It’s almost reflexive to mention Bonobo when talking about nightlife in Bandra, Mumbai. Started by two cousins and their childhood friend in 2008, when the DJ-driven bar scene was finding its footing in the city, Bonobo has now become an institution. It all began with the casual idea of ‘let’s start a bar', and they will celebrate their fifteenth anniversary this month.
In the 2000s, most new bars in Mumbai had a formal dress code making it restrictive for young millennials. “We wanted to set up an inclusive bar with a casual vibe where people could come for a good time even in their shorts,” shares co-founder Nevil Timbadia.
He along with his cousin, Sahil Timbadia and their friend Anup Gandhi, had to figure out what works through trial and error. For instance, they began with the concept of interactive cocktail making, wherein people can make their own drinks using different ingredients. But it wasn’t long before they realised that this doesn’t work as people come to a bar to be served at the table.
In contrast, what worked for them was their involvement in the music scene of the city. Timabadia had experience in the field so that helped in shaping it as an integral part of the experience.“We also started at a time when the gigs-in-bars scene was just taking shape. Only three or four of us, like Blue Frog and Zenzi, were doing it at that time so that helped,” he explains. It was an opportune time to cement their place as part of the music scene in the city. Today, over 800 artists have played at the bar.
When a good number of regulars started to show up, the founders knew that Bonobo has created a place for itself. Keeping something relevant for 15 years in a world where people are searching for something new every day is a challenge. Two things worked in their favour to reach this milestone, Timbadia says: building a community and staying on track with evolving trends in music as well as food such as burnt garlic pizza and hot basil chicken.
“When you have a good number of regulars, you can start to relax. Also, one thing we learnt was to do the classic cocktails well. The idea is to not make it too complicated. As craft beers picked up in the city, we focused on offering a good selection. So, it has been about getting the basics right and offering new drinks,” Timbadia explains.
While their long journey has come with its own ups and downs, the times when they worried about paying staff salaries were the toughest. “It’s space where no founder wants to be in, but we have experienced that and emerged from it. No challenge has been as difficult as the Covid-19 pandemic,” Timbadia says.
For the 15-year celebration, the bar is hosting 15 gigs this month from 1 December and people will get to see new food options such as pork belly skewers, butter garlic prawn sando and drunken noodles and a new cocktail menu including voodoo picante and bittersweet symphony. There are music-inspired cocktails, which are either what artists used to drink or inspired their songs. For instance, American band The Blues Brothers used to drink an interesting whiskey cocktail with a twist. So, Bonobo has made an old-fashioned with their twist--a little bit of peanut butter-washed whiskey.
“The bar will be decked up and the celebration will last throughout the month,” says Timbadia. “We hope to continue doing this for another 15 years and beyond.”