Oct 14, 2017: The hidden dance bars of Bangalore. We first discovered Hotel President a few months ago when we were going for a party at a traveller’s hostel in the lane next to it. While we waited on the street corner for our friend Prabhu, we saw women get out of cabs, autos and walking from different directions, some with their faces covered, others smiling as they entered the basement establishment. They had the vibe of working women – purposeful. Our party was quite dead and around midnight when we were about to leave, I proposed we pop our heads into President and the others agreed.
With a nod to the bouncer, we went downstairs into a lounge and found ourselves in a room surrounded by women, illuminated by garish blue light. Prabhu took charge of the situation and spoke to the waiter for a table. But a very drunk Roshan looked fearful… “Let’s get out,” he said. Seeing how we were drawing too much attention and that we were clearly out of place we decided to leave.
As we stood at the street corner and discussed what to do next we saw a group of Eastern European women who looked like they could have been IPL cheerleaders step out of the adjoining hotel and walk down the same stairs into President. Feeling kind of disappointed, I said, “We should have stuck around longer to see what happened, man. We should totally come check this place out some other time.”
“Yeah, dude” Prabhu agreed. “But we should look the part. White shirts and gold chains like the other guys there. We have to go full gonzo.” The others weren’t keen. So Prabhu and I made a pact to visit President again, when maybe we had a little more money to spend.
After postponing and bailing on each other for over two months, we finally fixed Sunday. We met at the corner near Coffee Day on Lavelle Road, as I was walking back after taking a dump in UB City. He wasn’t wearing a white shirt or gold chains. I was wearing a white shirt but it had coloured checks. We would still look out of place. We rode a little distance through a no-entry and parked right next to the place. As we walked in we were greeted by an unwelcome sign on the door that informed us that because of the new law forbidding the sale of alcohol along highways, there would be no booze on offer.
We went into the same room that we did the last time around. This time it was deserted except for four or five women standing by a wall. “Man, we really picked the wrong night to come here. This is nothing like it was the other night,” I told Prabhu, as a waiter led us to the same table we were offered the last time.
With no liquor on sale we ordered two Cokes, when I noticed this girl standing close to us trying to make eye contact with me. No surprise, since we were the only ‘customers’ here. I motioned her over. “What’s your name? What do you do?” I asked trying to break the ice.
I couldn’t get her name over the loud music but only heard that she was from Maharashtra and it was her first day on the job. “I just got to Bangalore this afternoon,” she said in Hindi. This amused me and not knowing how things work at these places, I slipped her a hundred rupee note across the table. She was just as confused when I asked her if she’d dance. “Do I dance alone or dance with you?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged when she took my hand and guided me onto the dance floor. We were a few steps in before the waiter was upon us, waving me off “You stand here. Only she dances.”
He led me back to table, and as I watched her dance I turned to Prabhu “Man, this is the textbook definition of an anti-climax. I even have to pretend to get placebo drunk on Coca Cola.”
“Well, sip slowly. That coke probably costs 500 bucks,” he said. And he was right. When the song got over, we decided to go check out one of the other rooms. We had to settle the bill here and had to pay 500 bucks each for a 300 ml bottle of Coke. I couldn’t tell if this was because of GST or it was their regular price with ‘entertainment tax’ included.
The room we went to was the one we remembered being the most crowded when we walked in. The women here were better looking, better dressed and from the looks of it more experienced. Most of them looked like girls who had lost hope getting rejected from one too many TV serial auditions. For the most part they just stood around and made eye contact. To try and get their attention I smiled and they smiled back, but I had a feeling I was creeping these women with my gaze.
Prabhu got it in his head that he wanted to get two of them to dance together. So he called a girl over, pointed to another one and handed her a bundle in 50 rupee notes. We watched as she walked across the room to the other girl, whispered in her ear and pointed in our direction. The other girl nodded a refusal and they both turned away and didn’t look at us again.
“How much did you give her?”
“I think about 500,” he said knowing clearly that he had lost that money and wasn’t getting it back.
Just then, a mustached man in a black kurta started raining 50 rupee notes on a woman just like we see in the movies, while she smiled awkwardly. “That looks like a man who knows what he is doing,” we both laughed. No sooner was he done, that one of the waiters was mopping the notes off the floor. He would soon be flinging the notes around recycling the same money.
I finally saw someone I liked. She was standing apart from the group and looked like she was going or coming from an Indian wedding, wearing a pink skirt, a green blouse and a gold chain resting sexily on her belly. She looked a little confused as I motioned her over and asked what the deal is.
“How much do you want to spend?” I was greeted in surprisingly good English as she bent closer, her long black hair forming a curtain between us.
“A few hundred.”“I charge five thousand.”“What? For the whole night?”“No, just to dance. I am a student and I’m here just to make money.”I had to suppress the urge to say ‘Hey, I’m a student too. How about a student discount?’ I should have probably said it. It would have elicited some laughter on a night which was turning out to be a bit of a farce. Instead, I smiled and said “I was good.”
Prabhu immediately asked me what she said and when I told him it was five grand for a dance. “Dude, Shakira tickets costs three grand!”
“But there’s thousands of people paying three grand. And Shakira doesn’t dance at a shady establishment like this.”
The student girl was now looking at me from across the room shaking her belly teasingly.
I decided to bargain and called her over again. “What will you do for a thousand?” I asked handing her two 500 rupee notes.Seeing just the two notes, she smiled and said “Nothing. You’re going to have to give me four more.”“Then I will have that back,” I said, gingerly plucking the notes from her fingers.“How about three thousand?”I smiled, no deal. I wasn’t ready to pay Shakira money to watch someone dance to one sleazy Bollywood number from a distance. She walked away disappointed.
We decided to step out into the lounge but first had to tip the waiters for all the service they hadn’t provided us. Another hundred bucks gone. “Are you going to write about this?” I asked Prabhu as we stepped out the door.
“Maybe. A Medium post, that’s all this is worth. What about you?”“Yeah.”“You have enough material?”“I guess. It’s not going to be some judgmental crap about the kind of people who work here or the kind of people who visit these places.”It was almost midnight and there were no IPL cheerleaders walking in this time. “Do you want to call it a night?”“Sure. I already lost all the money I made from bitcoins last week over nothing. No point spending anymore.”
As we walked back into the real world, passed the door held by the bouncer who was probably expecting a tip, I jested “Man, we should have crowdfunded this thing. Got ten guys to put in five hundred each and got one dance.”
“Such a cheapskate you are,” he laughed. “You realize you got more out of a hundred bucks than most people get out of five grand here.”“That’s just the gujju blood that runs in my veins,” I laughed.
As I got on my bike to start my long ride back home, I was a little disappointed about how the night had turned out. But I was happy I hadn’t done anything I would be ashamed of. Neither had I done anything I was proud of. I was glad I didn’t spend more money than I had planned to spend. And I was certain I wouldn’t be doing this again. Dance bars in Bangalore – they are lame!