Mumbai is hectic financial capital by day, but at night it's all about fun, delirious mayhem, and a good dollop of managed mischief -- it's most definitely a city that never sleeps, with some of its defining adventures happening after sunset. The best way to figure out what's going on in the city is to pick up a copy of Time Out Mumbai, the twice-monthly magazine that has the most comprehensive Mumbai listings, including the lowdown on the best bars and clubs and a choice selection of all kinds of entertainment events. "The Hot List" supplement in the daily tabloid Mid Day also carries extensive listings of live music events, stage productions, and film screenings. The Times of India features an extensive "Bombay Times" section that lists and advertises cultural activities, entertainment happenings, and movies.
Theatre & Live Music
Mumbai has numerous performance spaces, including its premier National Centre for the Performing Arts (Nariman Point; tel. 022/2283-3737; www.ncpamumbai.com). The NCPA houses several stages, including the city's "first opera theater," Jamshed Bhabha Theatre, which saw its first operatic production in 2003. English dramas and lavish musical concerts are held in the Tata Theatre; the aptly named Little Theatre features work of a more intimate scale. For offbeat drama, student work, and small-scale music and dance, the black-box Experimental Theatre, with its audience proximity, is the place to go.
Both Indian and Western theater and music performances are staged in the main auditorium of Nehru Centre (E. Moses Rd., near Mahalaxmi Race Course, Worli; tel. 022/2493-2667). There's also a smaller stage for experimental work.
Not far from Juhu Beach is Mumbai's best-loved venue for serious entertainment -- Prithvi Theatre (Janki-Kutir, Juhu-Church Rd.; tel. 022/2614-9546; www.prithvitheatre.org). Owned by Bollywood's founding family, the Kapoors, Prithvi has a small, intimate performance space with great acoustics, and the aisles and steps are often crammed with enthusiasts. India's top productions are staged here during an annual drama festival (Nov-Dec), and the garden café outside is popular with the city's culturati. Over the first weekend of every month (except June-Sept), free play readings and other performances are held in the gardens at Horniman Circle in the Fort area; contact Prithvi for details.
Definitely the top venue in the city for live music, the brilliant Blue Frog (Todi & Co., Mathuradas Mill Compound, Senapati Bapat Marg, Lower Parel; tel. 022/4033-2300) also has our vote as one of the most excellent nights out in Mumbai, if not the country. It's also considered Mumbai's dreamiest-looking nighttime venue, with eye-catching design that imaginatively synthesizes contemporary and old-world styles. Check the newspaper entertainment listings or visit the website (www.bluefrog.co.in) to find out what's showing -- but even if there's nothing on the lineup that blows your hair back, it'd be worth your while to stop by for a few hours just to soak up the sensational atmosphere, admire the acoustics, find yourself dazzled by the lighting, and watch Mumbai's social set at its most playful and unhinged. Blue Frog is open daily from 7pm, and there's a Rs 300 cover charge.
On a more prosaic level, and something of a leftover from another era, is Not Just Jazz By the Bay (143 Marine Dr.; tel. 022/2285-1876). With live acts churning out rock, blues and country (and, jazz, too) from Wednesday to Saturday, it's not a place of cultural innovation, but you may get a kick out of the studenty karaoke sessions held Sunday through Tuesday.
Bars, Lounges & Other Watering Holes
Fortunately, there's more to Mumbai's sophisticated social scene than the beer-quaffing tourist scene at Leopold Café, where the majority of the faces you see turn out to be foreigners (or Bollywood agents looking to co-opt foreigners as background scenery for their latest movies). By all means stop by Leopold's, which has become even more legendary since it featured so heavily in David Gregory Roberts' Shantaram, but please don't assume this to be a place that's in any way synonymous with modern-day Mumbai. The city, as you'd imagine, has a great deal more to offer.
South Mumbai -- Wink (tel. 022/6665-0808) is the classy, ravishingly handsome watering hole at the Taj President in Nariman Point. What was once the more staid and serious (and single-mindedly business-oriented) Library Bar, Wink has become known as a seriously spunky gathering point for playful socializing, complete with cool beats from a former club land DJ, and a special range of drinks -- the "winktinis" are reason enough to spend a couple of hours here. If the high-energy excitement around the main bar gets too much, you can sink into plush sofas in the lower-octane adjoining lounge where state-of-the-art sound cushioning means you don't have to leave the premises to engage in normal conversation. They even do a selection of detox cocktails, such as the unique and yummy "ancient cure."
