The blink-and-you-miss-it Mumbai winter may have left us but the city seems to be slowly coming back to appreciating open-air experiences. Bombayites of the last generation enjoyed their beer and fries at the iconic Café Naaz on Malabar Hill, attended Jazz Yatra and Independence Rock at Rang Bhawan and savoured classical music at the Banganga Fest.
Of such long-standing open-air pursuits, perhaps the only one that can still be indulged in today is JanFest at St Xavier’s College, which brings together some of India’s best classical music talents every Republic Day. Most music concerts are now in indoor venues or organised at open-air stadiums and grounds like Jio Gardens, MMRDA grounds or DY Patil.
But thankfully, things are changing. Permits and traffic apart, and despite the lazy comfort of streaming programming and food-delivery apps, the average AC-loving Mumbaikar is now seeking out sunshine and fresh air at every given opportunity.
The growing number of marathons is an indicator, as is the increasing popularity of open-air festivals. The Li’l Flea, which was created by its founders Alankar Jain and Priyanka Punjabi in 2014, has grown by leaps and bounds, encompassing not just flea bazaar-style shopping but also food, drink and music.
To see multiple generations of families relaxing on the grass together is heartening, as Mumbai’s kids are often more familiar with enclosed play areas and indoor theme parks like Kidzania than their own neighbourhood playgrounds.
Even for grown-ups, be it the rollicking barrel of fun called The Pour, put together by Komal Lath of Tute Consult and Nash Events & Experiences at the Radio Club Pier or elegant wine dinners like the one at The Club by Vaniitha Jain of The Perfect Pour, the sky is, literally, the limit!
This weekend, The Picnic Project at High Street Phoenix promises outdoor play areas, a kite-flying pit, movie screenings and more. Conceptualised by Ronak Rajani, Pawan Shahri, Nikita Harisinghani, Ronak Rochlani and Mohit Menghrajani, The PP was born of their common love for visiting food festivals and flea markets that happen around the city but are often over-crowded.
They wanted to give Mumbai an experience where people could get out and have fun in a laidback environment, as they feel open-air events on larger grounds give people a breather from their day to day hustle-bustle. Can we expect live music, I asked them? Yes, they smiled. Trestle tables? Absolutely. Ants, I joked.
No, they laughed, explaining that they’re using specially designed agro-nets through the event that form a great barrier between the natural ground and the event activities, so that humans don’t disturb the ants while they enjoy their picnic.
A variety of open-air restaurants and watering holes are also thriving despite the high heat, humidity and monsoon months of Mumbai. Like Koyla, perhaps the city’s first al fresco eatery, and two other hidden rooftop gems in the same Colaba neighbourhood – the wonderfully renovated Bayview Café and The Marina Upper Deck.
Gallops at the Mahalaxmi Racecourse has had a recent refurbish too, with new crockery and an outdoor area that drips romance. Then there’s Dome at Intercontinental Marine Drive, known for its sensational sundowners. Or the sophisticated Aer at the Four Seasons, which recently celebrated its 10th birthday.
And Asilo, at the top of the even taller St Regis Mumbai just around the corner, which often has as many stars swanning around its swish layout as it has sparkling above.
Juhu has a host of high-end open-air spaces as well – Gadda Da Vida at Novotel, the excellent standalone Estella and the old favourite that made a comeback a couple of years ago – Razzberry Rhino. Posh Powai isn’t far behind… Ramada gives you a spoonful of its Skyy, while others like Mehman Nawazi make the most of mood lighting and the magic of a starlit night.
The Bar Bank is another innovative idea whose time has come. This food truck park opposite Juhu beach allows people to pick from a variety of cuisines and eat and drink al fresco.
The air is festive and the beach vibe electric. Owners Mihir Desai and Amit Singh and their F&B director Chef Gaurrav Gidwani have created this vibrant space, surmounting the permission hurdles that usually come in the way of outdoor eating spaces. Saloni and Sameer Malkani of the
Food Bloggers Association of India launched their FBAI Kitchen food truck here last week. It promises to showcase the creativity of home chefs by rotation, changing every month or two, starting with Sindhi cuisine by Jyoti Vishnani until March 13.
Ever since the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival came into being, with its outdoor theatre at the Horniman Circle Garden, poetry and book readings in the cocoon of the David Sassoon Library garden or music and dance at Cross Maidan or the Asiatic Society Library steps, people have started enjoying the experience of revelling in unusual spaces.
Be it spoken poetry or open-air cinema screenings, heritage tours or treasure hunts, Mumbaikars are ODing on the outdoors.
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