Food

Cafe-bar SOCIAL is finally in Chennai!

Riyaaz Amlani at SOCIAL, Express Avenue

Riyaaz Amlani at SOCIAL, Express Avenue   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

As SOCIAL makes its Chennai début, founder Riyaaz Amlani explains how the millennial cafe-bar merges work and leisure. Now, you can drink martinis at meetings. (That’s all you wanted to know, right?)

Yes, there is alcohol. Let’s get that out of the way first, so you don’t suspiciously speed read through this piece. Rest-assured, SOCIAL’s signature ‘Longest Long Island Ice tea’ will not fob you off with just lemon juice, Cola and enthusiasm.

To be fair, with the city’s complex licensing laws, Chennai did end up hosting the world’s first Hard Rock Cafe for teetotallers. Which could explain why it took Riyaaz Amlani, CEO and managing director of Impresario Handmade Restaurants, this long to bring his popular, community space to Chennai. (The first SOCIAL opened in Bengaluru in 2014, and since then the brand has opened 27 more in six cities.)

With the launch a couple of days away, the sprawling 8,600 square feet space that is now Mount Road SOCIAL, at Express Avenue, is packed with electricians, carpenters, painters and waiters, working to a unorthodox rhythm of hammers, drills and thumping music from the DJ box.

Despite the looming deadline, there is a calm energy around Riyaaz and his team. For good reason: Impresario, founded in 2001 with Mocha – Coffees & Conversations, now has 58 restaurants across 16 Indian cities. They are expanding so rapidly that there are openings every month: they head to Bengaluru next to open a SOCIAL in Indiranagar. So, this is a familiar drill.

Cafe-bar SOCIAL is finally in Chennai!

In pauses between the hammers and saws, Riyaaz explains why he waited for the ideal property. “We are a workspace and a cafe-bar by day. We open for breakfast... so we needed a place with a high footfall.”

This has a very different feel from his first venture, Mocha, launched 19 years ago, first in Mumbai, and then eventually in Chennai. “We had a good eight years or so in Nungambakkam, before we closed,” he says.

Mocha was a product of the early 2000s, with its over-the-top furnishings and unapologetically laid back atmosphere, and service. SOCIAL is a completely different entity, created for an age of startups, entrepreneurs and mobile workspaces, at a time when boundaries between work and leisure are getting increasingly blurry.

The interiors of SOCIAL

The interiors of SOCIAL   | Photo Credit: R Ravindran

“Mocha was a café for Gen X-ers like me. SOCIAL was created keeping millennials in mind,” says Riyaaz, adding, “People used to go to cafés for social interaction. Slowly business meetings started taking place there. We realised that they were evolving into spaces where people like to work, partly because they found it more inspiring than sitting in their office. And partly because cafés are more social...”

Which is how SOCIAL was born, six years ago. “There was an awkwardness about how long you could linger. So we made it more formal. We added a concierge, a printer, a scanner and high speed Internet,” says Riyaaz, adding they also encourage networking. “We are trying to create a collusion between people who can work with each other.”

There is an emphasis on each space being unique. “The trick behind a community space is to start something, and get out of its way,” says Riyaaz. “We like the regulars to tell us what the menu should be. Or what programming should be. Every community has its own distinct flavour.”

Cafe-bar SOCIAL is finally in Chennai!

Chennai surfaces in the décor and menu via local graffiti artists who have painted the skate park at the entrance, and Marina beach via netholi tacos, served with garlic aioli. (Chase this with their beers on tap, which include Hopper, Heineken and Edelweiss.) There’s a Thalaiva breakfast too, with dosas, idli, kesari and filter coffee.

Inspired by the neon-heavy 80s, the Chennai cafe-bar has generously proportioned spaces, each deliberately different. The co-working area, Social Works, is bright and cheerful, with large windows that let in natural light. The terrace features a relaxed cane canopy. And inside, a riot of different elements unite, including a faux swimming pool and dramatic hanging lights, making you feel like an extra in an old-fashioned music video.

“It’s neon, it’s retro, it’s electro. It’s post modern,” smiles Riyaaz, adding “It’s a Miami, Ibiza vibe.”

Mount Road SOCIAL is at E Hotel, Express Avenue. It opens on Sunday. Call 8657989073 or 8657989072 for more details.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:16:06 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/life-and-style/food/cafe-bar-social-is-finally-in-chennai/article30743942.ece

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