Finding a cafe that suits your personality is a little bit of an identity thing. And it’s been interesting to note the refreshingly ravenous risk appetite of cafe owners in recent times. Rather than sticking to comfortable culinary trends like Indo-Chinese-Punjabi joints or yet another mediocre Italian eatery, we’ve spoken a fair bit about how culinary culture in urban India is evolving fast, but there’s even more good news on the cafe front.
People are paying more and more attention to the conceptualisation and themes of their cafes, developing philosophies and ideas that they want their spaces to stand for and then creating decor, menus and additional facilities to further cement their concepts as well. Including but not limited to a ‘Seva Cafe,’ where sharing is caring and the concept of paying for what you eat in the traditional sense is null and void, to a stunningly designed Bicycle Cafe (for all cycling enthusiasts) we took a little trip around India to find the best concept cafes around the country. Pick the one closest to you and pay it visit. If it’s on this list, you won’t regret it.
[These cafes are not presented in any order of preference, and are only collated alphabetically.]
1. Biker’s Cafe NH-22
…a highway shack for bikers.
Where: NH-1, close to Haryana.
Situated about 5 km away from Ambala Cantonment towards the North, this cafe was specially designed to make the journey for bikers as smooth as possible. The owner, a biker himself, having understood the discomforts faced while riding to long distances, started this venture that would provide them a place to relax, fill their stomachs, and buy gears and accessories for the bikes.
HG Loves: We’re no bikers ourselves, but a shack away from the hustle-bustle of the world does make us want to buy a Royal Enfield and set out on the road to Leh!
2. Cafe STORY
…a cafe-cum-art space & library
Where: Elgin Road, Kolkata
Café STORY was born out of a collaboration between Primarc and Penguin India, in order create a space where people could have access to over 3000 titles. Within the library, there is a cafe that is being managed by the Chai Break that offers a wide variety of food such as salads, pasta, risottos, sandwiches, tea, coffee, soda and more. They even provide stationery items–writing pads, pens, sketch pads, pencils, easels, brushes and paints– that allows frequenters to scribble down ideas and work on their art pieces.
HG Loves: You can spend your whole day here doing completely different things right from reading and snacking, to painting. When you get tired of indulging in all of the ‘relaxing activities’ yon offer, you can charge your mind with some of the board games that they provide.
…a community culture cafe, bar and grill
Where: Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru
Chavadi is a place that was started because the owners felt the need to bring the community that was dying a slow death at the hands of technology, alive with the help of interactions, debates and the numerous small activities that kept society alive for decades. Chavadi is a community culture cafe that serves amazing dishes with a side of art, culture and new zest for life. They open up their space as a venue for workshops, events and debates.
They have also worked out their space in such a way that there’s something engaging going on in every corner. There’s their ‘Wall of Consent and Dissent’ where all the latest controversies from around the world are discussed and debated; their ‘Community Art Wall,’ which showcases artworks by amateur artists; ’Story Wall,’ which is simply criss-cross patterns of threads with a story that had been started on by the owners and is being continued by the customers; and ‘The Yellow Wall,’ which runs live twitter feeds from their guests. If you are walking in alone, they have a small collection of books that you could borrow/ buy to keep you company. If you’re looking for some space to work, you’ll find that here too. And of course, our favourite is their ‘Wall Of Gifting Joy.’ where you can gift the next person coming in, with a potted plant.
HG Loves: While everyone else is working towards digitising the world, here is a place that is intent on saving life as we knew it.
4. Ciclo Cafe
…India’s first ever ‘cycling cafe.’
If we’re honest, this is the cafe that sparked our interest in hunting for more uniquely conceptualised cafes in the first place. A first of its kind for India, Cycling cafes are all the rage in Western parts of the world, especially Europe, given the population’s strong penchant for cycling but considering the culture (there are a fair few recreational cycling clubs) is still very nascent in Chennai, it’s particularly exciting to find such a quaint and beautiful cafe over here.
With decor fashioned from bicycle parts, an opportunity for cyclists to get their ‘vehicles’ washed while they sup on coffees or snack and plenty of reading material on cycling culture, this cafe heralds the entrance of Tamil Nadu’s state capital into a new age of experimentation.
HG Loves: That this cafe has the potential to inspire a more environmentally conscious population and encourage more people to take up cycling.
4. Floating Restaurant
…snack while you float on the Veli lagoon
Where: Veli Village, Trivandrum (Kerala)
Located about 10 km away from Trivandrum city in Veli village is a quaint and scenic spot that is sandwiched between the Veli lagoon and the Arabian Sea. Connected to the beach by a floating bridge, is a two-storied floating restaurant that is being managed by the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC). They have a limited menu mostly including snacks that are priced at extremely reasonable rates. However, more than the food, it is the view from here that is more likely to blow your mind away!
