The thing about cheap bars is that you never really know if you will wake up fine the next morning, and it’s this unpredictable outcome that often forms the key factor in deciding whether to go all the way, or limit your month ending desires to just an Old Monk quarter at a cheap bar; when that is in fact what you can afford. When we say, “go all the way”, we mean relentlessly rolling with four types of unlimited chakna, lots of daaru, and dinner in the form of Tandoori food, which is what we did at Ashwin’s. The fact that we’re bringing this piece to you means that we survived the adventure, and we’re holding up well, so far at least.
We were being brave that Wednesday night. Brave for two reasons. The first being that we decided to go the whole hog at Ashwin’s Restaurant & Bar, and the second being that we decided to go to Saki Naka for it.
Most cheap bars we’ve visited in this city have unappealing nameboards. Ashwin broke that trend for us with its surprisingly neat display board; which was minimalistic and jazzy at the same time. We were not sure what to make of it though, and settled on just going with the flow.
We went with the flow alright! We tried our luck with checking out the AC hall before being slapped on the face by a room that ended even before it began. Every table was occupied by what seemed like the drunkest people on the planet at that point in time, and while it is common to share tables at the Ashwin’s of the world, we decided to bear the Mumbai heat for a table that is exclusively ours.
Which brings us to the non-AC section: A walk down the floor of this section felt like a long, straight pathway to anonymity. Anonymity, because as we progressed through its various sub-sections within the larger non-AC section to find that elusive table, we increasingly wished that we could do away with our respective identities. Let alone the stares we received along the way, we felt like hiding from ourselves. Firstly, you go through the ordeal that is Saki Naka, and once you’re inside the bar, the journey to settle down on a fucking table just doesn’t seem to end. The walk gave us enough time to self-introspect. Were we that desperate for cheap daaru on a Wednesday night? Guess, we were.
Now that are our identities were tarnished in our own eyes, there was no looking back from here. It was an inflection point in our journey. The ‘tables’ had to turn. We finally settled on the last table on that path. We called for our first plate of ‘Boiled Chana’ with a sense of authority. We were in this now more than we’ve ever been at any Ashwin in the past. What followed was not just one plate of Boiled Chana, but multiple ‘on the house’ plates of Boiled Chana, Peanuts, Soya Chunks and Fryums. Ashwin slowly and steadily began winning us over.
The alcohol here is expectedly easy on the pocket. So, an Old Monk quarter and a 30-ml Imperial Blue (together costing INR 250) equates to a 30-ml Old Monk in an up-market South Mumbai bar. These obviously taste the same across bars, but there is a certain inexplicable cheap thrill in downing your liquor in a bar like this.
We were on a roll that night. Nothing could stop us from creating history. And history was made after the squad decided to stay back for dinner; the first time we’ve ever decided to have dinner at a place like this. You won’t believe us, but the Tandoori roti was the softest we’ve had in a long, long time. We gave them a brief for the Dal Tadka, and they stuck to it! Ashwin customizes as well.
We noticed a staircase that looked like it was half built, or half damaged, we really didn’t know. We saw waiters climb up and down those stairs regularly over the course of our stay. On inquiring with our friend (who by the way got us two whisky glasses on our insistence after serving us two regular glasses), he mentioned that it was packed with patrons upstairs. What looked like a ‘Stairway to Shadiness’ was surely ‘Stairway to Heaven’ for everyone up there.
With so much chakna, so much daaru, such good food, and so much chakna again, Ashwin brings a bill of Rs. 420 to our table. Incidentally, it read ‘Char so bees’, but Ashwin was anything but that.
“Har Budhwar, restaurant full rehta hai”, our man asserted before pocketing his well-deserved tip. What a day it was to create history!
Where? Safed Pool, Andheri Kurla Road, Sakinaka
Cuisine: Indian, Mughlai and Chinese
Food you must try: Dal Tadka and Tandoori Roti. Period.
Alcohol you must try: Totally up to you
Price per head: Rs 200