Mahim Bar Brawl: The Beer Cafe vs Quarter House
Earlier this month, Mahim, long bereft of bars, got two drinking spots within walking distance of each other. We visited both to find out which one we preferred.
The Beer Cafe
Mahim got the second Mumbai outpost, after Kurla (third if you count Thane), of this nationwide chain of beer-focused bars, where a sign at the entrance shows you the number of brands they’re currently serving. The figure when we went by on the weekend was 35. The menu lists 45, but they occasionally run out of the brews or face supply issues, hence the difference in the number by the door. For instance, the British witbier Wittlinger, which is one of the eight beers they have on tap (prices range from Rs145 to Rs495 per 10oz or roughly a 300ml glass) wasn’t available during our visit. The other draughts on offer are the omnipresent lagers Kingfisher and Foster’s, the wheat and dark wheat variations of Germany’s Erdinger and three of Gateway Brewing Co.’s craft creations: their popular wheat beer White Zen, their India Pale Ale West Coast and dark wheat Doppelganger.
Impressively, the much-sought but rarely-found Guinness was in stock but the bank-breaking tag of Rs995 per can (along with the similarly priced Henney’s Cider, it’s the most expensive beer on the menu) led us to order a couple of glasses of GBC (Rs275 each) instead. There’s also a small selection of beer-based cocktails, and for those silly enough to come to a beer cafe and not want to order beer, the standard choice of whisky, vodka, rum and the like. Most of the cocktails in which the only booze is beer sounded like they would be far too sweet, so we tried the Beerjito (Rs295), essentially a mojito with beer, and the Beer Mule (Rs325).
The Beerjito reaffirmed why this rum-and-beer hybrid has not caught on: the sum of the parts is less than the whole. For an inkling of what it tastes like, just imagine you annoyed somebody and they poured beer into your mojito when you weren’t looking as revenge. The beer essentially ruins the original cocktail. The Beer Mule, their twist on the Moscow Mule, was marginally better only because of the additional flavour provided by cucumber. However, with so many beers to pick from, one needn’t really bother with the cocktails.
On the multi-cuisine food menu, which includes appetisers, pizzas and mains, a drawing of a chef’s hat indicates the items recommended by the kitchen. Of the recommended ‘beer bites’ we ordered, the beer-battered onion rings (Rs195) were over-fried and far too oily, but the corn bhel (Rs195) was a delectable toss up of sev, American corn, peanuts, tomatoes, onion, coriander, green chilli and tamarind chutney. It was as spicy and tangy as the stuff you get on the street. In contrast, the well-made chicken bruschetta (Rs245), diced chicken and cheese on slices of baguette, was more like something you might cook at home for a dinner party.
The folks at The Beer Cafe take their theme seriously but in a lighthearted way. Apart from showing you a picture of each beer they serve, the menu tells you its type, country of origin and a brief description of what it tastes like. The walls, meanwhile, are decorated with posters bearing beer-themed jokes – there’s one showing an illustration of a cat wearing a bikini and drinking a beer because cats, bikinis and beer are the three most searched things on the internet (or so they say). The posters in black and bright yellow match the colour scheme of the place, which is kitted out with canteen-like chairs and tables.
This past Saturday, The Beer Cafe, which has seating for about 40 people (this should increase when they open their al fresco section sometime in July), was filled to capacity with twenty-somethings. The crowd is clearly drawn to the laid-back vibe. Though the music switches between retro rock, current pop and EDM remixes, it’s played at a volume that doesn’t require you to shout to converse.
Open daily, from noon to 11pm. The Beer Cafe, Mili Co-operative Housing Society, T. H. Kataria Road, same lane as Goa Portuguesa, Mahim. Tel: 022 6888 8105. Get directions here.
Quarter House, as the name implies, is where they serve alcohol in quarter pours of 180ml like many dive bars. With its low lighting, slate-grey walls and mirrors, it’s darker and dingier-looking than the majority of new pubs in the city where pop-coloured furniture or all-white interiors seem to be the preferred palette. As such, it’s like a poshed-up version of a permit room. However it’s not the concept that seems to be packing the place with a particular clientele but the music.
The proprietors have dared to be different, by playing vintage Bollywood tunes over the speakers, a feature that adds to the dive-like ambience. As a result, Quarter House is populated with a disproportionate number of groups of middle-aged men who seemed to have strolled in from the neighbourhood in shorts and slippers. The few ladies among the men (unlike at most bars, we didn’t see any groups of only women) looked equally at home in salwar kameezes. In other words, the pub has the relaxed vibe of Shivaji Park’s Open House Cafe and Bar, run by the same owners.
We’re all for standing out in a city crowded with me-too establishments but sadly at Quarter House, there is some gap between the idea and the execution. The whole point of serving only large pours (you can also order 60ml pegs or the bottle), one presumed, is to provide tipplers an economical option wherein they get more for less. Surprisingly, a quarter of Old Monk rum will set you back by Rs550, which is Rs100 more than what you would get it for at the Social chain of bars in Colaba and Lower Parel, where they also sell drinks in 180ml serves. Similarly, a quarter of Smirnoff vodka is Rs800 as opposed to Rs650 at Social.
The prices of the cocktails on the other hand are on par with those at Social. But we were disappointed to find that even though they do a serviceable Bloody Mary (Rs325) and a passable margarita (Rs300), the cocktails come in regular-sized glasses. The Long Island Ice Tea (Rs400) is presented in a jar twice as large as these glasses, but the excessive amount of ice in the container turned it into one of the weakest versions of the potent potion we’ve consumed. We paired our drinks with the ‘little food’ items on the menu, which also lists rice plates, a smattering of Indian and Chinese mains, and such common permit room chakna as peanuts, wafers, boiled anda and cheese cherry pineapple.
Sadly, there was little to love in these little foods. Our paneer papad tacos (Rs150), in which the roasted disc-shaped snack is folded in the form of a tortilla holding cubes of cottage cheese looked great but tasted only of spice from the papad as the paneer was bland. The stubby garam masala potato wedges (Rs160) were a tad dry, and the fried mutton chops (Rs250), which came wrapped in egg batter, were chewy. The Achari Chicken on Stix (Rs250), skewers of generously portioned, juicy pieces of meat rubbed with pucker-inducing pickle, was the only snack we relished.
We give Quarter House credit for eschewing the fake fanciness of a lot of drinking establishments. Here, the menu warns you that a thousand rupee fine will be levied “for puking”. However, surely the owners realise that while there’s something cool about a bar where they play Hindi film songs from the 1960s and ’70s, there’s something decidedly pedestrian about playing recent remixes of those very same tracks. Also it would be best to avoid any of that present-day piffle they try to pass off as music. When “Pyar Ki Pungi” snaked its way into the playlist, we were less than charmed.
Open daily, from 1pm to 1.30am. Quarter House, Green Lawn Society, Kapad Bazaar Road, off L. J. Road, in the lane opposite Paradise Cinema, Mahim. Tel: 98202 97705. Get directions here.
Verdict It may not be doing anything particularly radical in terms of concept, but by providing exactly what it promises, The Beer Cafe has a competitive edge.