Sleepy and quiet corners of the city have suddenly sprung to life with a curious burst of numerous cafes, each distinguished by its own theme and aesthetics, growing to prominence over the course of the pandemic.
Despite the constraints of starting a business in Covid times, the ‘neighbourhood cafe’ has become the staple of every residential street corner over the last two years. Food critics and frequent restaurant-goers, especially the youngsters, are excited about these new ‘adda hubs’ which are sustained by the urgency of people to return to socializing spaces in the aftermath of Covid.
South Kolkata has always been regarded as the cafe hub of the city and restaurant owner Mou Roy noted how since the pandemic about 80 new joints have opened in the vicinity of Southern Avenue and Hindustan Park alone. Cafe Koffee Kotha and Blue Moose, both located in south Kolkata, themed in a retro look, were conceived by Roy at the height of the pandemic.
“We were almost on the verge of shutting down during lockdown but somehow managed to stay afloat. Right after the pandemic, we are finding that in spite of a sharp competition between the plethora of cafes in each neighbourhood, each one is thriving. A big reason for that is the trend of cafe-hopping. We have returnees, but every day we get first time visitors who are on a hunt to explore new cafes they have never been to,” she said.
Talking about the phenomenon of middle aged, middle class women leading the cafe industry in Kolkata, Roy added, “The pandemic taught women many lessons about budgeting and for the first time, many felt that they have some disposable income on the side that they can put to use.”
Another popular hang-out spot in south Kolkata is ‘Pancham er Adday’. Being Kolkata’s first cafe themed after R D Burman’s musical nostalgia, owner Amrita Annie explained how she conceived of the idea. “At one point, I thought to myself, why is it that almost every cafe is fashioned in a European style with a predominantly western ambience? I wanted to create a space where people can experience Indian pop culture nostalgia.”
Udayan Basak, a regular at the cafe, said, “We had gone in a large group and we felt like stepping into the living room of a 1970s Kolkata apartment.”
While the neighbourhoods of Salt Lake and New Town were studded by a handful of cafes till recently, cafe owners from south Kolkata changed it with their franchises. One such cafe is Tribes, which owner Shilpa Chakraborty set up in Salt Lake early this year, following the original, located in Golpark.
Talking about the response to the cafe in Salt Lake, Chakraborty said, “While many older people are sceptical of the neighbourhood cafe trend, interestingly our guests range from the age of mid-20s to 80s.”
Cafes have also sprung up in the north. Food blogger and critic Pritha Paul said despite the common perception that cafe culture is lagging behind in the north, the trend is spreading there like wildfire. “One such cafe is Cafe by the Lane, which serves exceptional cold brews. The northern Kolkata residential cafe was definitely born out of necessity, since groups of friends living here would prefer to have an informal hangout space near their homes.”
Student Ipshita Chakraborty said despite the perception that it was financially draining to run restaurants during pandemic, for many, barriers to entry to the industry were reduced with the rise in delivery services and cloud kitchens.