HG Loves: There is a lot to do around the Veli village like boating and horse riding, after which you can sit in the restaurant and just watch the sunset while sipping a hot cup of coffee.
…where you can draw on your table, and play with your food and drinks!
Where: Khar/ Todi Mills/ Powai, Mumbai
Located in Bengaluru, Pune and Mumbai, Hoppipola is a place where you can drink and satisfy the child in you, all at the same time. With tables that are actually chalkboards (where you can doodle away to your heart’s content) and drinks priced at extremely affordable rates, you are bound to keep returning to this place for a good time during your weekends. If you need an adrenaline rush to truly complete your day, they even hold chuggathons and beer pong competitions regularly. You can also sit back, sip on some chilled beer, and play a game of Uno, Connect 4, Taboo or Jenga with you friends.
Hg Loves: Their adorable, playful and colourful settings and the “hoppi” vibe that just surrounds you from the minute you enter. And of course, JENGA!!!
6. Leaping Windows
…India’s first comic books and graphic novels library-cum-cafe.
Where: Andheri, Mumbai
What started out as an online comic books library turned into a place that can satisfy both foodies and book lovers when the three partners Utsa Shome, Bidisha Basu and Prathamesh Mickey Shenoy found a perfect split-level building in Yari Road. Inspired by Japanese manga cafes, this is the perfect place for graphic novel aficionados to bury themselves in graphics while sipping a cup of coffee.. The trio uses most of the money they earn from the business to add to their comic collection, making sure they always have something new for their frequenters.
HG Loves: The combination of one of their chickenator sandwiches with a nice shake along with a great comic book is unbeatable.
7. Mrs. Magpie
…a world of imagination filled with cupcakes and baked goodies.
Where: Lake Terrace Road, Kolkata
Do you remember dreaming of brightly coloured rooms filled with cute knick-knacks where all the tastiest cakes would be baked and served to you? With Mrs. Magpie, your Enid Blyton-esque dream has officially come true. This is a place where you can escape into a world of fantasy while you nibble on their exquisitely detailed cakes and other savouries.
HG Loves: Their adorable doll’s house like settings and that their food is extremely kind to our pockets and tummy.
…coffee, books and a good time, all at once.
Where: Baner, Pune
A small but cosy place that serves as both a mini-library and cafe, Padgandi was started up by a couple so that they could offer a quaint space for people to simply unqind. The cafe is set with chairs and comfortable mattresses where you can just sit and read or even play board games for as long as you want. Sip their hot chocolate with marshmallows or bite into their gooey brownies as you explore the world your favourite authors take you through. They even host live acoustic jams, storytelling circles and open mic, amongst other events regularly, making it something of a regular haunt for the independent artist community.
HG Loves: That you can listen to live music (when they do host jams) while you curl up with your book and a mug of hot chocolate. What every bibliophile’s dreams are made of, basically.
9. Rainforest Restaurant
…An amazon-themed restaurant in the heart of Chennai? Yes please.
Where: Adyar, Chennai
Ever wanted to eat in the middle of the Amazon jungle? Well, if you can’t take a trip all the way to Brazil for it, don’t feel too bad. You just have to take a trip to Chennai, fast becoming the concept cafe capital of the country, and have a meal at the Rainforest restaurant, India’s (self-proclaimed) first themed restaurant. Designed in a way to give you the closest possible experience of being in a jungle, the restaurant is complete with waterfall, mist animatronic robots of animals and insects that will surround you as you devour their food.
HG Loves: We hear that their biryani is to die for. Also, the experience of eating Indian (they serve Chinese and Continental as well) in the middle of a forest, might just be that weird experience you always wanted but never knew you could have.
…eco-friendly stay/cafe/art space, which is perfect for environmentalists in need of a vacation.
Where: Sangolda, Goa
When you find yourself feeling sick about the numerous high-rise building and vehicles that are emanating smoke and dirt all around you, take a break from city life and head over to Goa. However, this time round, don’t go straight for the 5-star hotel with a pool experience or the my-friends-got-a-place-like-nobody-else one either. Instead, embrace the life Saraya has to offer you and get a whole new Goa flavour your palate hasn’t experienced just yet. Constructed using local materials like mud and bambo,o making special efforts to incorporate as much nature as possible, this place will take you back to the old way of life. All the food in the cafe is made using greens from their organic kitchen garden. Plus They organise events like yoga, meditation, art exhibitions, live music, to name a few, to keep you occupied and intrigued.
HG Loves: Their ‘Go Green’ campaign, which has been conceptualised beautifully. It allows guests to engage in community-based interactions while still being amidst nature and tucking into fresh home-cooked meals.
11. Seva Cafe
…where you don’t have to pay for what you eat.
