It’s not in the American theme menu that the Park Hotel featured one night last week, which I doubt anyone ordered off of besides a group from the U.S. Consulate (one of whom, having been forewarned that the ketchup would be unrecogizable as such, packed her own Heinz).
But it is in the fact that we could have drinks with our platters of onion rings and done-up potato skins. Tamil Nadu, you see, is a dry state—the government holds a monopoly over all retail and wholesale liquor sales. It’s nearly impossible to get a drink with dinner at a restaurant; only 190 bars, clubs, and hotels are licensed to serve booze in Chennai, a city of 4.6 million people. Most people just tend to drink in their houses, and make do with a short list of domestic wines and beers, since high import tariffs make the foreign stuff prohibitively expensive. For the younger crowd, Chennai can be a drag.
That may be changing a bit. Earlier this month, Tamil Nadu allowed five-star hotels to keep their bars open 24 hours, provided they paid a “privilege fee” of 32 lakh (or about $58,000). The effect of the change was first felt at a different hotel, the Park Sheraton, which has a nightclub space called the Dublin. Last Saturday night, the DJs didn’t say anything in particular as the clock ticked past midnight and the bar stayed open, fueling dancers who packed the cave-like space. But everyone knew that something had changed, as they stumbled out at 2 and 3:00 in the morning—the hotel had paid up.
I’m fairly sure they’ll earn back their investment within a weekend.