From pubs with good old-fashioned rock to nightclubs playing the latest house, Hyderabad's nightlife has come a long way

Hyderabad by night. The sun sets behind the Charminar as the call to prayer echoes from its neighbour, Mecca Masjid. As the streetlights flicker on, the chaotic traffic intensifies and chirpy call centre employees get ready to clock in, conservatism collapses into recreation.

In the retro interiors of Hard Rock Café, groups of people gather around tables or lounge in couches with their beer and appletinis as the deejay rolls out the best of The Doors and the Rolling Stones. It's a night of service with a smile and the gentle buzz of beer. Barely six months old in the city, it's virtually impossible to get a table any time after 9 p.m.

Next door in Xtreme Sports Bar, the laidback atmosphere continues with brightly-coloured beanbags, pool tables, and beer straight from the keg. According to regular Vandana Reddy, it's not hard to see what sells here. “It's good to be able to relax without the stress of ‘clubbing',” she says. “The dance floor is conspicuous only by its absence.”

It's a very different feel from the heady partying that happens twenty minutes away at 10 Downing Street and Liquids, with flashing lights, pulsing beats and tequila shots. In fact, the city has come in a full circle. “There used to be more lounge bars than clubs about 6 or 7 years ago,” says 26-year-old techie Jayaram Kowta. He mentions pub Easy Rider which closed down a few years ago, where rock was god. “There was Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull… the manager used to apologise to the crowd whenever they were forced to play Bryan Adams,” he says. “There was a dance floor but people would just stand around and chill.”

In a city defined by its old-world charm and cultural roots, the influx of IT companies with their young energetic employees led to a sea-change. Urbanisation had arrived in all its glory, and as the roads widened and the flyovers flew, the cosmopolitan nature of the city called out for a vibrant nightlife.

Hyderabad's favourite club 10 Downing Street opened up in 2001, heralding the beginning of pub culture in a city that was just starting to explore the concept of nightlife. Rubbing shoulders with stalwarts like Treasure Island and Taj Krishna's Tunnel, 10D offered the experience of music, alcohol and conversation in its very British interiors, followed by similar set-ups like the popular Bottles & Chimney.

“I remember 10D as a pub, before it crossed over and became a club,” says Jayaram. “One year, they even called a bunch of rock music and metal deejays. Today, they're more crowded, so they're probably more successful, but it's now only about hip-hop and teeny-bop.”

10D's standard ladies' night on Wednesday was also a hit, offering free unlimited alcohol for two hours every week. Daily themes also started picking up as Hyderabad's party crowd started forming niches. “Clubs have specific nights for retro, bhangra, Bollywood, hip-hop, house,” says 27-year-old consultant Ananya Gupta. Today, the locations of choice include Taj Krishna's Ahala, ITC Kakatiya's Dublin, Novotel's Excess and Touch (with its very Hyderabadi anecdote of how the name was initially Touché but had to be changed because locals preferred calling it Touch). Blue jeans and Osho chappals share space with over-the-top cocktail dresses and stilettos in a balance between the laidback and the eclectic. Just like the city itself.

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