Live entertainment once
nourished Karachiites and its nightlife was the envy of people from the rest
of the country. The hotels dotted across the city were the hub of
entertainment from the ‘50s to the early ‘70s. From providing live music
shows and dance performances to hosting dance parties and serving as a
rendezvous for people, the hotels of Karachi were the centre of attraction.
Today, they are just a pleasant memory for those who were fortunate to have
lived through the era. Kolachi takes a nostalgic look back this week at the
city’s once-thriving hotel and nightclub scene.
In 1942, a hotel by the
name of Taj was constructed on the Club Road. In its first phase it served as
a residential hotel. In its second phase, around 50 rooms were added. Notable
personalities who resided at the Taj included Pakistan’s only Nobel
Laureate, Abdus Salam and the Quaid-e-Azam’s British nurse. “Taj’s
business slumped after the imposition of martial law in 1958, to revive the
hotel, the Oasis nightclub was added in 1963,” shares its owner Venu Advani’.
“It aimed at providing entertainment to male customers. Andaleeb was
established for tourists and lovers of local culture, and the discotheque
Playboy came much later in 1971”, he says.
Advani reminisces that
performers from Europe often frequented Iran and Iraq via an agent in Beirut.
So he visited Beirut to select and invite those dancers and musicians to
perform at the Taj. However, their numbers were small due to the fact that
only 50 per cent of their earnings could be remitted to their home country in
line with the State Bank’s forex policy.
When the foreign minister
of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) Dharamcsec Senanyake visited Pakistan, the
government officials showed him Moenjodaro and Taxila. He was soon invited by
the Advani family to visit Andaleeb. The hospitality there was so cherished
by him that the very next day he excused himself from a state appointment to
visit Andaleeb again. “The foreign minister said he was bored of seeing
dead places and the liveliness of Andaleeb was what he craved for,” recalls
A programme by the name of
‘Karachi by Night’ was initiated by Advani to facilitate the tourists.
There was no proper government authority working on promoting tourism at the
time. ‘Karachi by Night’ was a night-long programme where the visitors
were routed to various hotels and clubs such as Excelsior, Metropole and his
own hotel Taj. In 1977, prohibition led to the shutdown of all bars and
nightclubs. And the martial law that followed ensured that the entertainment
came to a standstill. In 1981, Taj Hotel disappeared altogether.
eminent philanthropist, Ardeshir Mama, built a home to accommodate his 21
children which was famously called Mama’s Mansion. The building was
constructed soon after the First World War. It is said that a small bistro
was established by Mama. However, when he ran into debt, the property was
forfeited to the Punjab government. In the early 1930s, Sidney Marder, a
European Jewish Karachiite bought the place and relocated his hotel Killarney
to Mama’s Mansion and renamed it as ‘Killarney Hotel- Marder’s Palace.
Killarney was used extensively as lodging for US officers. The hotel ran well
till after the World War II. Marder sold the property sometime in 1946-47 and
left the country. Mr Advani states the Singhs of Calcutta ran the hotel. It
is possible that Sidney Marder sold it to them. In the years that followed,
it simply became the Palace. “After partition, the Indians were allowed to
maintain private properties in Pakistan”. In 1967, the government took over
the Palace and it was sold to the Ramchandani family who operated it till it
was bought by Sadruddin Ghanji,” shares Advani. Ghanji demolished the old
structure and built the current Hotel Sheraton on its grave.
Pictures from the period
show that the name of the hotel was written as a neon sign on its dome. In
other pictures, the name was seen affixed to the rooftop. The hotel held an
important place in the social life of the city. The Palace Hotel, from 1948
to 1953 was the residential enclave of foreign diplomats. The Palace also
attracted a regular crowd of intellectuals soon after partition. It is said
that Faiz Ahmed Faiz would be a part of those gatherings whenever he passed
Since nightclubs were very
popular and socially acceptable back then, the Palace too housed such a
facility by the name of Le Gourmet. The main attraction at Le Gourmet were
the jazz musicians from abroad, although many old-timers have doubted this
fact. Local Jazz musicians such as the Francisco band also performed at the
Palace in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s. The famous cabaret dancer of
yesteryear, Marzi Kanga, also performed at Le Gourmet. After such venues were
shut down, Kanga went abroad to perform at international hotspots.
hotel that survived till more recently was the Metropole, whose building
still stands as a city landmark despite talk of its demolition. It has a
special place in the hearts of the city. It was established by Cyrus. F.
