New Delhi

Hauz Khas: Delhi’s coolest breath of fresh air

The 13th century monuments of Hauz Khas Village now share their south Delhi neighbourhood with a very 21st century assortment of everything artisan, handcrafted and chilled out. By CATHY ADAMS

Friday nights on the rooftop of the Summer House Café in Hauz Khas Village start the same way. First, the trickle of the after-work crowd ordering ice-cold Kingfishers before bunching together underneath the swinging filament bulbs and bare brick walls. Then the slickly dressed Indian Gen Ys start queuing up the stairs for post-dinner drinks.

Or at least I imagine they’d be drinking.

It’s Gandhi’s birthday today, and the taps are switched off. There’s no chance of a beer anywhere, judging by the scrawled ‘DRY DAY’ on sheets of A4 tacked over the wine fridge. If there’s one thing to blunt a warm evening on a rooftop, just above the tree line, with quixotic wisps of what is probably pollution washed across the dark sky, it’s the wine fridge being shut.

It doesn’t really matter. There’s a DJ playing out of the end of an Airstream trailer – of course there is – and the horseradish in my Virgin Mary is enough to give me some kind of buzz. Nobody else seems to care that they’re only drinking Diet Coke.

It was at the Summer House Café that Chris Martin from Coldplay turned up to last summer to play an impromptu gig. If this kind of thing were scientific, it’s evidence that a place has become A Thing.

Such is the case with the village of Hauz Khas in southern Delhi, a pocket of the city nobody ever thought would morph into an ‘urban village’ – or whatever dreadful term sociologists are lobbing at gentrified enclaves of cities that have recently opened a glut of higher-end restaurants and bars.

Hauz Khas Village
Credit: Abhishek Bali

In this case, it’s almost true. Hauz Khas is a literal breath of fresh air from the rest of Delhi – it’s pedestrianised, so rickshaws park themselves as close as possible to the entrance, jonesing for a fare as you leave – with polished tenement blocks, a young crowd and a laidback vibe. Come hang here, in the Williamsburg (the trendiest neighbourhood in Brooklyn, New York) of Asia, it says. We’ll show you a good time.

Local Delhites have been having a good time here for years already. Sheeba, a friend of mine, was hanging around the Summer House Café a decade ago when she was studying in the city. Back then the joint hadn’t heard of Chris Martin and the village hadn’t been abbreviated to HKV.

Locals come to HKV for another reason, too: to let their creative synapses snap together. Among the art shops crowding the alleyways of Hauz Khas is Art Konsult, a gallery specialising in contemporary Indian art that hosts several exhibitions each year; and Dag Modern, which has branches in Mumbai and New York, selling art of the same ilk. Low art is everywhere, too: graffiti artists regularly daub bright cartoonish art on the walls of the buildings of Hauz Khas and neighbouring Sharpur Jat. Artisans flog their wares at shops such as Nappa Dori, which sells leather goods including trunks, laptop cases and wallets; and Pajjama Party, which does a neat line in patterned casual trousers. In HKV, you wear them with heels and a crisp white shirt – not to bed, obviously.

Visitors such as this one come here just to have a good time, and to explore a side of Delhi nobody thought existed until recently. So here’s a millennial’s edit of a very millennial good time in Hauz Khas.

Huaz Khas Village
Credit: Abhishek Bali

Social Offline is a multilevel café/workspace/bar found down one of the village’s narrow backalleys. It does coffee and networking by day, live music and cocktails like Deconstructed Moscow Mule, Old Smoke and Screw Social Driver by night (I would recommend one, but the bar is dry, remember?). Plus there are rotating art exhibitions. Its oxymoronic name comes from trying to encourage the smartphone-using Indian youth that being sociable doesn’t always mean sending Snapchats or being plugged into Facebook for most of their waking hours (this came as a surprise to me, too). Instead I curl up on a wrought iron double bed on the rooftop at dusk, ordering a flaky vegetarian dosa and the Wi-Fi password. Ha!

At Elma’s Bakery, an extension of restaurant The Living Room, travelling musicians and singers come to perform on a tiny stage dotted with various bric-a-brac including pressed butterflies, a giant grandfather clock and antique wooden furniture. The vibe is cosy and the clientele cosier – some are squinched up together on a giant sofa. There are homemade cake and expensive coffees, even when it’s not a dry day.

You’ll find Mediterranean café culture at Coast, a white and greyscale room atop Ogaan, a boutique selling modern Indian fashion, at the beginning of the village. Here long lunches are encouraged, with friends lingering over huge bowls of Goan fish curry with fluffy appams, soft, light pancakes that come from southern India.

Every new hotspot has to come with the prerequisite green space for picnics, al fresco wine drinking and space to sweat off the fancy cocktails from the night before. Enter the Hauz Khas Complex. It’s the original HKV – before the city’s millennials moved in, the greenery surrounding the ancient mosque and nearby shaded Deer Park were the only draw to this part of south Delhi. Today, it’s full of people. Some in couples, some in groups, some carrying cups of takeaway coffee, all taking selfies.

And then there’s the Summer House Café, of course.

Is Hauz Khas the trendiest enclave in Asia? It could well be. Believe me – I’m sober enough to judge.

Where the Hipsters roam

Hang out in Asia’s other Williamsburgs

Potato Head Hong Kong

SAI YING PUN, HONG KONG 

Sheung Wan’s neighbour Sai Ying Pun has overtaken it in the cool stakes. Why? It’s where all the hottest bars and restaurants are. Including: Potato Head, an all-day bar/restaurant concept; and chef Nate Green’s Rhoda. Plus there’s the huge Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park for hungover sunbathing.

GULOU, BEIJING

The low-rise hutongs around the drum towers of Beijing hide some of the city’s trendiest spots – like the boutique Orchid Hotel and the Mai Bar serving imported whisky and posh cocktails. You’ll need the ultimate hipster accoutrements: the fixie bike and juggling balls. All yours at Natooke.

KEONG SAIK, SINGAPORE

Of course a former red light district would turn into Singapore’s Williamsburg. The low-rise art deco streets of Keong Saik, on the fringe of Chinatown, have ditched their seedy past to open restaurants like Indonesian Potato Head Folk, barbecue joint Burnt Ends and secretive bar The Library, where you whisper a password at the door to get in. So Williamsburg.

Cathay Pacific flies to Delhi from Hong Kong 14 times a week

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