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Why can’t Gurgaon have open-air bars?


Think of Paris without its sidewalk cafes and all the people sitting there, sipping wine or beer and watching the world pass by. You can’t. Because if you take those cafes away, you will strip Paris of its soul, and what you will be left with will be another place, not Paris at all.

Now think of Gurgaon, and possibly the first thing that springs to mind is CyberHub, a place like no other in India. CyberHub opened in October 2013 and now has 50 eateries, 32 of them pubs or bars. The whole idea was to create a world-class space for its corporate citizens to come and relax and spend quality time responsibly.

But quite a bit of the fun has gone out of CyberHub, thanks to a regressive excise policy of the Haryana government that prohibits serving of alcohol in open areas.This policy was enforced in March this year, and restauranteurs are now bitterly complaining about the loss of business this has led to. This is that time of the year when people most enjoy sitting in the open while sipping their drinks, but the law has made sure that it is not possible any more.
One of the biggest attractions of CyberHub is its open-air concept. That, and so many restaurants and bars in one place, which at one go eliminated congestion on the streets and made the whole dining experience very manageable.It’s a model for other Indian cities to follow.

Mohit Balachandran of Olive and SodaBottleOpenerWala feels CyberHub is a truly international concept that appealed to expats and well-travelled professionals alike. Having seen similar concepts abroad, diners visited CyberHub hoping for an al fresco dining experience in the city . But not being allowed to drink in the open is a dampener for many, he said. “People prefer to dine and drink in an al fresco setting in this weather. Even though our sales have taken a hit, we abide by the rules and do not serve alcohol in the open,” he said.

Chef Ravi Saxena of Dhaba restaurant said initially they were asked to move the outside dining area closer to the restaurant to keep the exit routes free. They did that, only to be told by the excise department that they could not serve alcohol in the open. “In winter, open seats are sought after for lunch and dinner. We have only 30 seats in the open but due to restrictions on serving alcohol, our sales have dropped by at least 30%,” Saxena added.

Rahul Singh, founder and CEO of The Beer Cafe CyberHub, said, “Their overall objective is to prevent drinking by public in full view of passers-by . But we’re saying, it’s obviously not full view, we’re covering the place. Even ahatas (roadside liquor vends) are not in public view, they’re covered. They’ve charged Rs 25,000 additional fee for hotels -that are 3-star and above -to serve in an open area, including the poolside. So when you’re charging this money , charge restaurants for it too.”

Most are bitter about the special treatment star hotels get in the excise policy and feel the whole policy is loaded against smaller businessmen. The owner of a popular pub in Sector 29 – the other dining hub in Gurgaon -who did not wish to be named, said, “The excise policy has been drafted to favour hotels. It is against the interests of small businesses like bars and pubs. I invested a huge sum in 2014 when there was no such restriction on serving liquor in the open but after the new policy, the open space is wasted.”

Sandeep `Sandy’ Verma, owner of Sandys Cocktails and Kitchen in Sector 29, said, “As long as it’s not in the public eye, and it is cov ered, and if the excise department wants to charge extra -not very heavy, because they’re already paying a very heavy licence fee -then I don’t think it should be an issue. The laws have to be defined properly. Nobody minds paying Rs 20,000-25,000 extra per month if we’re talking about extending the licences. But they look at big players and increase it by Rs 3-4 lakh per month. Who’s going to pay Rs 36 lakh a year? We can’t afford it then. The government should promote it, and the owners should respect it. And look how much extra revenue will come, how the game will change.”

Excise commissioner Aruna Singh said there are 285 bars and pubs in Gurgaon, of which 38 have come up this year itself. The annual fee for a bar is Rs 12.5 lakh whereas for a pub (with permission to serve only beer and wine) it is Rs 4 lakh.Pub licences in Haryana are issued only in Gurgaon, Faridabad and Panchkula.

Source: Times of India