The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike is attempting a city-wide coal-down of our more unsavoury habits. After two major raids that shut down at least 12 shisha bars in the last two months, BBMP councillors are now demanding - once again – a blanket ban on hookah lounges and shisha bars. It’s a Bowling Green (Apple) Massacre!
We don’t blame you if you didn’t know these “parlours” even existed. Largely invisible to grown-up Bangalore, most shisha lounges cluster around schools and colleges, from which they draw their most regular “pullers.” The BBMP contends that many serve underage guests illegally (you can’t sell tobacco to minors in India). Previous hookah-ban attempts in 2011 were meant to combat smoking in public places, but court orders on the subject legalised the business several years ago: you can now sell hookah to patrons anywhere in India so long as it doesn’t blaze with a prohibited substance.
Since the BBMP’s decision has left many bars without a light, we called or visited ten hookah bars this week to discover how they’re dealing with the darkness (and a sudden rush of fresh air).
In Fragrante Delicto
A few, we find, have shut down “temporarily,” while others have hurriedly repurposed themselves as standard cafés. Bangalore’s fanciest shisha parlour, Blow of Church Street, quietly let embers cool for a few days, but it’s business as usual when we check in. Blow’s specialty is the “artsy” smoke: shishas are wreathed in LED lights and the holders are empty two-litre whiskey and vodka bottles. Its other distinction is a one-on-one tussle with the BBMP, which has just received a time-out with a stay order from the Karnataka High Court: Blow currently has full permission to serve hookah.
Others have less cause to be airy-fairy. A partner at White Oak Café in Kamanahalli has decided to call it quits to avoid any future hassles: he tells us that he doesn’t believe the BBMP is looking for a permanent solution to the issue of licensing these lounges.
We don’t blame you if you didn’t know these “parlours” even existed. Largely invisible to grown-up Bangalore, most shisha lounges cluster around schools and colleges, from which they draw their most regular “pullers.”
At Fill N Chill in Koramangala, on the other hand, we find a team in total denial, rescinding any claim they ever made to being a shisha bar. In spite of breezy outdoor seating - the only bearable section of any shisha lounge is al fresco - Fill N Chill’s new strategy revolves around pushing a low cost menu and bar snacks.
Papermill Bistro on New BEL Road tells us that they’re fine because they “strictly enforce the rule of government ID proof at any request of hookah.” The staff is keen to stress that they don’t consider college ID cards valid proof. “We may lose out on a few clients from the neighbouring Ramaiah Colleges,” the manager tells us, “but that’s a small price to pay to avoid the wrath of the authorities.”
As for the owner of the city’s thriving Mudpipe chain – four branches with over a hundred flavours - he’s fuming. “The BBMP has no authority to ban hookah usage or shisha lounges,” Karan Bhansali says. He accuses the corporation of creating an unnecessary stir. “As long as you have the right license to run a café or a bar, they cannot stop you, because there is no separate paperwork required to serve shisha.”
It’s been a long time since this writer held college ID, so in spite of the fracas, we have no expertise in piercing these smoke screens. However, we found an informant who regularly bunks classes to go to Kargreens and Hungry Hippie in Koramangala. Her sage take on why their clientele is perpetually young is that “Prices are low, but the food is always below average,” which precludes customer loyalty. “Most jobless students grow out of the habit once they leave college and move on,” she says. In case you’re looking to blow off some steam, here’s her advice:
# Carry a hard copy of your government-issued ID.
# If you absolutely must eat, stick to the milkshakes and fries.
# Avoid any lounge that looks like the setting of a high school kiddie party. You’ll know them because they will smell of post-raid sulphur rather than mint.
# Make sure they have “a minimum of twenty flavours of hookah.”
# Never, ever sit indoors.
Getting there: Papermill Bistro, 19, above Reliance Digital, New Bel Road, call
080 49652792. Blow, 42 Church Street, call 080 49653044. Mudpipe Café, BTM Layout– Opposite Acropolis, Hosur Road, call 080 49652859. A hookah at any of these places costs around Rs 750, and less during happy hour, which usually overlaps with college timings.
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