The India Cub in London, with its early roots in the Indian independence movement as a hub for nationalists including Krishna Menon, will shut down on September 17, 2023, after losing a protracted battle against its closure.
Proprietors Yadgar Marker and his daughter Phiroza who have been running the historic institution for the past 26 years launched a ‘Save India Club’ appeal a few years back but have now announced its impending closure.
‘It is with a very heavy heart that we announce the closure of the India Club, with our last day open to the public on September 17,’ they said.
Created as a seat for the India League, the club served as a rendezvous point for various Indian organizations in London like The Indian Journalist Association, the Indian Workers Association, and the Indian Socialist Group who once met at this historic institution located at 143-144 Strand, London. Its membership boasts names like Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, and Lady Mountbatten, the last viceroy’s wife.
The Daily Telegraph described the club as more than a mere dining establishment; a delightful time capsule transporting visitors to the vibrant aura of Calcutta in the 1960s.
The restaurant does not conform to contemporary trends of elegance or sophistication, but therein lies its magic. If ever a restaurant were a cult classic, the India Club would certainly fit the bill.
Established in 1951 by Krishna Menon, India’s first High Commissioner to London, the India Club carried a profound mission. It was born as a symbol of post-independence Indo-British camaraderie.
Author Smita Tharoor, daughter of Chandran Tharoor, one of the founding members of the club said: ‘I’m bereft of words. I am deeply unhappy, sad, and nostalgic. My father was a founding member of the club. A few days ago, when I first heard of the India Club closing, I just thought of him. He is no longer around for me to tell him this sad, devastating news’.
‘My father, having lived in London and witnessed the English people who he loved dearly, but also could laugh at them in a very gentle way, sat at the lovely India club and wrote the ottan tullal in 1953 and today is 2023, 70 years later I’m suddenly being told, in the next few days, there is no India Club’.
Smita’s brother, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor shared a photograph of him and his sister at the India Club from last summer on the social media platform X, formerly known as Twitter, and wrote: ‘I am sorry to hear that the India Club, London, is to close permanently in September. As the son of one of its founders, I lament the passing of an institution that served so many Indians (and not only Indians) for nearly three-quarters of a century. For many students, journalists, and travellers, it was a home away from home, offering simple and good quality Indian food at affordable prices as well as a convivial atmosphere to meet and maintain friendships.’
As the picture shows, I was there this summer with my sister (we are standing in front of photos of my father attending club events in the early 1950s), and am sad to realise that that was my last visit since I will not be returning to London this year. Om Shanti!’
Set directly opposite the Indian High Commission and the BBC’s esteemed Bush House studios, the restaurant cultivated a diverse clientele over the years. Among its regulars were India House employees, journalists, legal minds from the nearby Royal Courts of Justice, and the scholarly denizens of the London School of Economics and the King’s College next door.
r. Christopher Cragg, a former Financial Times journalist who has been frequenting the India Club for the last 40 years since he was a student at the London School of Economics, said: ‘It was a good place to come and the food is and remains characteristic to what we English would call Indian food. The best is available within London. I find it incredibly sad that it’s closing down. I’ve brought many people here.’
It was kind of a secretive place in the sense that, there’s only one door and there’s a whole load of steps. You brought people here, and they would go, Where are we going? The place is not like an off-the-pavement restaurant. It’s up a few narrow steps, and then suddenly you are in a big open room full of people who are eating away. We used to worry about getting here in time because they used to close quite early in the afternoon.
It is really an institution. It really is sad that it will cease to be. It’s terribly sad that somebody wants to turn it into a ‘luxury hotel’. An institution shouldn’t be just seen as a valuable asset.
Embarking on a journey into the India Club is akin to stepping into a forgotten world. An unassuming doorway leads visitors beneath an aged and weathered sign, guiding them up a twisting stairwell to the hotel reception on the first floor.
Continuing upward, another flight of stairs unveils the restaurant’s soul. Walls of faded ochre wear the weight of time, adorned with portraits of Krishna Menon and other distinguished figures, alongside generic Indian vistas. Formica-topped tables and wooden chairs, seemingly relics from the restaurant’s inception, complete the nostalgic tableau.
London School of Economics alumni Keith Boyfield has been a patron of India Club for the last 50 years. He had walked in for his regular lunch at the club when he heard the devastating news. Keith said: ‘This is a terrible, terrible tragedy! The food and the decor are exactly as it was 50 years ago. When I first started coming here, there was a rather imperious lady, a blonde lady, who I think was Austrian, who used to run the place. There was also a hotel here, so you could sleep as well as eat. They also had a rather curious rule where if you wanted to have a beer, you had to go downstairs to the bar. I have such lovely memories of the place. I am going into mourning!’
This isn’t the first time the India Club has faced uncertainty. In 2018, Marston Properties’ proposal to transform the property into “modern tourist accommodation” was swiftly thwarted by Westminster Council.
Maiwi, a Venezuelan tourist in London who had come to the India Club for lunch having heard of its rich heritage was surprised to hear of the impending demise of the institution. Maiwi said: ‘It’s so sad! We all know that India and the UK are super close and this place is an iconic symbol of that friendship. Why are they closing it!’
Recent court documents unveiled Marston’s ambition to metamorphose the premises into “a luxury hotel” – an ambition met with collective sighs in a city already adorned with hundreds of such hotels.
In an era of ever-shifting landscapes, the India Club’s closure poses questions about preserving heritage against the march of modernity. It reminds us that sometimes, what truly makes a place remarkable isn’t its grandeur or opulence, but its ability to etch itself into the hearts of those who pass through its doors.