Polished white facade, wide pavements, uncluttered archways, giant billboards on shop windows and the giant Tricolour languorously fluttering in the breeze in Central Park – Connaught Place is ready to reclaim its place in the cityscape.
A string of top-end restaurants and pubs-which so far stayed focused on south Delhi hubs – will soon be opening outlets here.
Monkey Bar, the popular gastropub, will be welcoming patrons at its P block outlet next week. Manu Chandra, executive chef and partner at Monkey Bar, says CP is set to bounce back. “We had decided to open a branch in CP some two years ago. It was undergoing renovation but our gut feeling was that in two years we will be at the right place and at the right time,” says Chandra, who counts CP’s central location and connectivity via Delhi Metro as its ticket to popularity .
A few blocks away, the Plaza building is getting ready to house Tonino, a decade-old Italian fine dining restaurant on the Mehrauli Gurgaon road. “CP is getting back to its past glory,” says owner Parmeet Sawhney, who will be opening Tonino on September 8. He is all praise for New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) for building a unique utility tunnel (1.2km) under Middle Circle for essentials like transformers, electric and communication cables, water supply and irrigation pipes, sewerage and drainage pipes. “With these eyesores removed, the whole area is looking clean and uncluttered,” says Sawhney .
Ashish Ahuja, director of Pebble Street, adds that Connaught Place is the only market space in Delhi that allows people to walk around without worrying about being run over. He too will be opening a branch of his multi-cuisine restaurant in N block, next month. Zizo, a Mediterranean restaurant, Town House Cafe and Quote bar and lounge are three other recent entrants in the area.
Till last year, traders here were struggling to keep their businesses going here. CP had been almost pulled apart for renovation in the years leading up to Commonwealth Games in 2010. The roads dug up, the connecting lanes blocked and heavy machinery strewn around–it was a depressing sight.
Even loyalists had started avoiding the area. Shoppers and party goers had shifted their loyalty to Khan Market, Hauz Khas Village and Meherchand Market.
The steady decline in footfall led to the closing of some shops and restaurants, and sharp dip in rentals. Restaurateur Priyank Sukhija, who plans to set up two new eateries here this year, says he had to shut down one of his cafes due to lack of business. “Those were terrible years,” agrees Kabir Advani, the owner of Berco’s, a popular Chinese eatery set up in 1982. “We lost a lot of customers and many business houses in the vicinity went downhill.” But after many missed deadlines-and the breached budget allocation of Rs 76 crore-the heart of Delhi is ready to beat again. The Rs 600-crore renovation is finally starting to pay off. Starbucks was the first to bet on Delhi-it opened its first Delhi outlet here a year ago.
NDMC is making an effort to create a cultural hub in CP. Earlier this year in March, the market’s Georgian windows were decorated with huge black and white and colour photographs as part of Fete de la Photo, an exhibition partnered by the French embassy and NDMC.
Works of photographers like Raghu Rai and Pablo Bartholomew were put up at Central Park for aam janta to appreciate and enjoy. NDMC has also been hosting a series of concerts, exhibitions and events here.
In July, the market hosted the Raahgiri initiative that turned Inner Circle into a car-free zone on select Sunday mornings. Close to 4,000 citizens turned up to savour CP like never before. Children skated around circle, even as others participated in zumba sessions, grafiti writing or played football. “Because of Raahgiri we are considering offering a Sunday brunch,” says Advani.
Connaught Place is still not the dream plaza authorities want it to be. Its archways are home to many homeless even today. And parking is, at all times, a nightmare.
Traders now want civic agencies to focus on cleanliness and sanitation-the betel stains are back on CP’s white-washed walls. The renovated pillars are being used by hawkers to display their goods and the corridors are being encroached as well. Traders here want the area to be declared hawker-free. The fires at A block and the Embassy restaurant at D block have just added to their woes.
But there is no denying that the infrastructure has improved remarkably. “With its distinct mix of heritage, culture and connectivity, it will give stiff competition to other trendy market areas,” says Ahuja. As a student at the nearby St Columba’s he used to hang out at what he calls the “institutions” of Connaught Place – Nirula’s, Wenger’s and Keventer’s.
These landmarks continue to thrive but newer entrants will make the party merrier. “Around 80 food joints are already functioning in the area. About 40 have been given permission in the last one year alone,” says Atul Bhargav, president of New Delhi Traders Association. “We’ll also have Wi-Fi connectivity and CCTV coverage within a few weeks’ time,” he adds.
Akash Kalra, owner of United Coffee House, says Inner Circle will become a hub offering clubbing experiences and world cuisine. “And the first and second floors of these blocks offer stunning views of the Central Park which adds to the magic of the place – something that Khan Market lacks,” says Kalra, adding that lower rentals is another reason why restaurateurs are choosing CP (Rs 403 per sq ft) over Khan Market (Rs 1,250 per sq ft).