If grunge can be chic, this is it! Part of a chain of restaurants all bearing the same name, Social has opened its doors in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village and Defence Colony, redefining ‘with it’ by a casual aesthetic in which all the furniture and other paraphernalia in the restaurants is either upcycled or reused.
Just the bare bones in design. Nothing new to be used. Raw surfaces with no cladding or high-end finishes. Everything at Social has been found and not bought, making it exceedingly environment friendly, if unpretentiously mismatched.
Since ‘found’ and ‘upcycled’ items may not be available in bulk, nor easily replicated, every Social is slightly different, while adhering to the same design philosophy. If this sounds like a strange diktat around which to build the theme of a chain of restaurants, be assured that the resulting relaxed ambience qualifies as the new hip.
Unassuming in every detail yet sporting an attitude, the restaurants open at 9 am to function as an office for their clientele by day – and pub by night, when they metamorphose into buzzing stomping grounds every evening, post 6 pm. Riyaaz Amlani of the Impresario Hospitality group which owns the brand has conceptualised a “collaborative workspace” for those who opt to work from home and for freelancers looking for an office.
The path that leads to Social in Hauz Khas Village leads off from a bylane with a cobblestoned walkway; something like a narrow alley culminating in a dungeon. Lined with graffiti, it opens up into an unexpectedly vast space with two floors, numerous rooms and big glass windows offering a prized view of the lake and the archaeological park. Spread out over 8,500 sq ft which house Social, Anti Social and Chhat (on the terrace), each level has a different feel.
The ground floor operates like a regular café, while the first floor is dedicated to those using the restaurant as their office and includes a conference room for anyone who would like to conduct meetings at the venue, assisted by TVs, projectors, blackboards, wifi and power sockets to plug in laptops. All available at a rent of Rs 5,000 per month, fully redeemable against food, Social clearly offers what no other restaurant does.
Combining the facilities of a boardroom with a bar, the concept of Social scores in being unconventional and unorthodox in every detail of its design. Much like an old warehouse, there is an unfinished, industrial feel to the space – graffiti et al – and a variety of seating options.
The rustic ambience simulates a ‘dhaba’ with contemporary styling. Skeletal table clamp lights add strong lines to the large communal tables and naked bulbs dangle unabashedly from the ceiling. The terrace has hospital beds with tables suspended over them and diners can sit cross-legged or lean on pillows.
The quirky element reigns supreme. Reinforcing the theme are hand tissues in the form of toilet paper rolls, sitting between the menus which come in a rolled up newspaper format and cutlery bunched informally in an aluminium holder.
Add to this, serving dishes which have seen better days, humble aluminium plates instead of bone china, water glasses with ‘paani’ printed on them and iced tea that is served in a tiny bathtub with a straw – and you have a recipe for surprises at every turn.
Like the Social in Hauz Khas Village, the one in Defence Colony has a long, narrow entrance – albeit with steps – and maintains the theme of maximum upcycling. Kitschy unfinished industrial scraps like wooden benches, broken lifts and industrial piping rule the design palette here. Inescapably, the building with the bold marquee screaming ‘Defence Colony’ stares you in the face from almost anywhere, justifying the tag of DefCol Social to this outlet.
This is as far away from fine dining as can be and teems with an energy that is directly correlated to the age of its hipster denizens.
Seating 100, the 2,200 sq ft space is much smaller than its sibling in Hauz Khas Village, but spreads across two floors nevertheless. Spring bar chairs and hanging staircases populate this space. The hard benches that can be wheeled around are made of train trolley wood.
Recycled furniture and walls in exposed brickwork are a leitmotif, the latter being elevated by original wall art by the St+art team (a collaborative platform for street artists from India and around the world, which focuses on the idea of ‘Art for everyone,’ with the prime objective of having a positive impact on society and reaching out to wider audiences. It aims at transforming the city into a gallery space).
Social makes an anti-design statement and looks like it’s straight out of the Meatpacking District in Manhattan. Most of all, the décor acknowledges that people come to a restaurant for the ambience and the experience it provides, as much as the food and drinks. In a dynamic business which has to keep evolving, these restaurants have succeeded in being different. In spite of their down-to-earth design mantra of ‘nothing new’.
Text By Devyani Jayakar
Photographs By Neha Pandey – Hauz Khas Social; Aman Chotani – Defence Colony Social