At a night club in Sector 26, Chandigarh. (Photo: Jasbir Malhi)
Forgive the cliché, but come weekend and all roads lead to the party strip of Sector 7 and 26. While rest of the Tricity goes to bed, the night clubs, bars and breweries that dot the landscape, a walking distance from the humdrum grain market, wake up to an unending buzz of party animals. From teenagers, eager for their first brush with a bar, to adults, young and old alike, searching for a high, the place thrums with life.
It’s quite a change from the days when this area was frequented by people looking for sanitary or hardware fittings. The sector changed tacks overnight as clubs and discos mushroomed in the area, both at the front as well as back. Many leading chains, including Playground, Molecule, Social, Boulevard 26 and S Lounge among others, recently shifted there to mop up the footfall the strip attracts.
Though the life of these clubs is short, the owners well aware, know how to reinvent. While some such as Qizo have upgraded themselves with time, others like Kava have slowly perished. The new entrants, too, are testing the waters of the club business, where while one like Social does very well, another such as Molecule, barely keeps itself from drowning.
Night club in Sector 26, Chandigarh. (Photo: Jasbir Malhi)
Muskaan, a 19-year-old student from Panjab University, says when it comes to partying, her generation is spoilt for choice and easily bored. “We are quite fickle. I don’t think we have a favourite place for eating or drinking or dancing. It all depends on our mood, plus we like to try out new places,” she bubbles, sitting next to her two friends from college at a microbrewery in Sector 26, Chandigarh.
This maverick streak and hunger for variety in new-age consumers is part of the reason for the mushrooming of lounges, restaurants and micro-breweries in this stretch. Sunil Sharma, manager of Boulevard, a lounge in Sector 26, puts it aptly when he says: “Customers nowadays are easily bored of one joint, so they need to come to a neighbourhood which offers them a lot of choices at one place. They can always decide to leave and hop to the next bar or lounge.’’ This keeps people like him on their toes. “We have to keep thinking on our feet, changing and evolving to meet the demands of our customers”.
The 2-kilometre-long party strip has approximately 20 clubs/lounges, 10 famous restaurants, both casual as well as fine dining, and at least three micro-breweries such as Brew Estate, Beach and Brew and Great Bear. Business owners claim a diverse range of themes and restaurants allow for a sustained footfall in the market, which works for the common interest of all business owners.
Night club in Sector 26, Chandigarh. (Photo: Jasbir Malhi)
However, most agree that business truly booms during the weekend. “We get an average of 5,500 customers per month, and I would say that most of them visit during the weekend. Seventy per cent of the footfall is reserved for the weekend and the rest comes during the weekdays,” says the manager of Brew Estate, one of the oldest micro-breweries of Chandigarh.
As for the demographics that visit these lounges, restaurants and breweries, the managers and owners say they have family crowds co-existing with younger, more party-friendly groups. “That is why we have separate segments in our lounge. We have a quieter space for families, a private room for couples, and the live music space for everyone who wishes to enjoy loud music,” says Prabhat Mishra, part owner of Culture in Sector 26.
What is now the party strip of Chandigarh, however, was not always as packed and lively as it is now. “We were one of the first people to bring night clubs to the city, but we shut them down because operating these clubs and managing the crowds was quite a murky business,” says Mohan Bir Singh, son of Col A B Singh (retd), who started the famous Hot Millions fast food restaurant in Chandigarh. Since Hot Millions was established in 1980, the family has successfully diversified their business by opening other restaurants, lounges and bars across the city.
“We came to the Sector 26 market in 2012 by opening AB’s, a fine dining restaurant there. After Hotel President, ours was one of the oldest businesses there. Since then, things have changed. So many people have entered the space, and the rentals too have shot up,” says Singh, while tracing the history of the now booming party strip.
Manish Goyal, who is a part owner of Swagath restaurant and Bar, S Lounge and Social, all located in this Sectors 7- 26 strip, says the area is lucrative for business as it is located on a fast moving road. “This particular market is located on one of the busiest central transit routes (Madhya Marg) in the city. At the time we entered the market, there was a lot of space and the rentals were good at one point of time,” recalls Goyal. Goyal and his business partners set up their business in the market as early as 2006, but claims the market really took off post-2010. “After that, a lot of people saw established places do well, and flocked to set up business here,” adds Goyal.
Though some owners claim they have the full support of authorities and respect the excise and taxation policies imposed on their business, others believe the authorities could relax some rules to allow their business to truly run smoothly.
Sahil Kataria, owner of Beach and Brew, a beach-themed lounge which opened in November 2018, claims the restrictions on timing should be relaxed keeping in mind how late people like to party on the weekends. “Around 500-700 people visit Beach and Brew on the weekends. Most of them can only come post 9 or 10 at night because they are working professionals. It is not realistic then to expect us to shut down music by midnight,” grouses Kataria.
On the other hand, Mohan Bir Singh claims the administration has increasingly become more supportive of businesses and imposes manageable restrictions and regulations. “We have good relations with the administration and most authorities co-operate with business owners as long as they uphold their side of the bargain,” adds Singh.
Flouting of excise policy in the ‘party strip’ is now a regular affair. In August 2019 alone, four restaurants and lounges in the Sector 26 strip were slapped with a fine of Rs 2 lakh for selling liquor without the mandatory hologram. Earlier in 2019, many bars, including Qizo, Purple Frog and Chandiland, were found flouting the time limit. It happened this weekend as well.
