The club owners, Yadgar Marker and his daughter Phiroza, were served a notice by the owners of the hotel it is located inside to make way for a modernised hotel
Restaurants hold stories that span generations. Every city boasts of eateries that become a part of its lore. One such gem, The India Club, tucked away inside the Hotel Strand Continental in a bustling street of central London, has been frequented by foodies since 1951. Sadly, after 70 years, the owners of the restaurant have decided to close its doors. According to a report by PTI, the historic lounge-cum-restaurant and bar was served a notice by the owners Strand Continental to make way for a modernised hotel. The decision has left Indians in London filled with a sense of loss.
Set up in the 1950s, the club has thrived for decades. But now the owners of the property intend to replace a portion of the structure with a modernised hotel. The announcement has saddened patrons who view the club’s closure as the end of an era. The club owners — Yadgar Marker and his daughter, Phiroza — told the BBC that it has been battling against closure for years. A couple of years ago, they won their battle against the demolition after their campaign to save the place received thousands of signatures.
Nehru was a founding member
Situated on the first floor of the Hotel Strand Continental, the club was founded by members of the India League, a UK-based organisation that advocated for India's independence during the 1900s. Notably, India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru is believed to have been among the club’s founding members. The Markers bought the lease for the property during the 1990s. According to reports, India's freedom activists initially used the Club as a meeting space. However, later, it became a place for people from the South Asian community to forge friendships over shared meals and events.
Kusoom Vadgama, a historian and a regular at the club, told BBC, “In the 1950s and 60s, it was the only place Indians could go to meet people who spoke their language and ate their food. The India Club helped all of us feel a little less alone in our new home,” Vadgama, who grew up under colonial rule in East Africa and moved to the UK to study, said. She added that people would often meet there to celebrate birthdays, weddings or even Indian festivals like Diwali.
A haunt of Indian immigrants
In the years after India gained independence, many Indians migrated to the UK. However, London lacked cultural centres for the Indian diaspora during that period. The India Club bridged this gap for the community, emerging as a much-needed refuge for them. It served a range of dishes catering to Indian tastes, including south Indian staples like dosas and sambhar, as well as north Indian favourites like butter chicken. It also offered Indian street food like pakoras, alongside beverages like coffee and masala chai.
The interiors of the Club were designed to echo the coffee houses of pre-independence India. These spaces were hubs for discussions about culture and politics over cups of chai and cigarettes. The club’s décor, with its timeless chandeliers, Formica tables, and traditional straight-backed chairs, has retained its original charm from over 70 years ago.
A tribute to its rich socio-political heritage, the walls are adorned with portraits of notable Indian and British figures who graced the premises over time. Among them are personalities like Dadabhai Naoroji, the first British Indian MP, and philosopher Bertrand Russell.
A popular watering hole
With time, the Club evolved into a famous ‘watering hole,’ attracting not only immigrants but individuals from diverse backgrounds — journalists, members of India-British groups, and various associations. Journalist and author Shrabani Basu recalls her visits to the restaurant with fellow journalists In the 1980s. She told the BBC: “It was one of the few places that served affordable Indian food in central London.” To her, the India Club is akin to a ‘hidden secret’ of the city, a sentiment she shares with friends and family visiting from India.
Smita Tharoor, a motivational speaker, shares with the BBC anecdotes from her father Chandan Tharoor, one of the Club’s founding members. As a bachelor, he frequented the establishment and had amusing stories to tell, including one about a bar lady withholding drinks from perceived inebriated patrons. “After my father’s death,” she told the BBC, “I organized an event at the India Club in his memory. I also celebrated my husband's 50th birthday there.”
The India Club wasn’t just a place to dine; it was a part of London’s history. Through the years, it became a haunt of people looking for a taste of home abroad; they came together, shared meals, and created memories. Its walls echoed with laughter, and its flavours transported diners to the essence of India. As The India Club serves its last meals and prepares to say goodbye, its legacy will live on in the stories shared by its patrons.