This Party King Wants to Own Your Weekends
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because Delhi, like London, New York City or Hong Kong, is home to some of the world’s poshest parties.
By Sanjena Sathian
Traffic is starting to clog the road leading to South Delhi’s favored bar and restaurant district, Hauz Khas Village. In a dingy strip mall, Summer House Café is bumping with electronic beats. It’s Thursday night, and people are ordering their first, then third beers, when a bouncy French girl comes up to the owner of the joint to show off her T-shirt slogan: Je suis le party!
It’s an honor that proprietor Ricky Teja, 32, seems willing to cede to this regular patron, though not so long ago, Teja would have been the one most deserving of it. But now the former DJ has gone behind the scenes to orchestrate many of the capital’s finest fêtes, letting others have the fun. Teja’s Summer House is a well-known must-stop on any posh Delhi partyer’s beat; his latest venture, Bandstand, a bar and music venue right next door to Summer House, is only on the rosters of those in the know. Teja himself can be found mentioned here and there in the society pages, alongside actors and the city’s oligarch-rich.
Teja is hoping to expand the Summer House brand outside Delhi, to Mumbai and the college town of Pune, following a well-trod path established by two of the most successful Indian hospitality impresarios, Riyaaz Amlani and Manu Chandra, in an attempt to build an empire all his own. That endeavor will require slowly taking over the strip mall that is home to Summer House and Bandstand and turning it into a Saturday-night arcade — an Indian-fusion place is in the works — which just might give Teja a veritable monopoly on any hip Delhite’s weekend plans.
Summer House, named after the summer home of Teja’s Scandinavian girlfriend, is as Western as it sounds, complete with wood-paneled seating, white cabins and cozy booths reminiscent of American beachside towns. There’s also a themed bar with a yellow van covered in Indian monuments that’s run by Absolut (only Absolut vodka is served out of the van) — one sign of Teja’s business acumen, copped from van bars popular in Southeast Asia. Though he looks like a party guy — handsome, bearded, wearing a white T-shirt that reveals a few of his 13 tattoos — Teja is all about work, and he’s using the relationships he established during the decade-plus spent in the hospitality business to strike deals like the Absolut sponsorship.
Delhi, like New York or London, is a fiendishly difficult place to run a restaurant. The country’s food world is booming — a 2013 report by the National Restaurant Association of India predicted the market would hit some $61 billion by 2018 — but navigating regulations, permits, spiraling rents and constant competition can be grueling. Teja, it would seem, has three solutions. First: Hire women. “Girls are more mature,” he says, fondly. “Guys get carried away.”
I had to grow this beard, otherwise I look like a kid.
Second, make yourself a brand by playing the experiential card, like Amlani or the Hard Rock Café. Teja’s specialty? Music, music, music. No Bollywood jams, he says, and certainly no commercial EDM. His joints are for those who like “real” electronic and techno sounds — namely the millennials tuned into India’s expanding experimental music and festival scene. Third, and most important, tap into the varied interests of the country’s upscale 20- and 30-somethings. “Summer House has really found different niches to explore,” says beverage writer and consultant Karina Aggarwal, pointing to the salsa, comedy and karaoke nights the venue hosts. Aggarwal doesn’t think Summer House’s food is top-notch, but because it’s all about the atmosphere, “they don’t really have to make it a priority,” she says.
“I had to grow this beard, otherwise I look like a kid,” Teja tells me. His résumé, though, certainly doesn’t look like a kid’s. Summer House may be his first venture as sole owner, but he’s been a partner in several others, including the burger spot Fork You down the road (Teja has since sold it), and he was involved in PR, customer relations and management — virtually everything but owning the joint — at a bar in nearby Saket. Teja says his real education, though, came from years spent DJing for spare change while in college.
Teja’s first job, at Wipro, had him providing technical support to U.K.-based customers. He decided to quit after two months; when his manager tried to persuade him to stay, the top bosses looked Teja up in the system to find he hadn’t been to work for 25 days. “ ‘Dude, you can’t quit, you’re fired,’ ” he recalls being told. Esther Lalrinzuali, Summer House’s culture manager, says she respects Teja because he didn’t inherit the scene but has worked for it.
It’s not easy to keep reliable staff in the nightlife business, Lalrinzuali points out. But as the night rolls on and some of Teja’s team gather around a table — pizza slices and beers in hand — it becomes clear why they stay: Here we are, in the bar where everybody knows their names.