Mumbai, India’s financial capital, has been famous for many things, from its dazzling film industry to landmark buildings resplendent in colonial architecture.
The city was also oddly famous for its street-corner ‘Irani cafes’ that sprouted up in the late 18th and early 19th centuries due to an influx of Persian immigrants.
Though the high-ceilinged cafes with mostly shaky tables and rickety chairs shared little of the glamour and glitter of the city’s glitz, they enjoyed iconic status.
Selling sugary milk tea and bun-muska (freshly baked bread lathered with butter), the cafes had a quaint but welcoming quality: those thronging them included actors, workers and out-of-work youth with lots of time to spare.
But that was then. Today, the cafes are shutting down one by one, and no more than 25 of them survive. Fast-food restaurants, global cafe chains and changing attitudes are taking a toll on the cafes.
To adapt and sustain, many of the cafes have changed their decor and menus to serve a wider range of customers. But the battle is still being lost and last month, the news broke that B Merwan & Co., one of the best known Irani cafes, is also likely to shutter down for good soon.
Incidentally, in 1998, another popular cafe called New Empire gave way to one of the first McDonald’s to be opened in Mumbai.
As the new edges out the old, Irani cafes, it seems, are no longer anyone’s cup of tea.