This post is a part of the What’s On My Plate series
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
The facade of Joseph Bar, shining bright in the darkness of nightfall
I’ve had the good fortune of working with some extremely bright minds in my field, and one of them in particular, who is perhaps more friend that colleague has often told me that the best stories are found through experiences, and mere research doesn’t do your subject matter any justice. And so I converted one such experience into a tale that I believe is worth telling.
I can safely quote Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from 161 to 180 AD, and incorporate Goa in his quote, when I say “There was once a dream that was Goa. You could only whisper it. Anything more than a whisper and it would vanish... it was so fragile. And I fear that it will not survive the winter.” This is a Goa of times past; days gone by; the constant annoyance of the parental line “You will never know the Goa that we did.” And yet there is a glimmer of hope; in little nooks and crannies, kept alive by a few folk that believe, as some of us do, that perhaps all hope isn’t lost yet; this survives not because of the work of the government, but perhaps in-spite of it.
My most recent experience that highlights this little fact in all its glory is my newest discovery, Joseph Bar, in one of Panjim’s Latin Quarters. Tucked in along a by-lane between ‘Rua 31 de Janeiro’ and ‘Rua São Tomé’, this little gem could be a part of the La Rambla or El Born districts of Barcelona; or perhaps Lisbon’s Bairro Alto; lit with little bulbs that pop out like fireflies off the (sadly) decaying building that houses it.
Make no mistake…this is not a modern day pub; it is an institution. It is not about glass and lighting, the finest liquor and loud music. It is instead Goan in every sense of the word. It is about bossa nova pouring into the streets, alternating only with fado and ‘the Chairman of the Board’, Frank Sinatra; it is about seeing the familiar faces of the neighbourhood pass by and drop in for a drink and good conversation; it is about feni and urrack being available to those who choose to call for it at the bar. Did I say that Joseph Bar isn’t about the finest liquor? Scratch that, I stand corrected.
Picture: Fernando Monte da Silva
Gundu, mans the bar, as much a legend as Joseph Bar itself
Joseph Bar has been, in fact, operational since the 70’s. This one closet-sized room haunt was a regular haunt of its current incumbent, Atish Fernandes, who is better known in the sphere of travel and tourism, a decade ago. When he heard of its intended closure, following the passing of Joseph Pereira who started the venture, the concept of keeping something local alive came to mind, which is highlighted through his hashtag #supportlocal, which features in all his Joseph Bar posts on social media. Atish took up the project of keeping this veritable landmark alive in January of this year, and since then it has only grown in favour with its friends and family; which is to say anyone who has been there so much as once.
This ‘support local’ initiative is taken a step further by the fact that Atish makes nothing in-house. The snacks available are made by the residents of the neighbourhood, such as Sylvia Lobo, whose beef samosas are folded with such geometrical precision that I have no doubt that she uses a ruler to measure her pastry while she cuts it; and then there is Vanessa Campos of the Costa Campos family, who runs Café Morango with her family in the same neighbourhood, who provides the best choris pao I’ve eaten, north of the Zuari River. I specify this, because I do have a large amount of sashti (southern) pride, as Atish is well aware.
And if Joseph Bar still needed more incentive to be converted into a favourite, there’s Gundu, the greatest Goan legend of the service sector that stories will be someday written about. Gundu, is synonymous with Panjim’s legendary Clube Nacional, and was the right hand of Napoleon, the last man to run the club’s restaurant, before its roof caved in one dark September morning in 2014. The service-sector journey man then travelled to Sta Inês, where he took up employment at Pinto Bar, before finding himself in the employ of local gastronomic icon, Vasco ‘Vasquito’ Alvares. He’s now the man behind Joseph Bar’s operations, and his gap-toothed grin with your favourite drink (that he’s memorised) in one hand and a choris pao in the other, is a sight for sore eyes, at the end of a long day.
The ‘new’ Joseph Bar, a tribute to its founder, Joseph Pereira keeps Goa alive, in one little room in the older part of the city. The only way we can do our bit, is to keep it alive by discovering what we can do for Goa in similar vein, and when we have the time to catch up (and time must always be made for this), pop in to Joseph Bar for a drink. It doesn’t disappoint, and neither does Gundu, who will be only too happy to be of service.
Joseph Bar is an interesting take on gentrifying a typical Goan tavern, in a quaint neighbourhood.
The establishment is home to Gundu, an age old member of the service sector in Goa, who even has his own Facebook page now.
The average cost of a drink and snacks for two, is in the region of ₹500 (at the time of publishing this review).
How to get there
Gomes Pereira Road, São Tomé, Panjim, Goa 403521
Food is a huge part of any culture and for me, chancing upon a good meal is synonymous with having a great day. The What’s On My Plate series of posts is where I discuss food, great places to eat, and anything gastronomically moving. This could be anything from a great place to eat, to an obscure kind of food, to an origin story. After all, there is no love like the love of eating.