“It was a magical time: gentlemen in suits and ties and ladies in evening gowns, all decked up to eat, drink, dance and sing-along. In the 1970s and ’80s, Trincas was dominated by the Anglo-Indians. It definitely is Calcutta’s most nostalgic location.”
Usha Uthup has more reason than most to be nostalgic about the iconic restaurant and performance venue — her maiden performance at Trincas, in 1969, was what made her the darling of the city, and eventually the country.
Trincas, one of Kolkata’s most iconic venues for a family evening out, is celebrating its 60th birthday this weekend. It was established by a Swiss man, remembered today only as Mr Trinca, back in the 1930s as a bakery and tea house.
It was taken over by Ellias Joshua and Om Prakash Puri in 1959, then shut down for renovations before reopening in 1961. Famous for live music performances, fresh food and a range of drinks, it became Park Street’s main attraction.
The Puris eventually innovated again, sectioning off a third of the floorspace to make a quiet area and pioneering Szechuan cuisine in the city in the newly christened Ming Room. But what Trincas has been known for most, are its legendary live music performances. Carlton Kitto, an Anglo-Indian jazz guitarist, was followed quickly by Usha Uthup. Returning to headline the Diamond Jubilee celebrations from October 27 to 29, Uthup recalls her four decades at Trincas. “The people and their clothes have changed, Trincas has not. It has the same great music, good food and drinks and people enjoying themselves”.
Cornel Bloud, the lead guitarist and occasional singer who has been gracing Trincas’ stage just about every night for the last 25 years, also has fond memories.
“The crowd has changed a lot, we don’t see many older people like we used to, now it is mainly younger people coming to relax with their friends. Trincas is a brand. Time will pass and people know to come here for a good evening out.”
The dress code is relaxed with jeans and T-shirts replacing suits and dresses. Office goers throng the restaurant on weekdays, while those seeking an alternative to the thumping bars and nightclubs of the city come to Trincas to listen to the Eagles and other classics that walk them through the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. Weekends see the wooden dance floor in front of the stage cleared for those who want to shake a leg.
Om Prakash Puri’s grandson Anand, having spent decades running similar establishments in Mumbai and Delhi, has now returned to the family business with a keen eye on keeping pace with changing customers.
Tall with a managerial presence, Anand sits across the table from me narrating his plans for the coming decades. He coordinates the waiters with an easy flick of the wrist or tap of a finger.
“I’ve seen Cal change. It is not the sleepy town it used to be with so many venues for live music. I see writers, poets, musicians all over the city.
I need to let them know Trincas is for them too, while not altering where Trincas has come from.”
Anand’s calm exterior hides myriad plans milling about on a war footing below the surface.
He is setting about replacing the flowery curtains with the old, blood-red velvet drapes, tied back with old-fashioned thick ropes. Old pictures telling the story of the restaurant are going up, as are small red table lamps. His eyes dart around his family’s pride — “See the wall here?” — he points at a creamy space between speakers behind him.
“I’ve dug up some old photos for it. There used to be a mirror here, I am going to get that back up, too.” The back of the stage has also gone back in time.
“The old photos showed a red velvet sofa-backing type of backdrop, so I copied that and this is what we now have.”
While other live music bars and restaurants try their level best to keep up with rapidly changing times, Anand strikes a fine balance between taking Trincas further back in time, and looking forward. As Trincas celebrates 60, a new generation of Puris are looking at 100.