What separates an icon from an also run?
My childhood spent in New Delhi of yore had very few entertaining diversions, the most sought after being visit to Connaught Place or CP as it was called. It was planned in advance and would involve almost everything- an outing, snacking, lunching, movie watching and shopping! But everything was so fixed. First Dosa, idli and vada at Madras Hotel, then softy at Standard, movie at one of either Regal, Rivoli, Plaza or Odeon, a bottle of flavoured milk at Keventers, pop corn at Empire Stores, buying cake for home from Wengers, pair of shoes from Bata and then returning home fully refreshed and satisfied. One thing common amongst all the names above was their iconic status. Madras Hotel was amongst the pioneers to introduce South Indian food to Delhiites and till its closure in early 2000s, it served consistently delicious tasty South Indian stuff. The bus terminus now known as Shivaji Park was in fact known as Madras Hotel, such was the status of this great icon. Standard has closed and so has Regal, which boasted of a very fine restaurant inside the theatre lobby that served delicious snacks. Odeon, Rivoli and Plaza have since become multiplexes (Plaza ran Sholay for more than 75 weeks). Keventers and Wengers still exist, though how many people especially go there to savour their stuff is anybody’s guess! Bata shops are there all over and hardly anyone wears Bata shoes these days ( I have myself graduated to Hush Puppies; luckily this brand is sold by Bata outlets so the continuity remains) .
The above is true for all major and old cities and I intend to pen about the icons of Mumbai and Kolkata, my current and past cities of abode respectively! Today we see new outlets coming up by dime and dozen, but they disappear at a rate faster than speed of light! I think consistency of quality, value for money, hygiene, family atmosphere, personal touch of the owners etc saw the above icons survive for decades if not a century, till market dynamics became unbearably adverse. I hope Wengers survive to cater to the taste buds of one more generation and Bata keeps on reinventing itself! Let’s hope that Nahoum’s, Badshah Roll, Srileather, Amber – all of Kolkata and Leopold’s, Ramashetty, Madras Cafe, Purnima, Amarsons, Roopkala, Kala Niketan, Cafe Britannia, Regal, Eros- all in Mumbai survive to live another day and add to their iconic status!