The Barflies: Sumit Gambhir, Abhishek Honawar and Pankil Shah of Woodside Inn

April 16, 2012 7:41 am by

Abhishek Honawar, Sumit Gambhir and Pankil Shah at Woodside. Photo: Sheena Dabholkar.

Before Woodside Inn opened in Colaba in December 2007, you could count on your fingertips the number of all-day establishments in Mumbai where you could have beer for breakfast. Today, there seems to be one opening every second month. During the past couple of years, we’ve got Pali Village Café in Bandra, Le Pain Quotidien in Colaba, and Café Zoe in Lower Parel to name just three. Your choices back then were restricted to backpacker-budget joints like Leopold Café and Café Mondegar or pricey five-star hotel coffee shops. Sure, Colaba already had Indigo Deli and Café Basilico, but those establishments are widely perceived as being more restaurants than bars.

The success of Woodside Inn lies largely in its ability to be many things at once. At the most basic, perceptible level, the downstairs is a bar, and the upstairs a restaurant. But customers are free to make of it what they choose. “You define the experience, not the space,” says Pankil Shah, 30, who set up the company, Neighbourhood Hospitality with friends, Sumit Gambhir, 30, and Abhishek Honawar, 28 to open Woodside Inn. Over the years, it has served as a venue for tweet-ups during their popular annual beer and burger festival, and as a makeshift workspace for people taking advantage of the free wi-fi.

They’ve amassed scores of regulars who know that they’ll never be turned away because there’s a private party or because they’re wearing shorts or chappals. (The core idea was to create a version of Warden Road pub “Ghetto [that you could visit] during the day,” says Shah). In fact, much of Woodside Inn’s appeal comes from the owners’ decision to resist the temptation to be part of the herd. It’s possibly the only bar in the city that you can go to when you don’t want to watch the cricket match; don’t want to hear “Summer of ’69”; don’t want to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day; and don’t want to endure the crowds that throng all the other New Year’s Eve bashes across town (it’s among the few venues that doesn’t offer a special menu or party on the night). And if at all they venture into the events territory, it’s through clutter-breaking efforts such as their Sunday morning cycling tours that celebrate the history of the South Mumbai neighbourhood in which they are situated.

It’s a formula, if you can call it that, they smoothly replicated in September 2011 with the opening of their branch in Andheri, called Woodside, where for the past few months, they’ve held regular beer tasting sessions. For those still wondering why they chose Andheri over Bandra, know that they haven’t completely scrapped plans for a Woodside in the suburb (they just haven’t been able to find the right location). The trio hopes to set up shop in Powai too, but first, they’ve set their sights on “developing a new concept in the food space” (most probably, it will be something along the lines of a café) that they aim to launch sometime this year.

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