One of the random WhatsApp forwards I got recently was of the huge lines in front of the liquor shop in Chimbai village in Bandra, Bombay, which had opened after all these days of the Lockdown. This reminded me of walking down Chimbai village with Sophia Netto who showed me the lovely bungalow and told me that this’s one of the few surviving old Portuguese bungalows in Bandra, right next to the sea. Diagonally opposite to this Bungalow used to be the location of of the Aunty Bars of the past. Everyone knows and talks about American Speakeasy Bars of the 1920’s. But not many know about our own Speakeasy culture that existed and thrived in Bombay in the 50’s and 60’s.
Rise Of The Aunty Bars in Bombay
Prohibition was introduced in Bombay in the early 50’s under the stewardship of then Chief Minister Morarji Desai. Liquor wasn’t officially available, but who could keep Bombayites from their tipple. Thus sprang up the culture of the Aunty Bars, where one would get their fill of moonshine. Initially there were two major concentration of the Aunty bars. One was in Dhobi Talao in South Bombay where all the Goan Aunties used to run their Speakeasy Bars and the other was in Bandra where all the East Indian Aunties would serve moonshine to customers, keep the drunken ones in check and also ‘liaise’ with the cops to keep things going smoothly.
The Aunty’s Bars were mostly the living room of a middle aged Aunty converted to a bar with benches and tables. They had no names or boards and they would mostly get named by their customers based on some quirk about the place or more importantly a landmark. Most Aunty’s Bars would serve no food or snacks, only wafers at best and loads of moonshine. Everyone in Bombay had their own favourite Aunty’s Bar which they would frequent.
When prohibition was removed and replaced by the Permit system in the early 70’s. Many of the Aunty’s Bars lost their relevance. But some hung on for a few more years. Like the one in Chimbai village. Serving moonshine distilled by some distant cousin in Alibagh. Some might’ve even served Khimard, the unofficial tipple of Bandra that one can get even today. It’s not sold anywhere and’s mostly found inside some Bandra homes. We shall talk about the lovely Khimard some other day 😊
Stay safe and Chowder On!!