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Sunday, February 7, 2016

Bandra cafes as working spaces

For the past year or so, I've lived with the dubious joys of working from home. The advantages are many - I can work from Goa or Macleodganj, I can get a foot massage in the middle of my work day, I don't need to spend money on work clothes, etc. But overall, it's been a mixed bag, because making this work, week after week, takes a high level of discipline, which I have, and a low dependence on social contact, which I don't. 

At some point last year, I realised that the only two people I saw from Monday to Friday were my loving husband and our lovely domestic help. So I was either putting a lot of pressure on these two people to provide me with all the human contact I needed, or I was postponing all non-work related stimulation to weekends. A narrow, middle path that suggested itself was that I park myself at coffee shops and restaurants, which provide plenty of opportunities for random conversations and people watching while you work. So I scouted locations in Bandra (I was too lazy to get out of my neighborhood, and why commute when you don't have to) which could be used as working spaces. And what a fun project this has been! I've been working out of various cafes, and restaurants  and have been evaluating them on the basis of five criteria:

Birdsong Cafe
  • General ambiance - how bright, airy and cheerful is it, does it have comfortable tables and seating
  • WiFi quality
  • Staff philosophy of I'll-leave-you-in-peace-until-you-need-me
  • Quality of food and coffee
  • Productivity, or average % completion of my To-Do-List for the day
I'm very aware that all the metrics in this analysis are subjective and prone to inconsistency, but it's better than what is out there - Zomato doesn't have a filter for "suitable for working" (yes, I've looked), and the small handful of existing blogs on this subject are even more subjective. 

So here's my list of the top 5 working spaces in Bandra, not necessarily in order:  
  1. The Bagel Shop, Pali Mala RoadMy favorite thing about this place is the sheer number of potted plants - some days you can imagine you're sitting in a leafy verandah of an old colonial bungalow. The food is amazing too - sandwiches, bagels, salads made fresh and falvorful, innovative milk shakes, yumm! Cons: The WiFi is patchy, and the chairs do not encourage long hours of sitting.
  2. Taj Mahal Tea House, St. John Baptist RoadThis place has the nicest staff you'll ever meet! That, plus the exotic teas (I'm now addicted to the kari-patta chai) alone would have made this place a workplace 10 for me. You can sit here for hours with one cup of tea; they'll just keep refilling your water, and leave you alone in peace. The food is above average, and the tables are so comfortable that I've done multiple 8-hour workdays here. The WiFi used to be frustrating, but it's improved a lot in past few weeks. The fact that they sometimes have musicians come in for live performances is an unexpected plus - I worked to the accompaniment of a live sitar performance last week.
  3. Birdsong Cafe, Waroda Road. To think I would never have discovered this place if an auto-driver hadn't taken a short cut through Ranwar village! This beautiful coffee shop is tucked away in a tiny lane on the edge of the Ranwar village (another Bandra landmark that I'm absolutely obsessed with). My favourite thing about Birdsong is how quiet it is - if you're lucky enough to get the table in the far right corner, you can forget the world for hours. That, and the delicious organic food (must try the gluten free breads and desserts). The hot chocolate comes close to Mrs. Magpie's in Kolkata, and is helping me get over some of the pain of my Kolkata-nostalgia. There's a WiFi that never works, sadly, but it's a small price. All of us work-from-home people always carry a good internet data card anyway. 
  4. Bru World Cafe, 33rd Road. There are six of these unsung heroes in Bombay. I've been to two, and I prefer the one on 33rd because its more airy and open. They don't have fancy food, but everything else is perfect.The coffee is good, the WiFi is fast and consistent, the tables are perfect for working - I'm guessing that the only reason they aren't always full is perhaps because not enough people know about them. There's an outdoor seating as well, so on pleasant days, you can sit among the plants.
  5. The Yoga House, Sherly Rajan Road. No WiFi, and the seating options consist either of wall benches that encourage you to sit cross legged, or small, slightly uncomfortable chairs. But I love being in this place because it feels like working out of a quiet little tree house. You climb three flights of stairs to reach a cafe in two levels. The space is small, but it's open and white and surrounded by tall trees. There are other people working quietly and the only sounds are the birds in the trees. The food is amazing. I recommend the quinoa poha with the adrak chai. 
And the list of runners' up: 
  1. Saltwater cafe, Chapel Road - Perfect for a Friday afternoon, because after you finish sending your last email, you can seamlessly enter the weekend, and be the early bird to the amazing happy hour deals.
  2. Sassy Spoon, Hill Road - How can I not love working out of a place where I can eat scones and clotted cream during my tea break? It's on the junction of a noisy road, and the WiFi isn't great. But on stressful workdays, you can walk across the street to Metta, which is perhaps the only foot reflexology center in Bombay run by visually impaired people. Great foot massages. 
  3. Candies, Pali Hill: The giant bungalow turned kitchy cafe that everyone loves. Closed on Mondays.
  4. Bru World Cafe, St  John Baptist Road - Similar to its cousin on 33rd road, it has near perfect WiFi and good coffee, but it's a little dark and noisy. 
  5. Chaayos - Great choice for the budget conscious days, and I love their teas. 

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