With over 5 million people inhabiting the colonial capital, one of the largest metropolis and industry hubs in India, if you google Calcutta and you’ll read about British cafés, metal bands and festivity amongst the less privileged. In reality, it’s slightly more and better than just that. The capital of the Eastern port and West Bengal, with half of it being primarily colonial with Anglo-Indian communities and tall churches while the other half being the politically active Bengali crowd, this is where tradition meets commerce.
Start your journey around the Park Circus, the centre of old Calcutta, where a seven point junction will guide you to literally every place worth going to, in the city of joy.
With poetry slams, literary events and rather interesting happenings every weekend, 8th Day Café is located in a quiet colonial street, where you could read a book, meet people from different communities in the city and grab a cup of damn good coffee. Jute bags, quiet corners and a view of British architechture will keep you delightfully occupied through the day, when the heat is at its peak. As you may know, there is no such thing as winter here.
Head to one of the most ‘character-juiced’ areas in the city, The Southern Avenue. Now mostly residential bungalows along with adorable cafes, bars and nightclubs, this is where one can take a walk around, stop and stare or just run, regardless.
A short ride from 8th Day Café to Mrs. Magpie would have an eerie sense of nostalgia, both on the streets and on reaching the bakery. With pink and white interiors and a fresh smell of cupcakes and hot chocolate, Mrs. Magpie is one of the prime bakeries in the city with it’s own unique recipies and comfort foods. The best on the menu is the hot chocolate, tiramisu and any of those delicious miniscule cupcakes. Served in almost pristine, tiny white cups, nevertheless, if you’re into desserts, this is the place to go.
Another must-go place to grab a good coffee is located in Hindustan Park, called Sienna, a café/ store.
Started by a young designer who wanted to bring out the forgotten essence of Indian textiles (hand-woven cottons, silks, etc.) with a modern, young take, you enter the café with a polarising outlook, without a doubt. Walls and displays of traditional meets modern fashion ranging from scarves, jute bags to sarees (the Indian gown, which is draped around the body), listening to Jazz, no less.
Walk in through the store and enter the café, if you’ve ever been to Spanish cafes, this may remind you of that. A palette of blue mosaic stones, crystal and wood, this place is ideal for evenings in solace and probably the only silence you won’t be surprised by, in a city as such. Tasteful art and interesting people mixed yet mostly quite the intellectual crowd can be found here.
Sienna shuts at about 10 PM everyday, however, if old school colonial bars sound intriguing, then that that tends to be where most youngsters and expats hang out post lunch. Fairlawn Hotel was started in the 1890s, during colonial times, and has been functioning still.
Head to Sudder Street, the downtown part of the polar opposite upscale Park Street.
Amongst shops where locals discover innovative jewellery and artefacts ( including religious hippie clothes), you’ll spot Fairlawn, from a distance. Serving only beer and an open garden space as a bar, the lobby is where conjusted pictures from the inception of the bar to know, of every famous person who’s ever been there adorn the green walls. Noisy and yet charming, it is a hot mess with some character.
One of the oldest streets of colonial India, Park Street is now full of dancehalls, nightclubs and old pubs that managed to stay. Once, used to be the morning debate venue for office goers, writers and poets, Flury’s is where the tradition that stayed on was that of a hearty English breakfast and the feeling that ‘The brits were here’.
While Calcutta never had a culture of dance clubs, a discussion over a drink is the best way to soak in all of it’s amazing almost psychedelic noise. Olypub is where you could grab a drink without the pretention that ‘new Calcutta’ brought. Or? Offbeat, a group that continues to promote techno and progressive sounds, hosts parties at Myx once in two weeks. A tall hall with blue geometric interiors, where one can dance until sunrise, at these.
A wild card presents itself in the form of the first bold club of the city, Boudoir Calcutta, which surprisingly is a great place to dance until the early house of the morning. Ranging from dance-y Bollywood and otherwise all Dancehall, the latest addition to the city’s nightlife has quite the over-the-top yet peppy ambience.
Overall? The city’s a bleak mix of pulp fiction and traditional artiness in a cocktail glass. Especially if you visit around October/November when it is having a blast with the celebration of hindu Goddess Durga and later, funnily enough, Halloween.
By Shrovona Paul