All roads lead to YouTube videos. From my experience of Internet browsing, that much is clear to me. You can start off anywhere — an innocent Wikipedia page, an office email, a bank transaction… Somehow, its far-reaching tentacles manage to reach over and suck you in. And then, before you know it, you are furiously moving from one video to another until the office closes for the day or you have to fall asleep, based on whether you are at work or home. So, while I was recently prowling through the video-littered streets of YouTube colony, I found myself watching this video called ‘Top Bar Scenes in Films’. Naturally, there were scenes from films such as Good Will Hunting, The Shining, and Inglourious Basterds. And then, just as I was watching Jack Torrance ask the barman who wasn’t there for “a bottle of scotch, a small glass, and ice”, I realised that it was eerily similar to my recent experience at Hard Rock Café — Chennai. While The Overlook hotel in The Shining couldn’t stock up on alcohol due to being isolated by a snowstorm, HRC’s alcohol issues are due to Chennai’s infamous red tape restrictions.
So, you can imagine my pleasant surprise when I visited a new restaurant recently, and found that it served alcohol despite all the stringent conditions that govern the awarding of bar licences in the city. Reportedly, a rather curious condition for acquiring the FL-3 licence is that the said restaurant be attached to a hotel with 21 rooms — not 20, not 25, but 21. The legal drinking age, of course, is 21. Coincidence? I think not. Somebody somewhere wanted to keep things simple, and what better way than by using the same number across the board.
Curiously though, despite my searching this restaurant exhaustively, I couldn’t find these aforementioned rooms. As it transpires, if you register the restaurant as a club, you can get an FL-2 licence that lets you serve alcohol, even without these said rooms. According to the TN liquor licence and permit rules listed on the Government’s website, this licence is granted to clubs that have run for at least three years and that have a ‘minimum 50 members who have signify their willing to consume liquor’. The wording of the stipulation, leaving aside its grammatical deficiencies, makes clubs seem like cultish organisations with creepy members who have strange cravings and take blood oaths to reassure each other.
A manager at a pub winked at me when I asked him how he managed to get a bar licence without rooms. He looked around to make sure nobody was listening and said, “We are a club with registered members.” And then sneakily added, “If you know what I mean.”
We are probably the only city in India to have the presence of restaurant chains like Hard Rock Café, T.G.I. Friday’s, and Habanero, but have them serve only… oh, the pain of having to say it… mocktails. I don’t know the etymology of the word, but it’s not hard to imagine that it’s probably short for ‘MOnumental mockery of a coCKTAIL’.
There’s always that one person from Mumbai or Delhi in everybody’s friends’ circle who, despite living in Chennai for years, complains about how unexciting and conservative the city is. While I usually defend the city passionately, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to offer a strong response for “Haha, you have a virgin Hard Rock Café”.
We should probably start a campaign against this gross injustice, but until then, don’t be surprised to see plenty of Jack Torrances in these places, talking to invisible bartenders; slamming the bar counter and muttering, as he does in that bar scene. “Anything for a drink… I’d give my GODDAMN SOUL… for a glass of beer.”