- Anand Puri
The Story of the Black Knight Bar
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
I moved back to Kolkata in May 2019 after a spell of 13 years away. Brushing off all the minuses that came on whispered wings, I started looking for the plusses.
I found hidden Pice Hotels with fabulous Bengali food; urban legends of Galstaun, of Flury, of Cliff Richards; grand synagogues and fire temples; hidden Chinese breakfasts behind tanneries; a budding arts scene; passionate food fanatics; and spades of history.
It’s the discovering of secrets that makes a city special… Kolkata has many. You just have to listen for the stories… like the story of the Black Knight Bar.
In the early 1970s, a bar called 007 opened below The Park Hotel. It had “damn cheap booze” to counter the price-reliable Olypub a few doors down. Not to be outdone, Puri and Joshua of Trincas decided to pitch an idea to Mohan-Meakin, the makers of Old Monk and (at the time) a whiskey called Black Knight. They envisioned creating an inexpensive bar based on the theme of a knight dressed in black armour, a nod to the popular brand, if the liquor company was willing to sponsor a part of the renovations.
The old laundry room and a part of the Trincas bakery were carved out to accommodate the new bar and the creative genius of an architect called Steve Jordan was employed.
The bar (which stands even today) was built as a medieval English hideout, replete with bumpy cave walls, painted rafters, dim lighting and crested iron shields set amongst old lances and spears. This hideaway bar was, and still is – fabulously fanciful!
Sudarshan Benegal, brother of filmmaker Shyam Benegal was entrusted with creating the artwork of a knight in jet-black armour, helmet et al, on a huge canvas. The grand painting hung for years on a dark red wall behind a heavy wrought-iron chandelier that held flickering candles. One would walk off Park Street, along the side of Trincas (towards where Apeejay House now is), and encounter a sturdy wood-and-iron door on the right. This was the entrance to the Black Knight. As the story goes, the sponsorship deal fell through, but the bar was already being built. Instead of calling it Black Knight as originally intended, it was re-christened the Tavern.
As with any still-standing old-Calcutta bar worth it’s salt, the Tavern had it’s heyday and it’s downturns.
These days you might walk in to find a group of in-the-know executives, art-folk, or the members of a band crowded around plates of food – succulent pork ribs, hot chicken drumsticks, crispy vegetable spring roll… sipping beers, catching up and appreciating a slice of vintage Calcutta-evolved, where hot (yes, heated!) namkeen is served with every drink, and the familiar waiters know your order before you’ve quite made up your own mind.
--- The Tavern is an old-Calcutta bar and restaurant – it’s fanciful, not fancy; opens daily at 5:30 PM; serves great Indian, Chinese and Continental food, and Old Monk Rum priced at a princely INR 60 these days.
Come with friends for the coziness, the vibes of another era, and to find a peaceful spot in the hustle of Park Street. Click here to see pictures of Tavern as it stands today.
—- The Trincas Timeline Project is an exciting community-based memory project aimed at collecting stories, photos, and anecdotes going back 80 years.
It aims to cover not just Trincas’ storied history, but also provide glimpses of ‘the Park Street Scene’ and Calcutta/Kolkata as it has evolved over the last (almost!) century.
The project focuses on history, culture, music and food by connecting with patrons, musicians, celebrities and historians.
Anecdotes, photos and interviews are converted into short blog posts documenting the personal connections that so many Calcuttans past and present have with this iconic institution.
The goal is to collect a living history of sorts under one virtual roof and create a cultural treasure-house for present and future generations.
Since this is an effort to reconstruct the past all Calcutta residents, fans and diaspora (now spread across the globe) are welcome to contribute memories, photographs and facts. We would love to hear from you!