Cafe cool


col-foodism-150Cafes are the new cool. Increasingly in India, a wave of new casual dining / hanging out spaces have taken over as the most sought out after spaces. Common globally, India has been a little late to catch on, but is now firmly on its way.

The latest to join the bandwagon is Social. Think creative workspace. For many that’s an oxymoron, gimmicky IT companies notwithstanding. But then Mumbai-based restaurateur Riyaaz Amlani has hardly ever followed the beaten track, right from the times he vowed elite India with Mocha, Saltwater Cafe and the Smoke House family (Grill, Room and now Deli). His latest venture, rolling out in Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai in that order, however is aimed at a new demographic – and in part will be financed from them too!

Social is built for networking and lounging, explains Amlani, busy ironing out last-minute details as the prepares to launch Hauz Khas Social (each of the three are named after the locality they are in, so there’s two month old Church Street Social, with Colaba Social almost ready). Amlani is targeting the cafe space – recognizing its constantly changing format – nukkads, dhabas, India Coffee Houses, college canteens, CCD to Starbucks. “Starbucks is third base to many – after home and work,” he says. “We want to be second base, where work and play combine.” And he is confident of giving proof of concept soon.

Each of his earlier concepts has been painstaking in detail, and Social is no different – just that the target is different. Luxury and fine dining have been greatly acclaimed but limited successes financially for Impresario – his holding company, and he thinks it’s time for cafe culture to reinvent itself once again. So he’s going mass. Or is it mass-cool?

A round of PE funding in 2011 helped, and Amlani has an eye on an IPO soon too. He also recognises that ‘leisure’ is sinking. “The battle is for disposable time, it’s a race to reach to the watch over the wallet.” So after 6pm and on weekends, Social transforms into a hangout place. Of course the ground level has a space for anyone who wants to drop in for a snack any time.

The view from Social is spectacular. Note the lake and the medieval 14th century monument literally within touching distance!
The view from Social is spectacular. Note the lake and the medieval 14th century monument literally within touching distance!

Socials are large spaces. Trendy again Hauz Khas has high rentals and complex legal tangles – and the space here is a combination of floors, nooks and crannies from various houses and levels spread over 8,500 square feet. They are also grungy, with a look that looks like a cross between a warehouse and its canteen. At first glance here, bare walls with brickwork and concrete (do we see a wooden strut?), recycled unmatched furniture and cutlery (including Deli surpluses), naked bulbs – at one point they form a faux chandelier, bare wooden tables, exposed wires, demand attention all at once.

A cube of assorted fruits with yoghurt and granola chunks
A cube of assorted fruits with yoghurt and granola chunks

Add irregular spaces, uneven lighting, wooden lockers, a spiral staircase, lots of plug points, napkins masquerading as toilet rolls, and you are intrigued. Combine these with lots of quirky F&B (Enthu cutlet bao, Aacharoska, The Ramesh & Suresh, even the Death Wings, whose details mention something about a “Free lemonade will be given to those who survive the whole damn thing”). You are hooked. As a look, and concept, it works, especially as it overlooks the stunning 14th century Hauz Khas monument and its adjoining lake. And the prices are really low!

Well, there’s a catch. Despite its size, Social can only take in 50 members at a time in a location, so prospective members need to apply. At Rs 5,000 they get not just a cool (?) place to work from, but also redeemable F&B vouchers for an equal amount, besides facilities such as lockers, access to conference rooms, and of course an upscale cafe at hand. In Bengaluru, Social has already got 25 members signed up, and the team expects Delhi to sign up even faster.

Are you more productive over endless cups of coffee? What if you could trade in your cubicle for a super cool café? Those are the kind of taglines that Social seeks to entice you with. If you are young, creative and edgy, Social and you could be perfect fit! Making Amlani and his new age concept cafe a hit too!



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