Where: Ahmedabad, Gujarat
Seva Cafe is a place like no other with its quaint, open-air setting that allows you to enjoy the starry night as you dine here. However, this is not what sets this place apart. The people here have worked towards literally actualising the idea of ‘sharing is caring’. All their meals are cooked and served to you by volunteers for free as they are a ‘gift’ to you by the previous visitor.
There are no price tags against any of their food items either. At the end of your meal, they will serve you with a colourful envelope where you can donate as you please, thereby continuing this circle. Their menu features five vegetarian items, which undergo a change every day. They also offer North Indian and Continental cuisines ranging from Chole Bhatura and Paneer Tikka, to Gujarati food and chaat. Apart from all this humanitarian feeding work, they also house a small collection of books that you can read while you are there and they also open their space as a gallery for upcoming artists to showcase their work.
HG Loves: Their one-of-kind sharing policy that allows all of its customers to share in the love.
…A co-working space that’s perfect for work, play, delicious meals, and everything in between.
Where: Colaba/Lower Parel, Mumbai
After storming up a success in Delhi and Bengaluru, Social decided to make its mark in Mumbai as well towards the end of 2014. Targeted at freelancers and creative heads, this chain cafe provides a place that is conducive to work and allows you to escape the monotony of sitting in your cubicle. By paying just INR.5,OOO as your membership fees that can be redeemed through food and drinks. Along with all this, they even provide ample space and high-speed WiFi to ensure that your work isn’t met with any unnecessary interruptions. Considering it has outlets all over the country, any of which are worthy of a spot on this compilation, we narrowed our favourite down to Mumbai’s Mill Area Social, for its impeccable interiors and incredible energy.
HG Loves: Well, how can you not love a place that makes working fun even while serving the best macaroni and cheese with jalapenos in town?
13. Taste of Darkness
…where you don’t see your food, you taste it.
‘Dialogue in the dark’ is a unique tripartite experiential tour that includes an exhibition tour, a meal and some workshops, which was started in order to educate the public about the condition of the differently-abled in India. ‘Taste of Darkness’ allows its visitors to dine in complete darkness by serving their visitors a surprise four-course dinner–vegetarian or non-vegetarian, depending on the customer’s preference. The waiters here are visually-impaired and have been trained by the National Association of the Blind (NAB) to not just take orders and serve the customers but also guide them in and out of the restaurant.
Hg Loves: Instead of just holding talks and meetings, they make you experience what it would be like if you were visually-challenged by making the visitors partake in simple activities, in complete darkness.
15. The Hive
…a cultural hub of sorts
Where: Khar, Mumbai
A cafe-studio-collaboration space that hopes to promote amateur artists by providing them a platform. An informal space with a recording studio, performance area and co-working offices that allows freelancers and startups to work, and even maybe sit in for one of the many workshops and events they host ranging from open mic stand-up comedy acts to slam poetry competitions.
Hg Loves: If you are someone who won’t get distracted by really cool shows, their cafe is a great place to just chill and finish up whatever work that you have been stuck with all week.
16. The Yoga House
...a yoga centre/health store/macrobiotic cafe.
Where: Bandra, Mumbai
The idea started with two yoga enthusiasts, Maud Chuffart, Lamya Arsiwala, and Achal Mehra with the aim of providing its members a better understanding of their body and mind. Throw in a yoga studio, health store and macrobiotic cafe into the mix and you get what fitness enthusiast Mumbaikars know as The Yoga House. It is the perfect place to be for all health conscious people, who wish to keep body, mind & soul at peace, all at once.
HG Loves: They offer not just a healthier life but an aura of calm and peace–A respite we all need from time to time.
17.Tihar Food Court
…homely food cooked for you by criminals, with love
Where: Tihar Jail, Delhi
The Tihar food court is a rehabilitation effort that was started up by South-Asia’s largest prison complex, the Tihar jail, that houses over 13,000 inmates. Made up of a small staff of seven convicts and a constable manager, the vegetarian restaurant is still awaiting approval from government officials to formally launch itself. Since the restaurant doesn’t have a fully functional kitchen yet, most of the food they serve now is from the prison canteen, that is also run by convicts. In order to be eligible to work in the food court, the inmate has to have an unblemished record through at least 12 years of imprisonment and a minimum of a high school education.
HG Loves: The social context. Life after prison is hard enough due to various reasons, including having to re-enter mainstream society with the label of ‘criminal’ hanging over your head. This venture is yet another program aimed at making the prisoners ready for the outside world by equipping them with experience and increasing the possibilities of a better life.
Words: Krupa Joseph
[Have we missed out on a space/ cafe that deserves a mention on this list? Let us know in the comments section below and we'll be happy to add it if it fits the bill.]