Are pubs the new culture hubs?

Red Leaf The Band playing at The Blueberry pub, Norwich 2
Intellectual discourse, avant garde art, evening music performances — pubs are slowly maturing into cultural exchange zones with youngsters looking for more than just an alcohol high. Stand-up acts, photo exhibitions, live music (that is experimental and not just Billy Joel-Piano Man type), art installations, plays, all mix well with alcohol it seems, contrary to what the right brigade will have us believe. Sabrina Price, a karaoke singer from Bengaluru, says, “Pubs are definitely becoming a place for cultural activities — they’ve got music, board games and performing artistes coming in.” Barriers are broken in more than one way, she says as, “In a pub, unlike a coffee shop, I could enjoy the show and also have a drink without having to be prim and proper as is required in typical culture spaces.” Bharatanatyam danseuse Anita Ratnam says, “This is similar to the legendary White Dog café in Philadelphia, where authors, stand-up comedians and campaigning politicians shared time and a platform to speak their mind. Gen-Y today is congregating at social centres where they meet and greet, have some food and drink, and can indulge in an eye-catching performance or art.” Does it place the artiste, who caters to a typical culturally vested crowd, in a tight spot? “Art like mine is not compatible with these new venues, but it is time for inventive, adaptable and creative artistes to recognise this valuable audience base and build appropriate culture capsules to catch their attention. The lines between high art and popular art are also blurring. It is all about eyeballs and how we can catch them,” says Anita. Ajay Krishnan, a theatre artiste who staged a series of plays in restaurants and pubs across Bengaluru recently, says, “Coffee shops haven’t lost their charm but are now a setting for people of a different generation.” In Chennai, too, the historical “sabha” culture is slowly changing. Book reading sessions and art walks are gaining popularity. At the Park’s New Fest curated by Prakriti Foundation, Ranvir Shah, the curator, showcased poetry entwined with music and dance. These capsules are all about culture meeting casual comfort. The ambience lends itself to being informal and inclusive, says Narendran Subramani-am, a drummer. “Unlike at sabhas or big auditoriums, people needn’t dress in pure silk saris or drip jasmine flowers in their hair to prove their appreciation of culture. True lovers of music and art can revel in it in a casual setting. This takes away the elitism in appreciation.” Deepali Narula, CEO, F Bar and Lounge, New Delhi, says, “There is a change in the mindsets of people now and more people are opening up to the idea of trying out various places in the city. When we started this place, our main focus was nightlife but we also encouraged the creative crowd to come in and showcase their talent. From photo-exhibitions to book launches and art exhibitions, a lot of cultural events happen here. In fact, we started the concept of a ‘celebrity’ in focus, where we have people showcasing their artworks, sculptures, fashion-related installations etc. These events witness an eclectic crowd.” In Kolkata, the scene is fast changing with chai addas turning into slick tea lounges and hookah bars, frequented by an intellectual gathering of poets, writers, musicians and painters. Dotting Kolkata’s Park Street stretch are pubs like Bar-b-q, Roxy, Someplace Else, Aqua, Shisha, et al. From live-band gigs to music album launches, movie promos, stand-up comedies and talk shows, the pubs have them all on their events list. “The Roxy bar at the Park hotel hosts comic acts and skits where reputed artistes like Neville Shah come in to enthrall audiences. And yes, book releases also happen quite a lot in pubs,” says ace stand-up comedian and screenwriter Anuvab Pal. Today’s exuberant lounge bars are designed elegantly, eye-catching through their infusion of warm, contemporary design and engineered interiors with easy flowing space. While singers like Bappi Lahiri and Babul Supriyo have entertained at Tantra on Park Street, new-age comedians like Vir Das and Cyrus Broacha frequent places like Incognito. Author Amit Chaudhuri, apart from unveiling his literary titles, has also unwrapped his electro-classical CDs and performed from playlists live at the scintillating Someplace Else in Kolkata. In recent times, the HHI pub has featured names like the Sufi rockband Wagah Road, Japanese guitarist-crooner Mc Chon, stand-up comedian Sorabh Pant, ambient acoustic band Ashmaan, singer-duo Mistie & Flavian, acoustic duo Crystal Glass, et al. Gathering together all the elements essential for a pleasant evening out, pubs today welcome the young crowd that can hold their drink and conversation well. It remains to be seen if pubs can take over from traditional cultural spaces that firmly hold a certain sensibility and sanctity, but they reaffirm the belief that art can be for everybody. Source: Deccan ChronicleImage:

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