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A taverna-turned-bar is ‘a perfect chill-out spot’ in Goa

A tribute to a neighbourhood bar in Goa on its third anniversary

Caitano Domingos Fernandes started this taverna in 1970.
Caitano Domingos Fernandes started this taverna in 1970.

Once upon a time, Goa’s watering holes were a space where people would gather for a taste of local brew (urrak/feni), with a side of gossip. The urrak and feni came in unbranded bottles, sourced straight from the farm. The food was minimal, as was the décor, yet they remained hubs of social life (largely for men).

Also read | The guardians of Goa's feni galaxy

Many of these tavernas have now shut down, a victim of time and changing preferences and lifestyles. The few that exist are small, almost shabby places, weathered with age and neglect, often hidden from the outside world by a curtain, and still offering feni and urrak (in season), and IMFL. The snacks are still bare — am omelette perhaps, boiled gram or slivers of raw mango.

In the last few years, some of these family tavernas have found a new lease on life. The façade may be different, but the purpose is similar: good food, local booze and a space for people to drink and socialise.

One such space sits in a quiet road in Arpora.

Cajy Bar proudly announces itself with a signboard stating its history: started in 1970. In that year, Caitano Domingos Fernandes started this taverna. It passed on to his son, Damiao Fernandes but, after his death in 2010, the bar was rented outside the family. “In 2020, due to the COVID and no job opportunities my mom (Philomena), sister (Evelyn), and I decided to take over the bar again. We opened on October 17, 2021, with just three tables, thinking only friends, family or a few tourists would visit,” says Eligio (Eli).

Today, you will be hard-pressed to find a table (without booking earlier) or a place to stand. There’s a short drinks and food menu—Philomena does the cooking. There is the signature aadmass—pork slow cooked on the bone, which has a legion of fans), rava fried fish, pork ribs, tongue roast, choris pao, beef croquettes, vindaloo and garlic poi. The food is hearty, in flavour and portion size, and served hot; nothing costs more than 300. The bar doesn’t do cocktails but, Eli will mix you a gin and tonic or rum and coke; they have beer on tap. On days when it gets really busy, you can find customers helping to serve drinks and food.

Also read | Raising the bar on a tavern trail

In three years, Cajy has become a popular neighbourhood bar. “It has grown into a perfect Goan chill-out spot for locals and tourists who want to experience a Goan bar,” says Eli. Cajy has its regulars and they all know the siblings and vice versa. The space has built and nurtured a large community of people who return for the vibe, for the food or just to chill. “Cajy is a home bar for us,” says Sid Mewara, host of the food and travel channel The Big Forkers on YouTube. On Wednesdays, Sid and his friends go to play sally ball nearby and their post-play routine is a visit to Cajy. “I’ve been there 20-30 times. It is accessible and has a cosy, shack vibe without being close to the sea. It also feels like you are stepping back into time, into somebody’s home business before the tourist madness began. And that aadmaas is exemplary.”

Ask people to describe Cajy and they will use phrases like ‘no nonsense’, or ‘no-frills’. The décor relies on a few elements to carry the space — fairy lights, chairs made out of crates, painted tires holding up tables, a few hanging plants, old baskets hung up on the wall, and odd knickknacks. A tiny side room has a carrom board and often hosts enthusiastic games. You may also spot people playing card games. There’s always a crowd, inside and outside. Outside, taking a break from the noise (the music gets loud as the night progresses) or smoking. Inside, people hop from one table to another, socialising, greeting old and making new ones. Some evenings, they screen football matches, or have live music or karaoke sessions, but mostly, it is retro music and the sounds of animated chatter that fill the space.

“You fall in love with the place instantly. The food is homemade, it is everything you like and want to eat. It is delicious. The price of booze isn’t anything close to the rates you would pay in areas around Assagao. The hosts are super sweet and welcoming,” says Cameo Serrao, subtitling editor and mixologist. “It is one of those local places that deserve recognition.”

Cajy, luckily, is one of those local Goan places that has already cemented itself as a friendly neighbourhood bar, for local and visitors alike.

Details: Maina Bhatti, Arpora, Goa. 6pm onwards Closed on Tuesday.

Also read | How to eat like a local in Goa

Joanna Lobo is a Goa-based journalist.

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