Also gorgeously designed and aiming to attract a similar crowd, is Valhalla (tel. 022/6735-3535; www.valhalla.co.in), a sexy new all-day business lounge and nighttime tapas bar in the Eros Theatre Building in Churchgate. The subtly-marked entrance is around the left hand side of the Eros front entrance; head upstairs and the hostess will lead you into a vast room presided over by a hand-carved throne upholstered in pink -- try one of their yaquitinis (a fresh grape martini) and sample the albondigas (meatballs) as you tap your toes to chilled DJ-spun electronic tracks. If your holy grail is a chic, exclusive lounge bar, nothing beats Opium Den at the Trident Nariman Point (tel. 022/6632-6320), which attracts well-heeled 30-something locals, expats, and hotel guests. Not far away, Geoffrey's (tel. 022/2285-1212) is the cozy bar (with overdone English-pub decor) at the Hotel Marine Plaza; it's often packed with an after-office crowd.
But for an unabashed übertrendy night out, there's nothing to touch Indigo (4 Mandlik Rd.; tel. 022/6636-8999 or -8983), still considered Colaba's hippest joint, and the place to see and be seen; low tables with flickering candles light up the who's who of Mumbai as they sip expensive wines and decadent cocktails against a ravishingly sexy backdrop of glamour and social voyeurism. At Indigo, you'll need to dress the part or end up feeling like the punch line in a cruel joke. However, there's a lot less air-kissing and pretense at next door Busaba (tel. 022/2204-3779), where by all accounts you'll be served better-mixed cocktails (superb fig mojitos, by the way) at prices less likely to attract a second mortgage.
Also geared for a trendy night out, but this time packaged together with one of the finest views in the city -- on the top floor of the InterContinental Marine Drive -- is Dome (tel. 022/3987-9999), an open-air, candlelit venue that's conceived to take full advantage of both the night sky and the glittering Queen's Necklace. With the dark blue horizon just beyond the terrace's glass railing and a star-studded sky above, Dome commands perhaps the best vista in the city. Sink into the inviting off-white sofas and overstuffed armchairs that surround scented candles and order a Caipiroska or a Mojito, or even a Long Island Iced Tea. You need to get here before sunset (it's open from 5:30pm), though, to best experience one of the city's defining moments. The Japanese food is unexceptional (and pricey), but there are few more appropriate places from which to watch the sun dip behind the horizon. Once you're done with views, or the weather's bad, you could try Czar, also at the InterContinental, which is the city's only vodka bar. Sporting baroque chandeliers and a chic neo-Society feel, it's a sophisticated (overtly bling) place to lose a few hours -- there's a DJ on Saturdays, when you pay Rs 1,000 (per person or per couple) to get in, and occasionally even a bit of impromptu dancing.
Finally, if you really are in the mood for a more traditional/laid-back/old-fashioned night out, Mumbai has hundreds of places where you can nurse your beer, accompanied by just about any ambience you care to imagine. Of course, the oldest official bar in the city -- with a license to prove it -- is Harbour Bar (tel. 022/6665-3366) at the Taj Mahal Palace. A decent enough place for a quiet drink, the view of the Gateway of India is probably its best feature. Up the road from Leopold's, another Colaba institution is the cheerfully old school Café Mondegar (near the Regal Cinema; tel. 022/2202-0591), "Mondy's" to regulars, where you're as likely to rub shoulders with local punters as thirsty tourists. Under the gaze of caricatures by Mario Miranda, you'll soon find yourself slipping back to the '70s and '80s, aided by the decidedly Western jukebox selection. Nearby is the Sports Bar Express (tel. 022/6639-6681), perfect for beer-quaffers who can get a 1 1/2-liter pitcher of beer for around Rs 300; you can also play pool or shoot hoops.
