U comin’? No? No sweat, bro.

The just opened

Def. Col. Social (in Defence Colony) tries very hard to recreate the magic of Hauz Khas Social. Will it work? By Nishiraj A. BaruahDefCol Social_4

There is a Culture Manager who looks straight out of the Bee Gees Staying Alive era. Their chef looks like a gangsta, hip-hopa-a artist-a, complete with hairless sides and a stud, just out of an American prison minus the orange jumpsuit. And oh, just a while ago, he took off his chef’s jacket to change into a denim shirt in full public view – niceties be damned. The waiters (is that the right descriptor?), mostly bearded, look like artists without a canvas, rebels without a cause, heavy metal head-bangers without enough walls to peel the paint off (most of them have been banged off already).

They are the drifters, the dreamers who suddenly wake up to the real world, remember that there is a job to be done, a table to be served, music to be played, a dish to be whipped up. And oh, those retro touches, also seen in Hauz Khas Social, Church Street Social (in Bangalore), Colaba Social (in Mumbai), are very much in place: Faux-horn-rimmed glasses on noses; and maharaja moustaches in attention above sealed lips.

And the décor? The Social Offline trademark of “minimal intervention and maximum up-cycling” continues. Stripped down, industrial warehouse, quirky, deconstructed, world war vintage – these words describe it well. Hauz Khas Social had been rocking, and exactly nine months later, it delivers its newest child: Def. Col. Social (Defence Colony) in South Delhi.

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Of course, it’s the same workspace-meets-café-meets-bar concept here, the same bare-brick walls; cracking plaster; peeling paints; black, fat, rotund electrical switches that so reminds me of my Dibrugarh house built in the 70s; heavy metal chains dangling purposelessly from ceiling corners – quiet but imposing like club entrance bouncers; torn pages from Indrajal comics for wallpaper; a truck tire placed like a table waiting for an identity (I am not a table, nor a show piece, what am I?); spring bar chairs; hanging staircases; recycled and up-cycled furniture; and so on. Social Def Col. is Convict stuff, hardcore and macho. Only that, it is trying too hard to be that. A clean-shaven chikna-chocolate boy trying to be menacing by sprouting a beard. Has-been actor Jas Arora in a ‘then’ and ‘now’ mode. “It costs India a lot to keep Gandhi poor” I remember the wisecrack, as I walk up the under-lit steps of this ghetto house.

This isn’t to say that I don’t like what they have been doing. Hauz Khas Social has become iconic, but it has the advantage of a great location – the party hub in Hauz Khas Village, where the atmosphere is electric right from the beginning of the long lane, culminating in the various pubs and bars. Social there has taken full advantage of it. The Def Col market, on the other hand, built in the 60s, and known for its ‘imported delicacies and cold cuts’, and home to Moets, Swagath and Kents, has been sleepy for a while.

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However, small, thoughtful details within the Def. Col. Social (in Defence Colony) make a big difference: The plug sockets are dangled with a retraceable/elastic chord down to table tops so that it becomes easier for laptoppers and iPadders (who use this place to work by day) to plug in.

The menu is printed on recycled newsprint. Food is simple and unpretentious. And these come in with an element of the unexpected: No ceramics, fine China here. My biryani came in a metal plate often used to serve dogs and jailbirds. Government hospital patients and world war soldiers used these type of mugs and plates, all white with blue border, decades ago. Drink comes in jam bottles. And tea, if you want one, in aluminum chaiwalla kettle, with Chai written on it.

I have no complains about the music too – experimental electronica. So don’t expect ‘char bottle vodka’s and Kudi Tu Butter. The large smoker’s lounge, incidentally, becomes the biggest draw, where a broken window (and not an electric chimney), serves as the smoke outlet.
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The two floors are meant, as we are told, for creative entrepreneurs, professionals, freelancers, writers, designers, techies, and consultants. A reformed jailbird will be equally at home here. And who knows the next controversial documentary might just be the result of a meeting of the jailbird and a ‘creative entrepreneur’.

That’s exactly what Riyaaz Amlani, CEO & MD, Impresario Handmade Restaurants, has sought out to do. He succeeds.


Hours: 10 am to 1 am

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Address: 28A, Defence Colony Market, New Delhi – 110024

Number: +91 7838520799, 011 46588445

Nishiraj A. Baruah

Former Executive Editor of Air India's in-flight magazine and Harper's Bazaar Bride. Lifestyle journalist, travel writer and blogger who collects knives and plays the drums.

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