Hotels on the Aerocity stretch near the NH-8 will also be affected by the order. Manoj Kumar Hotels on the Aerocity stretch near the NH-8 will also be affected by the order. Manoj Kumar
‘Alcohol not available, no happy hour’ read a board outside Twist restaurant in Gurgaon’s CyberHub, summarising — in a nutshell — the situation at all pubs, bars and microbreweries in the city after the Supreme Court banned the sale of alcohol within 500 metres of national and state highways to curb drunken driving.
For the first time since it opened in 2013, CyberHub — popular among young adults looking for a quick drink and grub — wore a deserted look on Saturday and Sunday as patrons headed deeper into Gurgaon in search of their weekend fix.
One of the first places to greet those who enter Gurgaon from Delhi, CyberHub has almost become a “symbol” of the ever-changing city.
Those who drop by include an eclectic mix — businessmen holding meetings over beer, IT professionals looking to unwind after a long day at work, women looking for a drink somewhere they feel safe, young lovers stealing a few hours together, and even families with children looking for a quick outing.
Not just residents of Gurgaon, even Delhiites who heard of the mushrooming bars and restaurants had started to make their way to CyberHub over weekends.
From April 1, though, it’s no longer business as usual at CyberHub or the other popular market in the vicinity — the one in Sector 29 — where sale of liquor has been prohibited in 20 outlets.
Except for Taj Vivanta, all five-star hotels in the city that fall within 500 metres of the highway have been hit by the ban. This could prove to be disruptive for corporates, who often opt for hotels for their annual “off-sites” or put up international clients there.
As close to 150 outlets — pubs, bars, restaurants, and upscale hotels — bear the brunt in Gurgaon, residents and owners told The Indian Express that the future of many establishments is in peril.
Many also wondered whether the Supreme Court order would, in fact, reduce road accidents in the country — as it is intended to.
Harsh Vinayak, who works in one of the hundreds of multinational companies that have come up in Gurgaon, said, “It seems like this has been done because we can’t enforce laws on drunk driving. Closure of liquor vends along the highway makes sense because it prevents people from stopping, buying a drink, and driving on. But to extend it to hotels and restaurants doesn’t make sense to me. People don’t take away alcohol from here… These places are frequented by families and young professionals; the move seems almost regressive.”
Another senior business executive working in Cyber City, who did not wish to be named, said, “Why 500 metres; why not 500 kilometres? The order undermines people by taking a decision for adult citizens, tourists, as well as responsible expatriates and corporates. Since the ban applies to hotels as well, it impacts the lodging of clients who come from outside. Despite all this, I doubt it will solve the problem at hand; people can find alcohol elsewhere and still engage in drunk-driving and cause road accidents.”
Younger employees said not only will the “profile” of the area go down, the move will also limit their options for “networking”. “Majority of people here look to CyberHub as a way for networking over a drink, and office goers will suffer if this rule is here to stay,” said Karan Seth, an analyst at a major international service company in Cyber City.
Many young adults also said CyberHub, which sees a daily footfall of over 25,000, had made a palpable change in the drinking culture in the city over the last three years.
Others said in a city that is notorious when it comes to law and order, CyberHub provided a relatively safer option as it has security checks at the entrance itself, which kept troublemakers at bay. Now, they said they would rather head to Delhi for a drink instead of going elsewhere in their city.
“This really limits the options for us. When my friends would come from London, I would take them to CyberHub because the ambience was suitable and there were plenty of options. Now I’ll probably head to Delhi,” said Sashank Srinivasan, a 25-year-old resident of Gurgaon.
Misha Kohli, a Gurgaon-based entrepreneur, said, “Although there are other options in the city, they are expensive in comparison. CyberHub had options that were easy on the pocket.”
CyberHub is in the list of “disputed areas” when it comes to enforcement of the SC order in Gurgaon, with owners of outlets contradicting the Excise department’s claim that it falls within 500 metres in terms of “motorable distance” from the highway. Ambience Mall and Sector 29 market are also included in this category.
But as the issue is being sorted out, these places appear to have been abandoned by people who have moved on in search of newer watering holes.
90-100% fall in customers, black day for liquor industry, say owners
In the wake of the Supreme Court order banning sale of liquor within 500 metres of national and state highways, owners of bars, restaurants, hotels and pubs in Gurgaon reported a “90-100 per cent” fall in customers.
Among those worst affected were microbreweries such as Vapour Bar Exchange. Two of its branches — at Sector 29 and Sohna Road respectively — have been badly hit. While the former has been around for a year-and-a-half, the latter opened just eight months ago.
“We saw a 97-98 per cent reduction in footfall on Saturday as a result of non-availability of liquor. People came to both branches but decided not to stay when they realised alcohol was not being served,” Vikram Rana, founder of Vapour Bar Exchange, said.
Similarly, Rahul Singh, founder and CEO of The Beer Café, which has 40 outlets across the country, said five of its branches — one each in Pune, Thane and Mohali, and two in Gurgaon — have been affected by the ban.
“We saw a reduction of almost 100 per cent in our customers on Saturday… If the Excise department’s decision stands, we will have no option but to relocate. I cannot stop serving alcohol at a place called The Beer Café; it cannot be turned into a restaurant or anything,” he said.
He added that it would cost crores to set up a new outlet, after taking into account the rent, licences, safety checks and other considerations.
Singh, who is also the head of the National Restaurant Association of India’s (NRAI), Haryana Chapter, added that it is unfair to club liquor vends with bars and restaurants that require licences and other formalities.
“Retail and sale are two different things, you cannot club the two. At our outlets, we regulate the atmosphere and take responsibility by ensuring we stop serving when the alcohol begins to hit people. People drink and then leave, they don’t just pick up alcohol and drive away. The two are very different things” he said.
At a press conference following a meeting on Sunday between different bodies — including the NRAI and The Hotel and Restaurant Association of Haryana (HRAH) — officials from the hospitality industry called it a “black day” for the liquor industry.
While calling for a “stricter implementation of the law” on drunken driving, they also expressed apprehensions about how the ban will affect employment, as well as areas such as foreign tourism.
Ankur Bhatia, Executive Director of Bird Group, said, “Even the wedding industry will be affected by this because most of the venues, such as hotels and farmhouses, are located within 500 metres of the highway.”
Two special committees, headed by the two sub-divisional magistrates, are considering the matter of “disputed areas” such as CyberHub, Ambience Mall and Sector 29.
Officials from the Excise department said they will pronounce their final verdict after measuring the distance of the debated outlets from the highway. The same will be revealed in the coming “one or two days”, they added.
Meanwhile, officials from the hospitality industry said they will not move court for “at least a week”, and intend to hold talks with various state governments, as well as the Centre, in an attempt to find a solution to the issue.
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