Over the last decade or so, reputation of Delhi's nightlife has only gone one way – down. While Mumbai was allowed to party till 5 to ring-in 2018, Delhi had to stop the music by 1 (unless you were in a posh 5-star nightclub, or an underground party at a secluded farmhouse. I was at the latter, and the police intervened, but let's not digress).
Why is it that despite several attempts by trade unions and restauranteurs, alike, Delhi's nightlife continues to paint a sad picture? While we are not expecting the Indian capital to turn into a Berlin, overnight, we will appreciate more options where we can party till sunrise, albeit safely.
Adding to restauranteurs' woes in the capital is the exorbitant cost of various licenses to run an establishment, not to mention the red-tape involved. As of 2016, a 24-hour liquor license for bars in Delhi's five-star hotels is Rs 40 lakh, per annum. In addition, an establishment with liquor license also needs to have a tourism license (wait, what?), a fire safety certification, and other approvals from requisite authorities.
A proposal to slash the cost of 24-hour excise licenses in Delhi by 50% was tabled in 2016. However, I could not find any updates on the proposed amendment.
Consider this: for a business to justify a recurring expense of Rs 40 lakh, every year, it needs to have substantial footfall. However, creating that kind of demand can be difficult, mostly due to:
Delhi has the notorious reputation of being unsafe for women and the reputation is not unfounded. It is not just the women, though, who feel insecure late-at-night, in the city. Drunken brawls outside pubs and clubs are not uncommon, and sometimes, these skirmishes can be potentially fatal.
It is not always the patrons, though, who create trouble. Sometimes, the establishments, too, are at fault. And Delhi Police's apathy does not help matters. These incidences point to a problem peculiar to Delhi, which is,
Anybody who has lived in Delhi for a few years will tell you that the problem of 'hurt-egos' runs deep in the capital. A “no” is, often, taken as a personal affront. It is easy to attribute the problem to Delhi being the political hub of the country, which means, a lot more kin and kith of powerful people, in the city. However, having grown-up here, I can personally attest to the fact that it has less to do with power and more to do with how Delhiites think. Narcissism runs deep in the capital, which in turn, leads to unsafe public spaces.
While venues in marketplaces can get the extended license, it makes no sense for them, since Delhi's laws prohibit loud music in open-air venues, or venues close to residential areas, post 1 am. Thus, even if a venue such as Auro was to get an extended license, it would be a pointless investment, since the place can only use the extended time to serve liquor.
Privee, a popular nightclub in Delhi, has a packed-house, almost every weekend. The same goes for Kitty Su, or even RSVP. It can be difficult to find a table at Auro, Summer House Cafe, or Raasta, popular restro-pubs in Delhi, after 10 pm, most days. All of that would suggest that there is enough demand for places in the capital that remain open a lot longer. However, that's where a catch-22 situation emerges.
Popular nightclubs in the capital are located in five-star hotels. Privee is at Shangri-La's Eros Hotel, while Kitty Su is at Lalit. Cost for two for a night at Privee is about Rs 5,000, and it is in the same range for Kitty Su. The higher prices limit their primary audience to people in the 30+ age-group, who have a lot more disposable income than someone who is 23 and has barely started working.
Given the limited audience, if another nightclub was to open in the city, it will either have to slash its prices substantially, or book new, underground acts to keep its costs down. Slashing prices might not be a viable move, since it will, too, open in a five-star hotel to get the extended excise license.
Booking new acts seems to be an unsustainable move, too. While underground techno has seen a huge surge in popularity in the country in recent months, new acts will probably not fetch them huge numbers through the door, which brings me to the problem of stagnation.
Apart from the 'fab-four' (a term I just coined) – Summer House Cafe, Auro, The Junction, and Raasta – a whole lot of other venues serve up the same kind of music (which, these days, is mostly buildup-and-drop 'EDM'). A trusted source, on the condition of anonymity, concurred, “Most venues aren't willing to take risks. They undermine Delhi's audience. Most want to stick to a proven formula, which is leading to a very saturated scene”.
Let's be fair. India, as a country, has only recently started exploring music that goes beyond Bollywood. Venues are booking indie acts, now, which in turn is fuelling demand for live-music experiences that go beyond what you hear on the radio. If the trend continues, the demand could reach a tipping point where establishments are willing to take more risks. However, a lot more will need to come together to give India's capital a vibrant nightlife. A change in attitude, for instance – both - by party-goers and the authorities, is foremost in the list of things that need to change.
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