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Red Bari exemplifies cafes of new-age Kolkata

Cafes in Kolkata are reimagining how the old meets the modern.
The Red Bari Kolkata
In the heart of Kolkata, a city that pulsates with intellectual fervor, resonates a cultural phenomenon deeply embedded in the social fabric—adda. You could have an adda at small chai corners or at a Pujo pandal. An integral part of the city’s ethos, addas embodied the art of leisurely conversations, a communal exchange of ideas that transcends time and generations. At the epicenter of this vibrant tradition was the shift to the iconic coffee houses, where the aromatic blend of coffee intertwined seamlessly with intellectual discourse, defining Kolkata’s spirit.
Kolkata’s adda culture, born out of the city’s rich literary and intellectual heritage, thrives in the lively ambiance of its coffee houses. Once, these establishments were more than just spaces to indulge in a cup of coffee; they were sanctuaries where the city’s residents engaged in animated discussions, heated debates, and poetic musings. From the historic College Street Coffee House to the eclectic charm of Indian Coffee House, each venue served as a hallowed ground for the exchange of ideas, fostering a sense of community and camaraderie.
Kolkata Coffee Houses

Photo: Balaji Srinivasan/ Instagram

In recent years, the city has experienced a fascinating transformation in its coffee culture. A burgeoning coffee scene, marked by the emergence of modern, avant-garde cafes that are reimagining how old world charms meets the modern. These establishments are not merely spaces for a caffeine fix; they serve as hubs of creativity, conversation, and cultural expression. Blending tradition with modernity in a delightful brew that captures the essence of the city’s ever-evolving identity.

The Red Bari Effect

At the helm of this transformation is The Red Bari Kolkata, a restored ninety-year old legacy house. At 18 Sadananda Road, Kolkata, just a stone’s throw away from the iconic Kalighat temple, this iconic red mansion, with its colonial charm and grandeur, beckons visitors into a world where heritage meets contemporary vibrancy.

Relooking at the preservation of heritage buildings and structures in cities that have stood the trials and tribulations of time, the Red Bari exemplifies both the preservation of tangible cultural heritage as well as an aesthetic choice, acting as a window into Kolkata’s glorious past.
The owners of the house, who cherished its history, had long been searching for a buyer who would rather preserve its charm than demolish it. Finally, they met Avantika Jalan, a visionary, who holds a passion for organic farming and community development. Her plan involved converting it into a versatile space catering to both commercial and private needs while safeguarding its heritage. In lieu of demolition, she embraced the concept of restoration, envisioning a process that built upon the legacy rather than creating something anew from the ruins of heritage.
Avantika Jalan of The Red Bari Kolkata

Photo: The Red Bari Kolkata/ Instagram

The Red Bari showcases a striking red exterior adorned with teakwood lattice windows in a fashion reminiscent of several colonial-era structures in Kolkata. Avantika has envisaged the ground floor as a welcoming and cozy coffee shop, providing a space for locals and visitors to experience the distinct flavors of Kolkata.
The two floors above are transformed into a lively co-working environment, hosting workshops and exhibitions to foster a sense of community. The top floor serves as a private residence available for rent through Airbnb. As Avantika breathed new life into The Red Bari, her commitment to preserving its authenticity remains unwavering.
Collaborating with an architect, she has meticulously planned renovations to enhance the house’s charm without compromising its structural integrity. The semi-circular balconies on the first and second floors, reminiscent of pitchers, have been preserved, offering a nostalgic glimpse into the past. The lengthy verandahs, once witnesses to numerous conversations and laughter, have been tenderly restored.
The Red Bari in Kolkata

Photo: The Red Bari Kolkata/ Instagram

A third-generation owner of the house, Jyotirmoy Banerjee told Telegraph that seeing The Red Bari find a new purpose brought mixed emotions. For Benerjee, selling the house meant parting with a piece of himself, but he was relieved knowing that it would not be demolished in his lifetime. The house has served as a home for generations, and now it continues to be a part of Kolkata’s story, albeit in a different way.

