South Mumbai's most celebrated British-style pub is changing ever so slightly without selling its soul, in a bid to stay relevant, especially to millennials
A change is brewing in South Mumbai's 22-year-old English style pub, Geoffrey's. We are reminded of an experienced veteran unafraid to learn a new trick or two from a promising novice. What the sea-facing Marine Plaza's ground floor pub is trying to do, we discover, is remain relevant in the nightlife of a city currently driven by cheap liquor haunts that don't look so cheap.
Anil Madhok, executive chairman of Sarovar Hotels that owns Marine Plaza, admits that millennial entrants like of Bar Stock Exchange and Irish House have hit them hard. "Right now, everybody is competition for us. Because we want the young crowd to head here," says the 71-year-old who conceptualised the idea behind Geoffrey's, synonymous with rich teak furniture and saddle-shaped chairs.
Anil Madhok and Sanjeev Shekhar at Geoffrey's Pics/Shadab Khan and Bipin Kokate
Back then, it offered a glimpse of what a neighbourhood bar in Yorkshire would be like. "We were clear we wanted a bar for the hotel, not a night club, which could disturb the guests," he shares. The man who started his career at Oberoi Hotels in 1966 flew to England and spent two days at Andy and Thornton, an interiors store in West Yorkshire, to pick artefacts for the pub.
"Prakash Mankar, our designer, and I made the trip exclusively to shop for memorabilia. We connected with a supplier who dealt in vintage decor items for English pubs," he says, recollecting how 165 artefacts including a caricature of guitarist Howard Paul, and an autographed bat belonging to Ian Chappell, made it to the pub.
Keeping up with the times
"Thanks to its location, it was frequented by employees of the Bombay Stock Exchange and the Cricket Club of India. When BSE would shut for the day, everyone would flock here for a drink," remembers Sanjeev Shekhar, regional director at Sarovar Hotels, who is in charge of operations. "We'd have guests who'd stick to the same drink every time they came. It was a warm culture of camaraderie that drew them to Geoffrey's."
Madhok pins the change at seven years ago when the centre of the city moved towards Bandra, and with it went commercial offices and young professionals. The 7 pm crowd, which included diamond merchants and SoBo businessmen, began to thin. "People downtraded because excise duty on alcohol was exorbitant. And then, a lot of chic places offering cheaper alcohol came about," explains Shekhar.
It was time to give Geoffrey's a Botox shot. The menu and music are key areas Madhok is looking to focus on. While weekends continue to see loyal footfall, he is keen to draw in weekday crowds. "We have lost the 5 pm to 10 pm crowd. We want them back."
New introductions include a wider, fresher food menu and a range of rum cocktails. What was once restricted to bar snacks is now a menu that features Ambada murgh, Peri peri chicken, Five spiced fish tempura tacos and Gosht biryani arancini. The Clash, Cocorider, Rumanic, Spicedcardi and Funtasticane whipped up by seasoned bartenders include various alcohol mixers, fruit, spice, bitters and sugarcane juice.
Madhok has also introduced Game Nights, where he hopes the young drinker will try his hand at a board game with friends. Cricket and football matches continue to be screened as always, though. "The music, however, will remain retro. Retro is our USP so you won't see much of EDM or Bieber," he laughs.
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