm bells. We have filed an RTI, which says that highways don’t enter the middle of the city. The Excise Department is being abundantly cautious in taking this action. This is not needed. MG Road is not a highway. It is very clear to us through documents that these are not highways. So, I don’t know why the government has taken such strict action. We will be going to court and fighting this matter. We are not going to take this lying down.”–Riyaaz Amlani, president, National Restaurant Association of India


Pub owners are also unsure about what to do with the alcohol that they have stocked, as they can’t sell it or return it to suppliers. “We are just holding on to it for now because we’ve been told by the authorities to wait for 5-6 days to see if there’s a way this ban is overturned,” says Suresh Nikam (name changed), manager of another pub on Church Street.

The hope of a positive outcome is a similar sentiment that restaurateurs share. They are all waiting and watching, and are hopeful that the highway denotification will happen, if not in a couple of days, then in a couple of weeks. Dilip, whose outlet had to turn away 120 guests till lunchtime on Saturday since they sought chilled beer, says, “We can’t stick our neck in the sand and say that things are over. I am positive of a solution. Right now, we have the permission to keep the outlets open, but not serve liquor. This will help us run for a couple of weeks, and we are hopefully than an intelligent solution is found by then. This is disastrous for the industry.”

As for pub lovers in the city, they now rue that there will be a mad rush for the existing ‘legit’ pubs, and that will only kill the experience of visiting them. Collegegoer Akash Kumar says, “Most of my favourite pubs are now closed, and we’re on the lookout for where we can go. But imagine the huge crowd that will now throng these pubs.”

Interestingly enough, pubs on Outer Ring Road(ORR), which is more of a highway than MG Road and Old Madras Road have not been asked to shut down. This is because while the ORR connects major highways, such as Tumkur Road (NH 4), Bellary Road (NH 7), Old Madras Road (NH 4), Hosur Road (NH 7), Bannerghatta Road (SH 87), Kanakapura Road (NH 209), Mysore Road (SH-17) and Magadi Road (SH 85), it is not a national or state highway by itself.

  • MG Road
  • Brigade Road
  • Church Street
  • Parts of Indiranagar
  • Parts of Koramangala
Source: Times of India

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