By Sourish Bhattacharyya
WHEN Harry's Bar opened at Boat Quay in Singapore in 1993, named presumably after the Venetian watering hole immortalised by Ernest Hemingway, or the ones in London and New York, the island-nation didn't have much of a nightlife to write home about. This little hangout by the Singapore river, opened by an American expat named Jim Gelpi, brought live music, cool vibes and the culture of the after-office tipple to Singapore, and it soon became the favourite of punters of all nationalities making and breaking fortunes in the neighbouring financial district.
One of them was Nick Leeson, the derivatives trader who made world history by single-handedly bringing down Barings Bank racking up losses of over $1 billion in 1995. A colourful character who had been turned out of the Singapore Cricket Club because of a racist slur, Leeson loved the drink that is now famous as the Bank Breaker -- one part each of whisky and the melon liqueur Midori and two parts of soda water. When Leeson stepped out of prison in Singapore in 1999, the patrons of Harry's got free beer for two hours and the waiting staff wore T-shirts that said: "Leeson Learns His Lesson".
There was another regular too -- he came to the bar five evenings a week. He was Mohan Mulani, a Singaporean Sindhi who had returned from America after getting a Bachelor's degree in Political Science and History from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), and spending a year as a management trainee at IBM. He was working for his family business, whose office was nearby, and he fell in love with the place. So much in love, that he invested in the place after overcoming Gelpi's initial reluctance. Within a year, the original shareholders had a falling out, so Mulani just bought them out.
Harry's Bar has been around for 20 years and
is one of
Singapore's acknowledged icons. Expanding to 26 outlets (plus five associated
restaurants and a 22-room boutique hotel) under Mulani's leadership, Harry's
Bar is a Singaporean success story with its own premium lager and a vast fan
following. In its early years, it survived the collapse of Transco Holdings,
the textiles and investments company Mulani had set up with his father on his
return from America, after the South-East Asian economies went into a tailspin
in 1997. A heart-broken Mulani had then left for San Francisco to start a new
life, but he returned to his home country after 9/11, unable to stand the
atmosphere of fear and loathing in America, and did not look back after he
opened the second Harry's Bar in 2003.
|The original Harry's Bar at Boat Quay, Singapore,|
was opened by an American in 1993
And now, Harry's Bar, after a successful launch at Powai in Mumbai, has opened at the Select Citywalk in Saket, New Delhi, next to Spaghetti Kitchen on the second floor. Mulani continues to be the Executive Chairman of Harry's Holdings, but his and his wife's stake in the company has been picked up by Everstone Capital, an investment firm started by two former Goldman Sachs executives, both Indian. Everstone has substantial investments in the restaurant sector in India and the Indian foray of Harry's Bar clearly is the result of the interest the investment firm has in this market.
With the opening of Harry's Bar, whose cocktails have been designed for the local market by the acclaimed mixologist, Shatbhi Basu, the Select Citywalk second floor has grown into a gourmet zone, with old favourite Spaghetti Kitchen, the classy vegetarian restaurant Sattvik, the ever-popular Mamagoto and the revitalised Punjab Grill, which now has a brilliant new menu designed by yet another Manish Mehrotra acolyte, Gurdeep Singh (you'll read more about it soon).