The High Spirits Cafe, Pune is (and will always be) one of the most significant places in my life. This Saturday, the fourth of July 2015 marks its ten year anniversary. Co-founded in 2005 by Khodu Irani, it quickly became more than just a place to grab drinks over a game of pool with friends.
A renovated bungalow on an old family plot, High’s walls are adorned with unique and unusual abstract art – also, a lot of Bob Marley. The newly renovated interiors have a more modern-industrial look, with all of the original charm intact. A canopy of trees overhead form a natural roof against the blazing Poona heat.
For me personally, it was the only place I could be my awkward self – a safe oasis, tucked away from the hustle and bustle. It was also my entire life (read: workplace) for three years – doing everything from dog-sitting to waiting on tables, handling the front desk and sometimes behind the bar, co-managing the events, soundcheck, gigs and artiste management, public relations, assisting, organising, cleaning, and just overall BEING High Spirits. I learned so much more than I can ever repay, and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat!
A pioneer in the Indian Indie/Underground music world over the past decade, High Spirits has helped create a subculture which is now known as ‘the scene’ in Poona and largely, the country. Before we had music festivals springing up on our doorstep, before the invasion of EDM-pumping clubs, before being ‘hipster’ was even a thing, High was throwing the most insane theme parties and launching artistes that soon became some of the country’s biggest names. Anyone who’s ever attended a High Halloween (because why should Americans have all the fun?), Art Attack, Pyjama Party/Pillowfight, Desi High, Full Moon Party or a High Cookoutknows what I’m talking about.
I still remember the first time High hosted a stand-up comedy gig – people didn’t get it, but it took off and now even I’m lucky if I get place to stand on such nights! From garage-phase bands to highly acclaimed international acts and Grammy nominees – gigs at High just have a different vibe, something electric you can feel all the way from the soles of your feet to the hairs on your scalp. Hosting slam poetry readings, flea markets, movie screenings, photography exhibitions, art shows, dog parties (yes, you read that right), fashion shows, baraoke, crazy Christmas parties and even their very own High Idol (like the popular version, only with alcohol) – there’s always something interesting happening, six days a week.
Even among the numerous artistes I was lucky enough to work with, High was known for having the best audience – always receptive to new music and very open minded. This was largely due to the personal effort put in by Khodu himself, the only proprietor I’ve known to personally engage with almost each and every one of High’s customers, in turn cultivating an extremely loyal and large following of ‘High Homies’.
Of course, this wasn’t without much complaining and threats from those who were turned away (always for a good reason). I can speak for myself and most of the women I know who frequent High, when I say that one of the major reasons we ever started going there regularly was also because of the strict gate policy – no stags. I know this pissed off a lot of people, I myself have had numerous abuses hurled at me during my tenure at the front desk, but this was all for the general purpose of crowd control. And like it or not, it worked. High never had reports of gropey men (if ever, they were escorted out immediately) or bar fights ever happening, because there was always a fair ratio of men to women, and it was an overall safe environment.
If you’re a High regular, then you’re already buddies (or trying really hard to be) with the front desk peeps and the bartenders. Thiru is the King of Cocktails, with Gautam, Sudha and Siddhu close behind. Arvind is the gatekeeper to the inside bar, Immu, Rizwan and Amol watch over the entrance and floor security. Mallu, Francis, Satish and Patole are among those responsible for seeing that your cars are safely parked and delivered back to you. There’s Nitesh – who you can always spot, because he walks on his toes; Arjun, the resident DJ (don’t annoy him on a Tuesday, ever); and a smattering of new faces (to me) working the various jobs that entail running a place like High Spirits. Mikey is your go-to resident musician, always the amiable host for baraoke or High Idol. Zal isn’t officially staff, but you can find him on a Thursday, hosting the High Housie and cracking some ridiculous jokes.
Please remember that everyone from the watchman at the gate, to the bar-backs behind the bar – has a meaningful place at High, with a story to tell.
If I haven’t already given you enough reasons to make your way to High Spirits, check their Facebook,Twitterand Instagram to stay updated with all the latest live gigs, comedy nights, and weekly events. After all, if Chris Martin can do a random gig in a bar in Delhi, there’s no knowing what might happen at a place like High!
P.S. Whiskey lovers – try the Jack’s Love or Toddy Martini. Rum fanatics, go for the Flavoured Mojitos. Vodka peeps, the Moscow Mule and High’s award-winning signature Twisted cocktail is worth it. For munchies, try the Crispy Potatoes, Nachos, Pizzas and Philly Cheese Steak Sandwich (which is sadly, not on the menu at the moment).