Ashutosh Phatak Gives Us a Tour of The Quarter

2 years ago

The idea was to have one quaint jazz club, except it mushroomed into four splashy new digs designed by Abha Narain Lambah, all within the Royal Opera House and the umbrella of The Quarter. We meet Ashutosh Phatak, one fourth of this quarter formed by Nakul Toshniwal, Nico Goghavala and Rajit Barot, to get a look-see.

“Less than a year ago, Nakul was chasing me to start a jazz club. blueFROG had just shut down, and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do this all over again. I get very invested in these things – it’s like getting a new dog,” Phatak says. But the vacuum got to him. There wasn’t a place quite like it; where he could feel at home; a place with music at the heart of it. “It was the same reason we started blueFROG all that long ago.” Though he’s clear, nothing can replace the blueFROG. We’re not doing any EDM, which was also an essential part of the blueFROG experience. We’re focusing on the “live” aspect, on blues, on jazz and on world music, because at this point there are a lot of clubs doing electronic anyway.

At another party they met Goghavala, who shared his plans to start a jazz club at the Opera House and they joined hands. “We hadn’t even realised there was a space like this. There was nothing here except a broken-down canteen – we had to imagine it all,” he says. Only four months ago it hit them, they have a playground unlike any other – India’s only surviving opera house. “We have this whole opera house! We need to do something big with this. We need to help promote it.”

The Quarter at the Opera House

Every two weeks, The Quarter plans to host artists in residence with whom they will collaborate to stage shows. “That’s the key difference between us and other venues, we’re not just curating, we’re creating. We’re not just booking bands, we’re creating shows,” Phatak adds. The first of many were alt-pop duo Parekh & Singh, they were joined on the opera house stage by a string section arranged by Barot, The Quarter’s artistic director.

Any venue can book an artist, but The Quarter hopes to infuse some of their sensibility into the music. “Whenever you experience something here, chances are it’s never going to happen again, because we’re creating for that moment, for that time – it becomes a very valuable experience. Everything we’re doing has got our DNA in it without trying to take away from the artist,” Phatak explains. The residency spans two days, and features two shows split between the grand opera house and the intimate jazz club, but the run up to it could be months-long.

Live at The Quarter

This ’50s-style art deco jazz bar seats up to 80 and intends to be intimate. The lights are low, save for a few along the walls and the floor, and the spotlight is firmly on the music. The calendar is filling up and you can expect performances every night. There are one-night-only sets by the best live acts from around India and around the globe, tributes to jazz legends, and masterclasses to come back for.

Keep an eye out for the monthly festivals (starting with the World Music Festival, which will be followed by an Indie Week) which will see stars such as Jose Manuel and John McLaughlin play both, the iconic Royal Opera House and Live at The Quarter. “You can catch the Grammy-winning band Tinariwen there and Sounds of Cuba [starring the faculty of True School of Music] here; Manuel there and Sounds of Brazil here,” Phatak explains. Fuel up on cocktails and bar snacks, because dinner will only be served outdoors when the restaurant opens.

Dine at The Quarter

“We always imagined the outside area as a greenhouse of sorts,” says Phatak of the alfresco restaurant, which is a couple of weeks away from its launch, and already one of the most buzzed-about new restaurants in Mumbai.

It promises an unusual Louisiana Creole cuisine-inspired menu, conceptualised by Goghavala. Plus, it ticks all the right boxes: Locally sourced ingredients? Check. The greens, herbs and edible flowers can all be traced back to its in-house vertical garden! Signature cocktails? Check. And date-night-worthy ambience? Check!

Café at The Quarter

Seeing as how the cosy little café is nestled within the opera house, it had to match its charm. It’s flooded with natural light from the bay windows, and dotted with shabby-chic, rustic chairs and marble tables.

Nurse single-estate coffees, dig into artisanal sandwiches, seasonal salads and their house-made pasta. We also like the sound of bacon jam, tomatoes done three ways, and romaine lettuce on rye sourdough.

Oh, but don’t expect to order in from the adjacent restaurant. “We’ve designed separate menus. It’s almost like four different outlets. We want this to feel like a destination,” Phatak informs. “Often when people come together in large groups they want to do different things. I hope it will make some business sense!”

Drink at The Quarter

A quick flight of stairs separates the café from the wine bar. Chandeliers, shimmering scented tea lights, beveled mirrors – in a nutshell, it’s grand.

“Nico’s done a mozzarella-based menu here. Why mozzarella? Because it comes from water buffalo milk, so India should be a good place to find it; he’s sourcing it from all over the country,” Phatak adds.

Start with the grilled peach, buratta, caramelised onions, balsamic salad. Wash it down with one of their apertifs or seek to pair it with a glass off their stellar wine list.