According to Fifa, the dimensions of a standard football field are around 76,900 sq. ft. So when Oia, a new pub named after a Greek village, opened in Bengaluru in April and was revealed to be spread over 87,000 sq. ft, it became the talk of the town, especially when images showed the place looked more like an apartment complex built on a grand scale than an eatery.
Actually, Oia is not even the largest in the city, where one hears of a massive new pub or microbrewery setting new local records. They share a few common features besides being over at least 20,000 sq. ft in built-up area—think water bodies like koi ponds and fountains; tiered seating indoors and outdoors; and hundreds of members of staff. Entering one can be an overwhelming sensory experience—with eye-catching design features, loud music, more guests than at an Indian wedding and a constant flow of activity.
The individuals and companies behind these properties all consider their size a big selling point. If Oia, situated in Hennur, styles itself as “Asia’s largest pub”, Ironhill, a microbrewery that spans an insane 1.3 lakh sq. ft, opened in 2021 with the announcement that it was the world’s largest, a position previously held by Byg Brewski Hennur—at 65,000 sq. ft, it now feels almost modestly sized.
Along the way, there have been others that would qualify as tourist attractions rather than a place to have a quick pint or a weekday dinner, such as URU Brewpark in south Bengaluru, nestled within a 1.5-acre garden; the 900-seater Long Boat Brewing Co. on the Outer Ring Road, which is built around a man-made waterfall and has a built-up area of 35,000 sq. ft spread over a half-acre plot; and the Garden City Beer Collective in Hebbal, split into five zones spread across three acres.
“How it started is very simple. When the Karnataka government started giving microbrewery licences, they made it mandatory for the property to be situated on a minimum area of 10,000 sq. ft,” explains Kuncheria Marattukalam, co-founder of the URU Brewpark, along with Karthik Chandrasekaran and Akshar Halgali (the latter two are also founders of the Garden City Beer Collective).
A few years down the line, as the city’s thirst for beer seemed to grow exponentially, it made sense to open larger spaces—along the way, restaurateurs also discovered that not only did it cost less to build these open-air beer gardens, it also created a wow factor for the city’s young population. “Going to these places has become an experience and you have to offer something really unique. At URU, we decided to keep the built-up area small and create a feeling of being inside a massive park,” says Marattukalam.
“You can use shirt sizes to describe pubs and microbreweries in Bengaluru today—L, XL and XXL,” says restaurateur and F&B consultant Pravesh Pandey, founder of Handcrafted Restaurants Pvt. Ltd, which recently launched a glamorous Art Deco-themed pub and crafthouse called Roxie in a lane off Sarjapur Road; the 35,000 sq. ft space’s claim to fame, you guessed it, is being India’s largest crafthouse (it doesn’t brew beer on the premises but has a large variety on tap). Pandey is also a former director with Byg Brewski Brewing Co., where he helmed the launch of some of the original XL microbreweries, like Byg Brewski Hennur.
“Byg Brewski was the OG. It showed that this could be done and it could pull the crowds,” says Pandey, defining some of the factors that have led to this phenomenon: weather that allows large open-air spaces to thrive through the year without air-conditioning, which would lead to an immediate spike in costs, and real estate that is cheaper than in other big cities, especially on the outskirts. Many of these large-format pubs are situated on land that used to be either farmland or industrial areas.
“When we developed Byg Brewski in Hennur five years ago, it was a dirt road used as a short-cut to the airport. No one thought people would actually go there to drink beer,” says Pandey. These areas are no longer isolated, however—they all have apartment complexes and shopping malls. Practically every neighbourhood has seen the growth of big restaurants and pubs, and the buzz is that at least 20-30 new large-format pubs and restaurants with over 500 covers each are in development.
One major reason is the ever-growing population of young white-collar workers migrating to work in the IT industry. Having a young, enthusiastic crowd at one’s doorstep is very important to ensure that your pub or microbrewery is filled not just on weekends but every day of the week, says Rasagnya Reddy, one of the partners at Long Boat. “If you have such massive spaces, you can’t sustain it only with a weekend evening crowd, you need to fill seats every day of the week,” says Reddy, noting that the Long Boat runs full from Wednesday onwards.
Lokesh Sukhija, director of the 1,800-seater Oia, calls it “a destination.” “When we started developing it before the pandemic, we wanted to do justice to the space. We want people to think of it as their own calm and serene island.”
At almost 90,000 sq. ft, that shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.