New Year’s Eve at the Famous Tote Bar

Rejuvenated and Reinvigorated … with a Touch of Network Prive

New Years Eve at the Tote Bar in Mumbai!  Those in the know will be there, and so should you be, dear reader.  I will explain why, if you let me backtrack to a night several weeks ago: 11:52pm. After finishing dinner with a few friends and having no inclination to call it a night, I zoom down to the Tote Bar; I have been informed that some major socialites and Bollywood celebs will appear there tonight. We pull up to the Tote Bar valet in a spanking new Jaguar XF (I love Aston Martins even more, but the chicks sitting in the back seat just love the Jag) and then head towards the bar.  We near the door and it gets darker; the thumping music of the house is ramming down our ears as we enter the party!!!  We all make a grand entry, the chicks start dancing, my friend and I are looking at each other thinking, ok cool, this is going to be a fantastic night. The 40 foot long bar is all dark chocolate wood and is brimming with energy and activity; expert bartenders are juggling varied and sundry alcohol bottles while doing their ultimate to give their customers full satisfaction.

The Tote Bar, situated amongst a lush canopy of rain trees and against the backdrop of historic buildings and Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course, is the creation of Chris Lee and Kapil Gupta of Serie Architects and was voted the World’s Best Designed Bar in 2010.  It has been rejuvenated and reinvigorated with special changes, including just one entry/exit (earlier there were two) to the suspended mezzanine, which has been artfully illuminated with subdued light ; this mezzanine is exclusively for the affluent select, catering to invited and approved VIPs with personal butlers. The Tote Bar is definitely a club, but it is also a heritage property, which, with its distinctive and creative interiors and high ceilings, blends the ambience of a castle with its sense of party.

Malini Akerkar, co-founder, with her husband Rahul, of deGustibus Hospitality, Tote’s parent company, says the changes at Tote should considerably enhance the pleasures of Mumbai’s barflies, who, on a busy night, which is every night, no longer need to feel as crammed as they would be at an Andheri local (bar).  The ground floor has been modified to accommodate twice as many people (300), so one can now dance and drink with full abandon.

In order to reconnect with the party people of Mumbai and create the most happening bar to have parties and just hang out, the management of deGustibus roped in Network Privé. Network Privé, under the aegis of Mickhiel Pinto, Akash Sheth and Mehul Patel, will manage the Tote Bar for the next 18 months, working to create the ultimate night club/lounge brand by attracting both new and old customers through events such as specialized dinners with malt/wine tastings, launch events, and festival-themed parties.

This is the first time that deGustibus has hired a third party to manage one of its properties. “Running a bar requires a totally different approach from operating a restaurant,” says Malini Akerkar. “We had many ideas for the Tote Bar when we started out, but it requires a different skill set and a lot of energy. Rahul and I are more used to handling a bar within a restaurant, and I have to admit that we needed help with this.” In December 2010, Network Privé organized a New Year’s Eve party at the Tote Bar, which was attended by about 1,500 people. “They managed to get in an excellent mix of people for that party and we believe that they will be able to drive the right crowd to the bar,” said Akerkar.

To bring in that “right kind of crowd,” Network Privé plans to host two music concerts during the week, DJ nights on weekends and by-invite-only theme parties on occasions such as Halloween and Christmas.  (This New Year’s Eve, 2011, a big bash is planned, as I mentioned earlier, so one had better catch a plane for Mumbai now!) Shaan Bhavnani, a popular DJ who worked at Aer at the Four Seasons Hotel, will help program the music. You can now expect to hear retro, R&B and house music on weekdays, and all-out commercial sets on weekends, including (shock!) some Bollywood music. The Akerkars have also tweaked the bar menu: snacks will now include both vegetarian and non-vegetarian kebabs from the kitchen at Neel at Tote on the Turf.

A good bar features a strong, appealing interior and can somehow create a feeling of exhilaration — an anticipation of experiences and pleasures to be had; these two criteria have been more than met by the designers of the Tote Bar. 
All who enter the club appreciate that the most spectacular and innovative aspect regarding its design is the presence of the opulent triangular and trapezoidal panels of dark wood which form the jagged planes covering its walls and ceiling and create a truly  kaleidoscopic, mind-boggling effect. The original small, square windows through which bets were placed have been retained.

Strategic spot lighting has been added around the bar, engendering both a dazzling and dizzying effect. The music played follows both local and global trends, focusing on mainstream international and electronic works, with a blend of retro, R & B, and Bollywood – indeed, something to please everyone.

The high expanse ceilings keep the place feeling light and airy, and the abundance and variety of alcohol available and the ever-present aura of excitement allow even the most stubborn snob drinker to get his poison and dance out his dreams.

Still, the Tote Bar affords a number of intimate corners and niches for romantic tête-à-têtes, while colored spotlights of blue and purple flash on the frenzied. 

The Tote Bar does attract the über-cool and moneyed crowd from around the world, and is a great place to strike a pose, but it is also a great place to meet your business colleagues, friends, or loved ones, since it is perhaps the last bastion of bars at which  to hang.  With its ultra-luxurious settings and sensory excitements of enchanting music and thrilling cocktails, the Tote Bar just seems to transport its guests into a nether world of nightlife permeated by a ubiquitous influence of joie de vivre.

After a visit to the Tote Bar, I can only offer the above paean and express an effusive thank you for its reopening.

One simply cannot visit Mumbai without visiting the Tote on the Turf.  It is located at the Mahalaxmi Race Course, opposite Gates 5 & 6, Keshva Rao Khadye Marg, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai 400 034, India; PHONE: +91 22 6157 7777.  Hours for the club are 6pm onwards, daily.

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