Central Mumbai, Bandra & Juhu -- Many Mumbaikers will tell you that to find the city's most happening nightlife you need to head north. If you're serious about socializing, we recommend you throw caution (and your budget) to the wind, and make a beeline to the impeccably beautiful (perhaps slightly over-the-top) Shiro (Bombay Dyeing Mills Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli; tel. 022/2438-3008), which, in design, pays tribute to the Far East, drawing a jet-setting clientele. With flickering candles and edgy lighting, boldly colored walls, high ceilings, and a plethora of Buddha statues making no effort to curb expenditure or hedonism, this place gets the balance between opulence and good taste just right. And, boy, do they mix a mean cocktail -- for a price, of course. If Shiro proves too overwhelmingly Zen-tastic, you could always pop in the nearby Hard Rock Café (tel. 022/2438-2888), which is extremely popular with a broad cross-section of Mumbaikers who usually help create an atmosphere that's quite distinct from your Hard Rock back home.
While Shiro only opens at night, another highly recommended Worli establishment -- this time a laid-back, no frills, all-day wine bar -- is Ivy (Indage House, Annie Besant Rd.; tel. 022/6654-7939). It's salubrious and welcoming, and you needn't fuss too much about what you wear; neither will you need to contact your bank manager before visiting -- a glass of wine starts at under Rs 50. Ivy kicks off at 11am.
If you're looking to stand cheek by jowl with the city's most beautiful men and women, then make sure you set aside at least one night for drinks and mischief at Bandra's superhip Olive Bar & Kitchen (Pali Hill Tourist Hotel, 14 Union Park, Khar [West]; tel. 022/2605-8228), where the acknowledged pastime seems to be distinguishing the models from the celebrities. Also in Bandra, Seijo and the Soul Dish (second floor, Krystal, Waterfield Rd.; tel. 022/2640-5555) has a trendy New York look (which is increasingly ubiquitous throughout urban India) with Japanese touches, regular live music and bartenders who know their business.
Farther north, Vie Lounge & Deck (102 Juhu Tara Rd.; tel. 022/2660-3003; www.vie.co.in)-perched at the edge of Juhu Beach -- is a shimmering venue with an open-air lounge overlooking the Arabian Sea. Come here for the sea breeze and laid-back ambience. It's the perfect place for a wind-down martini after a long day, or -- if you prefer to get wound up before an exhilarating night on the town -- take advantage of their 4 to 7pm happy hour. Also in Juhu, and unquestionably the best reason to travel this far north after dark, is Aurus (Nichani Kutir, Juhu Tara Rd.; tel. 020/6710-6666), a sublime venue affording sensational views of the sea, kissed by twinkling lights. Aurus isn't all that easy to spot from the road, so make sure your cab driver or chauffer knows where it is before you head off, or you'll waste time searching. Aurus only opens at 8:30pm, so you may want to start at Vie and then make your way here once the sun sinks.
If you disapprove of the swing towards social trendiness, don't panic -- the suburbs have their share of old school haunts as well. If you miss the intimacy of your hometown local, head out towards Haji Ali and stop in at The Ghetto (30B Bhulabhai Desai Rd., Breach Candy; tel. 022/2353-8418), a small, popular, and totally unpretentious hangout near the Mahalaxmi Temple. While it's no dive, the place in some respects lives up to its name -- a slightly dingy entrance, graffiti on the walls, and a complete lack of dress code -- which is probably why the regulars (collegians and after-workers rub shoulders with graying hippies, all of whom still salute Bob Marley and Jim Morrison) are so uncompromisingly devoted to this place. That, and the fact that the music remains strictly "rock 'n' reggae" (there's a band from time to time, too; entry free). You can even dance if you want to. For a similar vibe -- and a more varied, sometimes hard-core soundtrack -- in Bandra, consider paying tribute to the ever-popular Toto's Garage (30 Lourdes Heaven, Pali Junction; tel. 022/2600-5494), where the main attraction, apart from the music, is the shell of a car hanging from the ceiling over patrons' heads.
