At Jaipur Bar Paro, The New Fuses Seamlessly With The Old
Image Credit: At Paro

FOUR YEARS AGO, when I moved back to my hometown — Jaipur — during the COVID-19 pandemic, I couldn't help but revisit every key spot, every blurry memory, from my formative years in the city. It was a way to keep myself afloat at a time when it felt like the world around me was eating itself. It broke my heart then to witness an obliterated eatery in passing: a McDonald's outlet close to my school.

Like Counter Strike and WWE, McDonald's was also something I'd grown out of over the years. On rare occasions, I'd grab a McAloo Tikki burger from either of the two outlets facing each other at Andheri station while catching a local train. Growing up, McDonald's — particularly, the one next to my school — was like the wardrobe that would open into Narnia, a magical, life-affirming world of nostalgia.

But here I was, staring at a desolate space, stripped of all its reds and yellows. There was no Ronald McDonald sitting on the bench outside, waiting for you to join him with a Strawberry Soft Serve. Three years into my homecoming, I wouldn't even give that corner as much as a glimpse whenever I crossed the iconic Panch Batti in the heart of Jaipur. That heart had stopped beating for me, barring the occasional movie experience at the historic Raj Mandir Cinema next to it or the famous Jaipur Lassiwala close by.

I returned to the heritage building that formerly housed McDonald's only very recently when I visited Paro India. Designed as a ‘heritage modern’ bar, it was situated on the floors above where McDonald's used to be. A compact elevator (or the serpentine stairs coiled around it) led you from McDonald's to Paro. Clearly, the people behind Paro were mindful of the fact that they had to squeeze a lounge into the pre-Independence trading building, without eliminating the very pillars it rested on for decades.

Once you reach the rooftop, you realise it's a whole new world out there. You stare right into the eyes of Panch Batti, the five-lamp pole that you'd been looking up at all these years. You sit under the shades of the yellow-stone domes that you could only catch a glimpse of from the ground level. And most importantly, with a glorious and busy bar right at the centre, it reminds you that the city isn't dying as you grow up, but it's growing up with you. 

It's not just the setting or the design, it's also the food that fuses modern dishes with nostalgia. Sample some of the items on the menu: Passion Fruit Pani Puri, Bhelpuri Chikki, Burrata Tokri Chaat, Truffle Mushroom Galouti, Rai Mirch Ki Broccoli, Bedmi Nachos, Phalsa Kulfi, Aamras Panna Cotta, and my favourite – Chai Parle-G Tiramisu. All of these are not only mouth-watering, but also meant to appeal to the child within you. The child who was so obsessed with McAloo Tikki burgers that he didn't realise there were so many other household staples he could make a meal of.

Oh, and then there are the cocktails. House of Kashmir (rum, saffron, kahwa, rose petals), Shehar (rose petals, orange juice, gin), and Saanjh (blue pea-infused gin and rosemary cordial) – every sip takes you away from the hustle-bustle of the perennially busy MI Road and further down the memory lane. How between our post-school, guilty-pleasure visits to McDonald's and our guilt-free sundowners at Paro, we all grew up.

Paro: The Modern Indian Bar, Panch Batti, MI Road, Jaipur. Call +919773321730 for reservations. Follow on Instagram.