Pouring Subko

Red Bari x Subko

Photo: The Red Bari Kolkata/ Instagram

As for the coffee at Red Bari, it’s in the very capable hands of Subko coffee roasters.”When we realised that there’s a restored 100-year old heritage building in Kolkata that has been turned into a coffee shop that connects the past to the present, we reminisced on our own journey with Mary Lodge. The Red Bari is an embodiment of the old soul of Calcutta. From the first red sandstone brick laid in 1921 to completion in 1947, only for it to be restored again in the capable hands of @avantikaj and John who believed in the preservation of heritage. Believed in keeping old stories and memories alive. For the first time ever in the City of Joy, ask for a cup of Subko coffee. A special blend to place you in the midst of a Calcutta market that keeps the charm alive. Medium roast, blend of specialty beans from Nagaland and Karnataka for a complex, sweet aftertaste. A space where experiences and the sense of community over a cup of coffee take precedence,” said an announcement post by Subko and Red Bari.

In Conversation With The Lab Mag

In a candid conversation, Avantika lends us in on the inception of the Red Bari, Kolkata’s best coffee shops and thriving cultural spaces in the city.

How did the idea of  restoring this ninety-year old legacy house come along?
I have grown up in Calcutta. I’ve always appreciated the architectural heritage of our city. It has been a bucket list wish to be able to conserve and protect at least one building from being demolished. When I got the opportunity to see this building, we decided to make it a reality. We chose to invest in this instead of an apartment.
What encouraged you to focus on the preservation of this tangible cultural heritage?
The idea was always to restore the house as it is; which meant interiors as well. We’ve kept the interiors very minimal. That’s to keep it light and feeling new. Our interiors are mostly white and off-white. To go well with the green windows. The idea was not to make the house look new. It was to restore its glory and still make it relevant and usable for modern use.
Does the architecture of the space differ in any way post the renovations?
No, we have been been able to keep the entire building as it is. The walls hold the entire weight of the building. These buildings don’t have pillar structures. So we have not touched the architectural integrity of the building. A few arches had collapsed. We restored those. The rest were very minimal repair work.
Restored Red Bari

Photo: The Red Bari Kolkata/ Instagram

The Red Bari coffee shop is the newest addition to the city, what are some things to try from your menu?I would recommend our sandwiches from the food menu: The Tomato for the veg, The BLT or the Grilled Chicken for the non-veg. Our menu is small, but everything is very fresh and high quality. Our rose city black is a great cup of black tea. We do our own blends and teas come from my family tea estate Chota Tingrai Tea Estate. And, of course, the coffees are all from SUBKO, you can try our cortado or our pour overs. They are excellent!

You’ve also created a community space, was it an instinctive or a conscious choice?

This was an instinctive choice when I saw the building. It felt like a space that should be enjoyed by everyone. Not just by us or a limited profile of people. So we consciously decided to make an open format event space in one, and a co-working space in one floor so a wide audience could use it in different ways, making the building a truly open community focused space.
For us the community goes beyond our internal space. We have preserved the Rawk to also keep the community that thrives on the Rawk to continue using that space. There are a lot of community focussed plans that we intend to implement.
What are some of your favourite coffee shops in Kolkata?
The Artsy Cafe, Sienna cafe (which is much more than a coffee shop now), The Maddox square Blue Tokai.
Tell us your go-to coffee order.
Iced Pour Over.
What is one coffee pet peeve you just can’t brush off?
To be honest, I am a tea person. I do love coffee, but my pet peeves are all tea related. I need well-brewed teas! Milky, under brewed teas is what I can’t handle.
Calcutta is known for its old world charm meets modernity, what are some places in the city that remind you of this?
Mili Droog has done a fantastic job, the Goethe Institute is also a great example in the restored Park Mansions.