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Raising the bar on a tavern trail

Bars Of Goa is documenting Goa’s taverns on Instagram. The humble tavern, for long off the radar of tourists and even locals, might be making a comeback

Star Bar and Restaurant is known for its fresh fish
Star Bar and Restaurant is known for its fresh fish (Photo:

There’s a bar in Goa’s Caranzalem village. It has a tiled roof, dim lights, stacks of crates with soft drinks and interiors hidden from sight by large advertisements that double as screens. This bar’s USP is its location opposite the village poder (baker). It makes it easy for men, sent out of their homes to go buy pao, to stop for a quick drink before completing their duty.

Ignes Bar is just a window in the wall.
Ignes Bar is just a window in the wall. (Photo:

This and other titbits about Goa’s famed taverns can be gleaned from Bars of Goa (BOG), an official-sounding Instagram account that is anything but. It is an account started by a group of friends—two years back but gaining traction now—to document Goa’s tavern culture. A tavern is a traditional liquor outlet selling mainly country liquor or IMFL (Indian-made foreign liquor). It was once a regular haunt for gossip and good urrak, and an integral part of the state’s “nightlife" till the 1980s.

According to news reports, there are only 160 taverns left in Goa. Figures by the state excise department for 2018 state that only 113 taverns had liquor licences issued/renewed. “These kinds of bars can only be found in Goa. It is ingrained in our culture. You go anywhere in Goa, a forgotten village or even a highway, and you will find a bar there," says A.D., one of the creators of Bars of Goa, who wants to remain anonymous. “Every bar has its own story to tell," adds A.D.

The Sadanand Bar and Restaurant in Guleli offers “chana, bhikna and advice free". The Tanesh Bar in Usgao boasts of a carrom board and a champion player. The MM Bar in Tonca has its own version of farm to table—the owner serves urrak from his farm. “These taverns have always been such a deep and vital part of culture that you will find bars named after Catholic saints and gods from Hindu mythology. We have found bars that have rare bottles that are 100 years old; bars that are essentially a window and a couple of benches outside it; and bars run by women," says A.D.

These taverns may appear shady but it’s usually just the lighting and dull paint. While a handful have renovated, most are content with peeling paint, plastic chairs and tables and dim lighting. Some bars are attached to people’s homes. There’s usually a TV in a corner, playing Hindi films and serials. House dogs and strays wander in and out. Some bars serve only feni and urrak. Some have matka (a form of lottery) stands outside. Football is discussed everywhere.

Food is not too common and there’s often no menu. The staple is chone-bhikna (gram and peanuts), a salad or boiled eggs. In bars attached to homes, sometimes food being cooked finds its way to tables; it’s complimentary. There are exceptions: The Anzari Bar & Restaurant in Betalbatim serves a kharo bangdo—dry, salted mackerel; chicken liver fry is a staple order at the Sunshine Bar in Shiroda, and fried chicken breast at the Sheetal Bar & Restaurant, Khandepar.

All this information finds its way into brief captions accompanying the photograph/s on the Instagram account. The seven people who run the page visit most of the bars themselves, taking photographs, talking to the owners and finding out details. A.D. says they have enough information on 100 bars. They welcome submissions too.

Joseph Bar is a hip taverna that attracts locals and tourists alike.
Joseph Bar is a hip taverna that attracts locals and tourists alike. (Photo:

The creators don’t want to become influencers or do promotions. “We are just documenting a lifestyle. We want to get people interested in visiting these bars and put them on to-visit lists," says A.D. For taverns have always been off the radar of tourists and even Goans, who prefer the comforts of a bigger, better, classier place. But they are inching their way into the public eye and even itineraries. Goan pub crawls—tavern trails—are conducted in Panaji and Colva. Joseph’s Bar in Panaji is a renovated tavern that’s doing its bit, in true millennial hipster fashion, to introduce people to tavern culture.

“Visiting these taverns is special: You feel comfortable and safe, there’s cheap alcohol and good food, there’s no music and excess noise, and the hospitality is very good," says A.D.

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