Mumbai is considered the most accepting and cosmopolitan of India's cities, with openly gay Bollywood and TV stars, and plenty of socially connected people with armloads of gay friends. Much of that has to do with the fact that, as a big, bustling city on the move, Mumbai has always been less fussy about the private lives of its citizens -- and it's only the gossip columns that waste too much time speculating about who's sleeping with whom. Still, the public gay scene is a remarkably small one, restricted to weekly club nights, private gatherings, and a few organizations furthering the human rights cause. There are no dedicated gay clubs or bars (not officially anyway), and most gay circles tend towards private get-togethers; with homosexuality unbanned as recently as mid-2009, there hasn't before been much scope to transform the scene into anything substantial -- and there are still enough people here living in the shadow of strict family traditions and religious piety (at least in public). Now that India is finally out of the closet, and homosexuality no longer outlawed, there's likely to be a bit more of a scene happening in Mumbai. For the time being, there are only a small handful of places where you can expect any regular gay parties. In Colaba, Voodoo (Arthur Bunder Rd., off Colaba Causeway; tel. 020/2284-1959) has a weekly gay night on Saturdays (Rs 250), but it's terribly seedy, far too cramped, and frequented by many of the wrong kinds of people, not to mention prostitutes. Then again, some find this sort of sleaze works just fine (but keep well away from the toilets). A much better option is to check out what's been lined up by the city's two main LGBT organizations. Salvation Star (www.salvationstar.com) is the more interesting (and fresher) group that caters to a discernibly with-it crowd and ensures a steady supply of up-to-date beats spun at parties held in a regular club venue. Gaybombay (www.gaybombay.org) has been around for long enough to have established a fairly loyal following; the parties are quite well subscribed, and music treads a fine balance between decent Bollywood tracks and pure cheese. Still, that's what draws the crowds, and both gay men and lesbians do show up, so put on your saffron-colored tutu and your dancing shoes and go join them. A warning, though: Don't fall for scamsters who make a trade out of hustling gay men and then threatening to expose or blackmail them.
While you could spend your entire stay in Mumbai partying in a different club each night and recovering the following day in your hotel room -- this is one Indian city that loves to party -- be aware that the nightclub scene is not concentrated on a single street, and most clubs close earlier than in the West. Mumbai's partying has also been tempered by the government's early closing rule. Although Western music is popular and has the buff and the gorgeous strutting their stuff every night of the week, Mumbaikars (thankfully) have a deep passion for contemporary Hindi songs as well, and it's not unusual to spot young studs demonstrating the choreographed rhythms of MTV India's latest Bollywood video, much to the delight of their female companions. There are literally dozens of nightspots in the city, the most attractive (as far as decor goes) being in the five-star hotels. The nightclub scene has largely shifted to the suburbs of Bandra and Juhu, so much so that even affluent South Mumbaikars who wouldn't normally venture to the 'burbs make a beeline for the happening clubs there. For the most up-to-date news on what's hot and what's not, get a copy of Time Out and talk to your concierge, because the nightclub scene changes rapidly. In particular, check whether the club recommended to you is popular with underage kids, as some clubs are, in which case you'd better avoid them.
Before You Queue in Club Land -- Club entry fees differ depending on the night, and prices are typically per (heterosexual) couple; you'll usually get the price of admission back in coupons that can be exchanged for overpriced drinks at the bar. Many nightclubs charge extra for males entering alone, while most don't allow "stag" entry at all, though foreigners may sometimes sidestep this rule (and your concierge -- if you're staying at the right kind of establishment -- should be able to arrange a seamless passage through the front door). Closing times vary each night; there are "official" (currently 1:30am) and unofficial hours -- which essentially means that clubs may stay open later than the time stipulated by law. The popularity of a club is sustained only if it can keep the cops out and stay open into the wee hours of the morning (five-star clubs can remain open until 3am, since they are inside private hotels). If you're traveling on a budget, you may want to take a page out of a hard-partying Mumbaikar's book and tank up at one of the city's watering holes before heading to a nightclub, where drink prices are usually exorbitant. In general, fun-loving locals hit more than one nightclub/bar/lounge per evening throughout this island city; if you hook up with a group, you may want to join them -- although you should be extremely wary of getting in a car driven by someone who is drinking.
And finally, if it's well past midnight and you're hungry, there are a couple of popular late-night feeding grounds in South Mumbai, both of which are real institutions among the party crowd. Zaffran (B Block, Sitaram Bldg., Dr. D.N. Rd., near Crawford Market; tel. 022/2344-2690) has good Indian food (the murgh zaffrani tikka is delicious) and service going till 4am. A real late-night Mumbai institution in Colaba is Bade Miya's (Tulloch St., Apollo Bunder; tel. 022/2284-8038; daily 7pm-4am), a down-to-earth hangout for anyone looking to satisfy a hunger; there are kebabs, and naan stuffed with egg and minced chicken or lamb (forget about what that sounds like -- try it!), and very spicy chicken livers -- cooked on an open grill and served in slightly shoddy surrounds (bear in mind that you're here for the food, nothing else).