AM PM, the newly launched café bar in Kolkata is straight out of Baz Luhrmann’s sets of The Great Gatsby — an aesthetic that blends the colonial era club culture of Kolkata with a millennial approved zing.
A café during the day, the aroma of artisanal coffee runs amok as patrons trickle in. The space is divided into six arenas — The Legends is the space where bands perform, Paddock Club is an extended outdoor sitting area, Gully is a narrow inlet resembling the gallis or by lanes of Kolkata, Trophy Bar is the rose gold-toned bar, Powder room is the washroom and the smoking zone is a thoughtfully curated smoking room with a painting of Audrey Hepburn and a vintage shoe polish machine.
Rajan Sethi, co-owner of AM PM says that his idea was to ‘fuse Victorian aesthetics, local craftsmanship, and the enduring influence of British architecture and culture.’ “We did a recce of all the famed clubs of Kolkata and wanted to create a space that is easily accessible, doesn’t require the hassle of membership but also provides the environment of the old social clubs of Kolkata,” adds Rajan.
The cafe serves organic single-origin coffee sourced from the verdant valleys of North East India. As the sun sets, the coffee is supplanted by cocktails, and the space assumes a colour and countenance akin to the Blue Fox, Skyroom and Firpo’s era– iconic places, known for their glamorous ballrooms, cabaret singers, and European food in the Calcutta of the roaring 1920s.
The music, like the decor, is nostalgic: Bob Dylan’s ‘One More Cup Of Coffee For the Road’, The Beatles’ ‘Let it Be’ and Guns N Roses’ ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’ rocks the bar back and forth between the ageless old and the emerging new city.
It was a walk down memory lane to see celebrated veteran musician Nandan Bagchi perform. Many locals have grown up watching the musician play at various city clubs as well as the celebrated Jazz festival at Dalhousie Institute. Watching Bagchi perform long after the jazz bands have disbanded and the notes have left our ears, was a lot like watching the city write a letter to its former self.
From Wednesday to Sunday, evenings at the coffee bar brim with live music – a milieu of English jazz, rock, pop and blues performances. As the musicians play, cocktails are served, curated to represent the city’s historical and local contexts.
Top two in the cocktail menu at AM PM are Eden gardens and AMPM, an old-fashioned infused with nolen gur —liquid jaggery made from date palm extract. Eden gardens, named after the iconic 159 year old cricket stadium in Kolkata, is a generous splash of blue agave tequila, simmered with peppery notes imbibed from an oak barrel maturation. Tidied with green tea cordial and grapefruit flavours, the refreshing drink is ideal for washing out the rough edges of a tiring day.
The AMPM old fashioned brims with honeyed notes of the Aberfeldy 12 scotch whisky— stirred and completed with nolen gur, orange and angostura bitters. The drink emerges as a citrusy, full bodied and punchy beverage.
In contrast, the Italian summer cocktail is popular among patrons. A precursor to negroni and aperol spritz, the drink is given a modern touch by adding bright red berries and red campari. While the flavours seem to cancel each other out, the drink has a fruity freshness.
While swaying to live music, patrons have been taking to tapas and cocktails rather than an elaborate main course. The most popular appetisers include avocado chana chaat, yakitori chicken wings, Chengdu style lamb grill and — in a nod to the South — kothu parotta.
The menu also features Neopolitan style pizzas: try the experimental botti kebab pizza, water chestnut and bok choy. For dessert, the nolen gur cheesecake tops the list with its delicately sweet, jaggery imbued flavours.
Within hardly a few weeks of its opening, the cocktail and coffee experience has been drawing a throng of music and food lovers. If you missed the drama and glamour of Park Street in the 90s, AMPM, set in the more than a century old Park Centre, is a chance to get a glimpse of what used to be.
Cost for two with alcoholic beverages is ₹3,000. Open from 12 pm – midnight. AM PM is located at Park Centre, 24 Park Street, Kolkata, West Bengal 700071 For reservations call 097177 80492