Pondicherry, with its unique blend of Franco-Tamil culture has just got a trendy new address. The man of the hour, or should I say the Monsieur du jour is Pondicherry’s very own Dilip Kapur. His name might ring familiar to many of you as the founder of homegrown luxury leather brand Hidesign and owner of Pondy’s two most iconic hotels, Promenade and Le Dupleix. On the morning of the opening, over Madras filter coffees and flaky croissants, I get chatting with Kapur, who describes his new cultural space as a “physical embodiment of a travel guide”. This phrase piqued my interest – could this be true? Would I be walking into a space which is a living, breathing travel guide, a testimony of sorts to the destination? My answer would come later that evening.
At the ritzy opening of The Storytellers’ Bar, I would understand what Kapur had told me earlier. The décor of this bar and performance space is characterised by its the interactive “Wall of Stories”, which is a curated collection of memorabilia, props and anecdotes, “from travellers and locals, stories you will not find in guidebooks,” Kapur adds. He also refers to it as a collective museum of the community’s members. Across the space, on walls and in nooks and crannies, there are myriad “stories” on display, and even diaries where guests are encouraged to share their own travel stories, anecdotes and fondest memories of Pondicherry. The décor is modern and quirky, yet bathed in a sense of nostalgia, an aesthetic juxtaposition of local Tamil influences with the cultural elements of the former French colonial masters. It all comes together so well.
Is The Storytellers’ Bar just another hotel bar where apetitifs are to be had? Most certainly not. The bar, built as it were “for dreamers and travellers alike”, is the brainchild of a few other visionaries too – Simran Mulchandani, co-founder of Mach One Associates and Blue Frog, is spearheading the concept and is helping realise the project. Ayaz Basrai, co-founder of Busride Design Studio and Kapil Thirwani of Munro Acoustics are responsible for the décor and acoustics respectively.
Kapur lends some context to this artsy space, which is an ode of sorts to Pondicherry and its unique Franco-Indian culture, “I grew up in and around the Auroville Ashram, which gave me a sense of community. The main objective of this space is to allude at every point to Pondicherry. I am so glad that in the execution and design, Simran and Ayaz have understood this.”
The Storyteller’s Bar has been two years in the making. How did all the pieces of this vision come together? Simran Mulchandani explains, “Our team began to visit different spots in Auroville, each more unique than the other. We started off at an organic produce store in Auroville called Farmfresh. We then visited the Matrimandir, Auroville’s spiritual nerve centre. We visited places where musical instruments are created and even a moneyless supermarket for Aurovillians. It was unbelievable. We decided that THIS is what we needed to be doing.” Inspired by this flurry of unique stories, the creative group, thus, set out on a mission to create a space for sharing experiences, a place where insiders can connect with travellers. “It’s a social sharing network. Just like Facebook, but without the technology. Just genuine, cultural sharing,” says Mulchandani.
The Storytellers’ Bar is above all a space where performances are encouraged. Concerts by homegrown, local talents are going to be the main highlight here, each of these performances being termed “stories” in themselves. “Getting down talent from other parts of the country may not always be economically sustainable. Therefore, the idea is to work with as much local talent as possible. The area around Pondicherry produces so many great artistes and it is our duty to give them a stage,” says Mulchandani.
The cocktail list and menu is impressive too, hinging around the idea of locally sourced ingredients and inspirations. . A case in point is the Auroville Cheese Platter, which, as its name suggests, is a showcase of local Auroville cheese.
I was happy to try some signature cocktails like The Lighthouse (gin infused with elderberry) and the Chocolate Filter Kaapi, replete with stainless steel dabara set, a heady concoction of espresso, coconut cream, Kahlua, whisky and Auroville chocolate.
“Pondicherry is on the cusp of a great tourism movement. If we had created a simple bar for people to drink at, maybe they would have related to it easier. But we did not want to take a simple path. I wanted to do something with more depth, giving me more scope to experiment and innovate. And this has been the result. Over the next few months, as Dilip Kapur and his team painstakingly curate more stories to add to the décor of the space, it will be organically transformed. For now, The Storytellers’ Bar is a work in progress. Its true soul will be showcased when people come here, spend time and then contribute to the stories. Time will tell. ”
By Riaan Jacob George