No air conditioners, no lavish interiors and no ornamented delicious looking coffee glasses. Welcome to one of the oldest and classic coffee place in the city of joy. This place is nothing like the Cafe Coffee Days, or Baristas or Starbucks, it is just a modest place, which has been able to survive from the pre-independent period till date.
Present day Kolkata (then Calcutta) served as the capital of British ruled India and has many stories graven beneath its shell. The Indian Coffee House was originally built to commemorate the prince consort’s visit to Calcutta and was named Albert Hall. A coffee joint was started at the Albert Hall in College Street in 1942 and was renamed to Indian Coffee House in 1947.
The entry might seem a bit disappointing and suffocating but what waits in the interiors is a huge two-storied space, upper one being a balcony.
Before we move forward, let us take the privilege to introduce you to the term ‘ADDA’. Adda is a small yet very influential word, it means a lighthearted exchange of views, and it also means a discussion on a grave or light topic or a rendezvous, and the discussions could be on anything under the sun.
Coffee House and Adda are synonymous to each other and have played an important role in the cultural history of Calcutta. Since its establishment, this place has been a meeting place for the intellectuals and learned from the world of art and culture.
The coffee house is famed for its adda sessions and intellectual debates, and as the breeding place of several political and cultural personalities and movements. Many people come here just for the sake of adda and to be a part of the long talking sessions.
The stature of the Coffee House boosted with routine visitors such as Satyajit Ray, Amartya Sen, Mrinal Sen and Aparna Sen. The Coffee House is of historical importance for being the meeting point of countless talented people, from its commencement to date. Scholars, editors, artists and writers like Ritwik Ghatak, Narayan Gangopadhyay, Sunil Gangopadhyay, Sanjeev Chattopadhyay, Samaresh Majumdar, Subhas Mukhopadhyay and Shakti Chattopadhyay have been just a few among the regulars of the eatery.
Nothing accompanies the chat sessions better than the steaming cups of hot coffee.
With a remarkably huge space, one can sit in the coffee house for as long as one wants and no one would ask you to leave or even place an order.
There is a message board too, for people to voice out their opinions.
Open from 9 in the morning to 9 in the evening on all weekdays (Mon-Sat) and for a few hours on Sunday (9 am – 12:30 pm), this place serves affordable Chinese and fast food to accompany coffee. It is undeniably the most affordable coffee shop in town.
It is one place that is always jam-packed and attracts all age groups equally.
In Indian Coffee House, you can find the waiters and servers in a typical white dress with a unique style of hat, offering menu and serving food.
The ones sitting on the upper floor can have an easy view of the space on the floor below.
Smoking is also allowed inside the premises.
Several decades back, Manna Dey recorded the song ‘Coffee Houser sei addata aaj ar nei’ (The chat sessions at the Coffee House have faded away) capturing the ‘golden late afternoons’ spent by seven friends at the joint and the achievements, defeats, heartbreaks and dissatisfactions which they faced in their later lives.
The song has soaked generations of Kolkatans with melancholy, who spent golden moments of their youth and student lives in coffee houses with dreams of a new world, career and creativity, only to lose their way in the muddle of reality.
“Coffee House will remain… so will remain the chat sessions, but the man who made them immortal is now no more,” Suparnakanti Ghosh, who composed the song penned by Gouriprasanna Majumdar, told after passing away of Manna Dey.
Nirad C. Chaudhuri dedicated one whole chapter in his Autobiography of an Unknown Indian on the Bengali phenomenon of adda. It was adda in the early 19th century at the residence of Henry Derozio that is rumoured to have started Bengal Renaissance!
As much as Coffee House belongs to intense conversations, it also serves as a must visit dating site for the local lovebirds. As long as there will be the culture of Bong Adda, coffee cup, cigarette and friends, the Indian Coffee House will be awaiting you with its glory and nostalgia in the narrow lanes of College Street.
So, you know where to go on your next visit to Kolkata to witness the old-world charm and undying enthusiasm of Bengal and its people!
(Historic references from Wikipedia and books)