(Update : Purisubzi's contribution to this list)
What can be better than a stiff drink at the end of a satisfying day's travel. In fact, the first thing that I look for anywhere that I end up - is a bar. And not just any bar, but shadiest bar that the town has to offer. Because that is where the true flavour of the city can be seen - that's where the nomads, vagabonds, the scoundrels and all other interesting people gather. So here's my list of some the best places to drink along with a slice of the local life, the country has to offer. All you need to have is a little bit of time and a cast iron stomach.
Kota - In a town mainly known for it's horde of IIT coaching institutes, lies a little gem not very far from the eastern exit of it's railway station. I am forgetting the name but it is easy to locate as it lies next to the busy Sher-e-Punjab Dhaba. Dark and gloomy as it is... the main source of light, as well as noise in the room is the TV perched high near the ceiling. Everytime I've been there, the TV is screeching Guruji Mithun's movies.
The bar has two distinct set of patrons, the locals - unhurried and uncaring, talking loudly and ordering around the waiters as if their fathers owed them a million bucks. The second lot is primarily those who have a train to catch. They'll be in a hurry.. down 3 drinks in 15 minutes while stuffing themselves with with Egg Bhurji and Roti.
And then there is the minority like me, with nowhere particularly to go. In here just to soak in the atmosphere, look at people, drink Old Monk at bargain basement prices along with their excellent paneer pakoras. And when all of this is done, walk around to Sher-e-Punjab and order some of the best chicken curry and fresh tandoori rotis that the world has to offer. Rating on shadiness scale - 7/10
Itarsi - This otherwise nondescript town in Madhya Pradesh has only one claim to fame. It is one of India's major Railway junctions where the the Delhi - Madras and Bombay - Calcutta routes bisect. As a result, many travellers change trains here, prompting the growth of cheap, dingy hotels just outside the station. One of them is Hotel President. As is typical of such hotels, the rooms are small & dirty, the fans are a joke, the beds are flea infested and the bathrooms make the ones in Dharavi look like the Waldorf Astoria. But for Rs. 180 a night, that's all you'll get anyway.
But the raison d'être of visiting the President has to be its bar cum restaurant. Set predictably in its basement, it has all the charm of a medieval dungeon. Steep stairs lead you to a room that permanently smells like a drunkard's breath. Uncomfortable chairs and rickety tables lend their charm to the place. Reading the menu will challenge even the most wizened owl's eyesight. And if you ask the waiters, they'll respond with the enthusiasm of a man being led to the gallows.
But what the heck, the drinks are cheap which covers up for everything including the atrocious food. And to enliven the atmosphere, you can always eavesdrop on the conversations of the property dealers at the next table. You never know you might just get a get rich quick tip! Rating on shadiness scale - 8/10
Warangal - This city in central Andhra Pradesh has been a centre of cultural activity since the 12th century. In recent times though, it has been the hotbed for both the Naxal and Telangana movement. Away fron the politics though, Warangal had often served as a convenient junction for changing trains between Hyderabad & Madras if direct tickets were not available. Having a couple of hours between the trains, I often sauntered up the road from the station. Right behind the grain market near the Venkatrama crossroads was a liquor store. No name, just a metal grilled front resembling a jail and a hole in the wall behind it where one could down the bottle with samplings of the local cuisine.
One evening, I was in a dark corner of an otherwise dim room, downing a bottles of Haywards 5000 (the only brand available). By the time half a bottle was down, two fist fights had already broken out. One between the auto-drivers and the other between a few woodcutters with a few of them nastily weilding their crude axes. Taking in the atmosphere, a lit up a Charminar (what else in Central AP) when a bunch of stern faced gents took up a table in a corner even darker than mine.
Peace prevailed for a while before the the muffled conversation on this table grew in to a loud argument about who finally would get to blow the police station? I quickly finished my fiery fried chicken biryani, paid my bill and left. Only to return 2 weeks later - everything else being the same except that the friendly folk had carried out their task just the previous night. Rating on shadiness scale - 9/10 !!
Bhimavaram - Andhra makes its presence felt again, this time from the coast though. In the middle of the rice bowl of Andhra - the Krishna delta lies Bhimavaram town. While on a journey exploring this wonderful part of the world we had a few hours to kill in the middle of the day. So the hunt began once again for a cheap bar and we found one straight out of the South Indian masala movies. Sri Laxmi Bar & Restaurant was located off Kodavalli Road - opening the door one ran straight into a thick cumulus of cigarette smoke hanging just above the eye level. Obscured by this cloud were half a dozen red, yellow and green zero-watt bulbs trying their very best to illuminate the room. Perched comfortably under this unique weather system were the city's diaspora of drunkards arranged neatly in groups. In one corner were the neighbourhood drunks who kept bumping into each other perpetually. Beside them were the local auto wallahs - the type that scare the daylights out of other motorists with their driving 'skills'.
The best seats in the house though were reserved for the trademark small time 'somebody' - he's always dressed in white - white cotton short and polyester trousers. The shirt's top two buttons will be open to give you a good look at Bappi Lahiri rivalling jewelery around the thick neck. Ditto for the fingers and of course the gold Rado purchased at Burma Bazaar in Madras. He'll be wearing white leather chappals and well and these days, he'll have two mobiles as well. So I am essentially talking about half a dozen souls whose features could be barely made out due to the bad light and their own complexion - glowing in the dark owing to their attire and jewelery guzzling an endless chain of whiskey and sodas in the middle of the day. You get the picture right? Great coastal food and cheap booze topped off the rest of the afternoon. Rating on shadiness scale - 9/10 !!
Rewari - Late one August night, my train arrived at Rewari in Haryana - I was to catch a late night connection to Jaipur. As the crowd of tired commuters slowly melted away into the darkness as I sauntered out of the station in search of food and drink. The need for the second item on the list was solved by the discovery of a shop which announced itself as “Govt. Approved compound for the consumption of liquor”. In common tongue it translated into a shop that was permitted its customers to consume the booze within the premises unlike most Indian liquor stores.
I bought myself a bottle of Thunderbolt 'Super Strong Beer' and went inside only to be greeted by the filthiest dump imaginable. A small room, barely 10’ X 12’ was littered all over with empty cigarette packs, broken bottles, wrappers and pan stains covering every square inch. In a dark corner sat a few men who had been drinking heavily and the murmurs of an impeding argument were creeping across the room. As I was getting the boy to clean the mess the murmurs grew into heavy cuss words and just as I tipped over the bottle for my first sip, a plastic chair flew across the room and whacked me square on the side of my head!!!
I spun around letting loose some choice curses of my own but the culprit was already being held down by his companions who muttered apologies in slurred Haryanvi. Soon it became clear that the chair was not meant for me, but flung by the poor man out of frustration against his wife who had decamped earlier in the day with her lover. Two quick Thunderbolts eased of the effects of the flying chairs and the need for food was fulfilled by the Poori Subzi walla outside as I said goodbye to this uniquely Indian invention - the Ahata. Even though the cities may be getting gltizier - in small town India it is best place to get a drink. Rating on shadiness scale - 10/10 !!