However, an official from the excise and taxation department claims with close policing, very few cases of norm violations have surfaced in the recent few years. “Even though norms have become more stringent with crackdown against drunken driving and regulation of timings, very few places have violated these norms. We closely survey these spaces and ensure regulations are in place,” says the official.
“Every new business on this strip thinks they can get away with doing whatever they want and they only really begin looking at the regulations after they get caught or are fined by authorities, which is not a sustainable way of doing business,” claims Goyal, who has been running a business in the area for a long time.
Shootouts and brawls
The night club strip of Sector 7 and 26 has also courted controversy with a host of shootouts and brawls. The Chandigarh Police, which has a police station right behind the clubs in Sector 26, takes strict measures throughout the week. Security is ramped up on Wednesdays and Saturdays to prevent any mishappening. Saturdays witness as many as 12 check posts within the two kilometre radius of the two sectors, both front and back, with entries and exits sealed. Wednesdays, meanwhile, gets four checkposts on the stretch. “Other than these, there are teams of four in PCRs who always keep an eye on the two main markets, throughout the week. Saturdays and Wednesdays see more crowd coming in and thus we raise the security. All cars enter or exit after going through us. This is to prevent anything from happening and even if it does, to stop the miscreants from running away,” says Narinder Patiyal, SHO, Sector 26 police station.
Commenting on the party culture of the area, he says, “There are parties everywhere in the world. It’s probably ours that get too out of hand. The safety of girls remains our biggest priority here. People need to be sensitised to come, have a good time and then leave.”
The stretch has often seen situations getting out of hand and making it to crime headlines. Last year in September, three drunk businessmen from Ludhiana were arrested after they allegedly assaulted a constable and home guard posted with the Sector 26 police station in Chandigarh late on Friday night.
A 52-year-old Chandigarh Police Assistant Sub-inspector (ASI) was killed after being hit by a speeding vehicle near the Sector 27/28 light point on another Friday night in January this year. Further, in December last year, two men fired five shots in the air after being denied entry into a famous nightclub-cum-restaurant, which was incidentally another Friday midnight. It was after this incident, the police increased the number of police check posts.
A risky business
F Bar, which was a famous restaurant till it was sealed shut in 2018, following a brawl and a shootout that put the owner behind bars. The firing incident on November 20, 2018, during the birthday celebrations of Sehdev Salaria, an aide of local MP Kirron Kher, had left four injured with two suffering from bullet wounds.
Jaideep Singh, among the two who suffered injuries in the shootout, is one of the four owners of Culture, a club-cum-restaurant, the first in Sector 26.
Apart from the physical hazard posed by criminal behaviour, brawls and drunken mishaps, the business is risky due to the stiff competition. “These days, the supply is much more than the demand. Even though disposable incomes have increased and people have developed a taste for night life, it is limited to a narrow segment of society that includes the rich, affluent and the young who have more income than they need,” says Singh, the owner of Hot Millions.
The competition among the stretch of lounges remains tight. Each restaurant tries to peddle its USP. While some have mastered the art of live performances, others go with a specific theme to attract people. Some have closed their discos and opened up fine dining, as in the case of S lounge, others have divided their space, running front through back into various zones. ‘Qizo’ offers a bar-restaurant experience at front, with an open space that converts to disco late evening.
Another, ‘Boulevard 26’, has found its niche in calling artists both local, national as well as international, attracting a crowd of much more than they can fit.
Spotting your favourite Jass Manak or Parmish Verma at Sector 26 stretch has become a common deal now.
While almost all bars, restaurants and clubs offer heavy discounts to stag women, taking little or no entry fee, couples do pay amounts up to Rs 2,000 on weekends to get in. Stags are discriminated against the most, with prices of entry going up to Rs 5,000 per person.
The trend of women’s night on Wednesdays seems to be fading, say the owners and managers with Friday becoming the next hot day of the week, other than Saturday of course, when the crowd swells. On these girls’ nights, the restaurants offer three free shots to women.
The owners come from varied backgrounds. While many are young entrepreneurs, several of them from SD college, many others are hard boiled businessmen with restaurants/clubs only a small part of their business empire.
Culture, the first in the Sector 26 row, is owned by four young men, all around 26. The initial investment they say, was given to them by their fathers and families. Meanwhile, the owner of Brew Estate, who according to the manager, ‘rarely visits’, mainly works in distilleries. Many others have joint ownership in several restaurants at the strip. Almost all the lounges are owned in partnership in the area.
For these seasoned restaurateurs and young entrepreneurs, being part owners in various businesses is a safer bet than investing everything in a single venture. “That is why I made sure to invest in restaurants, lounges and clubs separately,” says Goyal, adding that is truly best “not keep all of one’s eggs in one basket”.
The restaurants at the strip are of two types. The first ones are those that have leased a showroom through and through, taking up almost 7,000 square feet of land. The second are the ones who have either leased only half of it at the rear or have divided the two into two different zones with the front being a dine-in restaurant and the back, a lounge.
Depending upon the area occupied by these restaurants, lounges or clubs, the number of staff hired ranges somewhere between 40 and 60. Owners claim that often more bouncers are hired to manage crowds on weekends.
Culture, spread over a large area, according to the owner has almost 60 staffers at hand including four bouncers, 15-20 waiters, five bar managers and kitchen and sanitation staff. “We increase the number by four-five on weekends, where we hire contractual bouncers as the rush increases,” says Abhishek Sharma, a co-owner.