Minwalla, the then vice-president of the Karachi Cantonment Board. In 1951,
it was inaugurated by the Shah of Iran. Initially, it housed two floors but
later other floors were constructed. From 1953 to 1964, it served the city
with an inimitable flair. As one entered the hotel, there was a coffee shop
that was a daily rendezvous for senior and city journalists. The juniors
would hang around to eavesdrop. A cup of coffee cost two rupees, which was a
heavy sum back then. On Sundays, a special Parsi menu was served with Dhansak
the most popular dish.
The legendary jazz
musician, Dizzie Gillespie, who visited Karachi in the 1950s (most likely
1954), performed in the garden of the Metropole. The Meridian international
center website states that he refused to play until the doors were open to
the ‘ragamuffin children’ because the tickets were so expensive that the
people with whom the musician wanted to connect couldn’t make it. The
garden could accommodate up to 4,000 people.
The hotel also served as a
host for many state functions. In the mid-1950s, the Ismaili community
requested a suite to be prepared for His Highness the former Aga Khan. The
Pak-American Cultural Centre regularly held events and the French ran an
opera at the Metropole. “In 1964, the opening of the Inter-Continental
proved to be a blow for Metropole as the customers were attracted to the new
place,” claims Happy Minwalla, who owns the building along with his
sisters. Metropole continued to operate and thought of innovative ways to
pull in an audience. “In 1967, we introduced our discotheque- the first in
the city”, says Mr Minwalla. Local bands of the city, such as the Incrowd
performed at the discotheque. In 1968, the famous Samar nightclub was built.
Samar had live orchestra from abroad, be it Italian or Filipino. Local bands
also performed, one of them was the Captivators. Marzi Kanga also gave
enchanting performances at Samar. The beautiful dancer Amy Minwalla, who
often danced in films also held shows at the Metropole, where people recall
her performing ballet including some international dancers.
Professional belly dancers
were a norm, with Princess Amina from Beirut being the most popular. Cultural
events such as plays and the Berlin Orchestra conducted by also took place.
“Christmas and New Year parties were a rage back then. Even Valentine’s
Day was celebrated with a ball being held,” says Minwalla. “The hotel
looked for any cause for celebration, be it the fourth of July, theme based
events such as Middle-Eastern or Mediterranean nights or Italy’s
Independence Day, where exclusive Italian cuisine was served”. Minwalla
added that 2,500 marriages have taken place at the Metropole. “In 1967-68,
Z.A. Bhutto held the launch of his party, the Pakistan People’s Party, at
the Banquet Hall of the
Metropole,’’ recalled Mr Minwalla with pride and nostalgia.
Sections of building were
rented out to offices in the late 1970s. The prohibition hurt Metropole,
which closed Samar and the discotheque. The Zia era ensured that dance and
mixed- gatherings were not promoted in any way. Even food quantity was
restricted, further hurting Metropole. The hotel continued to serve as a
residential and catering facility but the old charm was gone. In 2004, the
owners decided to demolish the building and construct a high-rise hotel. When
a section was demolished, it agitated the conservationists, who then got the
building declared a heritage site and barred it from being demolished. A
court will now decide the fate of it.
1937, my parents bought an old farmhouse in Malir,” reminisces Minwalla.
During the war, the U.S. soldiers needed to pitch tents. The farm land was
leased out. My father ran the bar and my mother ran the kitchen. In the
process, Hotel Grand was born. Since it was close to the airport, it was a
popular destination for those visiting the airport. Many airlines such as Pan
American housed its crew at the Grand. The Olympic-sized swimming pool pulled
in many customers. Back in those days, a drive to Malir was quite exciting as
there was no Sharea Faisal to take one to Malir,” shares Happy Minwalla. In
1972, the Minwallas closed the hotel and sold the building.
There was also an Imperial
Hotel on Queens’s road. It ran the Lido bar. It is said that it was usually
preferred by people with more modest incomes. Further up the road is the
Beach Luxury, also once a major hub of nightlife housing the Kasbah and 007,
which had managed to survive.
