Golden Voices at The Tavern
Raise your glasses of ale (or mocktails) up high, clink them against the hordes of overjoyed, red faces on your table, and now, swing them to the tune of the song belting out the voice of the amateur singing man enchanting the hall. Your understanding of the song’s lyrics, your tonal imperfections, or your capacity to hold your alcohol (or lack thereof) don’t matter. Just sing along to the chorus. For the present moment, nothing else matters.
Mussoorie and Landour have no shortage of restaurants, dhabas, cafes, or ‘world-renowned’ omelette-wallahs around every corner of the city, satisfying every culinary delight from the ubiquitous instant noodles (more Wai-Wai than Maggi now) to the superquitious momos, a dish so delightful and readily available in and around the Queen of the Hills that I had to invent a whole new adjective to describe it.
But The Tavern holds two distinct advantages over its competition: a) It has a licence to serve liquor, rare for restaurants on the Hillside and b) It invites amateur artists to enliven its customers with live music. The two advantages usually go hand in hand: with the alcohol making the music sound better and the music inspiring the listener to celebrate with a little more alcohol.
A boozy, musical night is a rite of passage for new Mussoorie residents and a necessary plan of re-celebrations for old ones. Over the years, The Tavern ‘stage’ – a tiny spot barely a few feet wide between the bar and more guest tables – has been the catalyst for more than a healthy share of memorable nights. Tavern singers have sung Bollywood, ghazals, qawalli, classic English rock, contemporary foreign pop hits, and songs about a lonely, sexually-ambiguous Inuit.
The recent history of the ‘golden voices’ behind The Tavern’s evening entertainment have been no less dramatic than some of the epic lyrics those singers have belted out from the stage. There was the sober, quiet family man who blended into every crowd until he unleashed his guitar and his singing voice which perfectly suited every romantic Bollywood number ever written. There was the young heartthrob who allegedly eloped with a nurse to make all his filmi dreams into a stark reality. There was the popular little singer whose voice so mesmerized a couple of drunk faujis from Dehradun that they almost violently held him back in hopes of an encore. Most of the singers have used their voice and a guitar strum alone to elevate the mood of the night, although the current regular at Tavern seems to be bringing his personal karaoke backing system to add a whole orchestra of sounds every time he breaks into one of the classics.
My favourite Tavern singers aren’t employed by Tavern at all, but are close friends (solo singers or members of ‘The Bootleg Browns’ who you can catch at The Big Gig every year) who take the stage – sometime reluctantly – to entertain the audience. Often, these friends need a little extra push to shed their initial hesitations, but fortunately, the Tavern’s barroom is well stocked to provide that ‘push’ whenever required.
So raise your glasses once more, sing, and celebrate with the golden voices at The Tavern. For the present moment, nothing else matters. Eventually, the music will surpass all, and even the undecipherable lyrics will become the soundtrack of the night well after dinner is over.