The Railway hotels
Apart from these hotels,
the citizens were also catered to by four railway hotels - the Carlton, North
Western, Bristol and Killarney, all fairly near the Cantt station. While
there are many accounts regarding the construction and ownership of the
Bristol, Byram Avari, owner of the Beach Luxury and Avari Towers, maintains
that it was constructed by a Hindu gentleman and operated by an English Jew,
Mr Wiseman. “The official rules stated that no Indian, regardless of faith,
could run an ‘English style hotel’, “In 1944, Mr Wiseman left the
country and sold the property to Avari’s parents, Dinshaw. B Avari and
Khorsheed Avari, who had to make special requests to the Commisioner, Sir
Sidney Ridley, to purchase the hotel and run it. “They were granted the
permission on certain conditions which included serving only chicken at lunch
and dinner given the high price of beef”, recalls Avari. They ran the
Bristol for 11 years. “After partition, the hotel saw its business boom as
Karachi became the capital city and destination for foreign diplomats,”
the hotel had been a simple eatery for the army officers and affluent. “We
maintained an in-house band and dance parties for New Year and Christmas used
to take place,” shares Avari. In 1955, the Dinshaws bought the Bristol,
from whom it was sold to Mr Rizvi, an income tax officer. Despite changing
hands, Bristol’s bar and cuisine were maintained. In 1960s, the price for a
couple’s ticket to a New Year’s party was Rs 300! Later on, shows such as
Saturday Night Disco and Nightclub were introduced, where groups from
Thailand, Germany and France performed. In 1961, Hollywood actress Donna Reid
rested at the Bristol when she had an overnight stay in Karachi en-route to
Cairo. In 1994, the hotel suffered two subsequent attacks leaving Mr Rizvi
injured. The hotel shut down. The building still stands and is often used for
shooting drama serials.
Killarney was owned by
Sidney Marder. In 1930s, the hotel relocated to the Palace. It served as a
Russian consulate for years. Currently, it is being used by Bayview High
North Western was
constructed in 1908. “It was owned by a Jewish family, the Wyse, who were
from Austria, they sold it to my father, Agha Mohd Yusuf sometime in 1946, as
they were migrating to South Africa”, informs Hissam Yousuf.
It housed Agha’s Tavern, which served continental cuisine, and
Agha’s Grill, which served Pakistani delicacies. Entertainment was not
offered as such but Christmas and New Year were celebrated with fervour. Then
came the dark ages and prohibition affected the hotel. In 1985, the family
decided to shut down the hotel for renovation and repair of the building.
Later, it was sold to private developers. The building stayed vacant till
early 1990s, when it was demolsihed along with Carlton, while in process of
being listed as world heritage sites.
Best Western Plaza
The Best Western Plaza
opened on Daudpota Road sometime in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Its
construction continued till after its opening. It had 14 storeys. The 14th
floor housed a disco, which continued to operate in Zia’s time, till his
moral police came across it. It was used as a backdrop in many Pakistani
films. An open air theatre was used for Qawwali and poetry recitation. During
Badar Mir’s recital, the gates were nearly broken down due to the heavy
crowd. The hotel also hosted Mohammed Ali and Madam Nur Jehan’s programmes.
Moreover, The Beijing
Dragon Palace had one of the finest Chinese restaurants of its time and that
too with local chefs. A section of the hotel, such as the Irma coffee shop
and the Hamza conference hall amongst others, were named after family members
of the owner. The family maintains that Indian stars such as Vinod
Khanna, Rekha and Dilip Kumar also resided at their hotel. In 1990s,
the family ran into a financial crisis and leased the hotel to someone with
strong political connections. The hotel was subsequently found guilty of
allowing prostitution to thrive on its premises, leading to a raid.
Subsequently, the hotel was shut down in 2000.
are on the hit-list and unable to offer much for entertainment. Besides
society has become more conservative and many equate music and dance with
vulgarity and sin. However, Karachiites crave for affordable entertainment
and hotels even today to bring back some of the nightlife of the past. If
cinemas are seeing a revival, why not entertainment at hotels too?