The Story Of An Iconic Mumbai Cafe From 1871
Image Credit: Leopold Cafe and Bar is an iconic Mumbai restaurant from 1871.

Named after King Leopold of Belgium, Mumbai’s Leopold Cafe and Bar was established by Sherezad Dastur in 1871. Originally, it was a wholesale oil store, and is well regarded for being one of the first Irani cafes to be founded in the city. The place was also a victim of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, but has rebuilt itself since and emerged stronger. As a reminder of the attacks, some of the damages made to the place have been left untouched. Mumbaikars have come to see Leopold Cafe as a symbol of defiance against terror. 

The cafe’s facade faces one of the busiest streets in Mumbai. Its setting is emblematic of a vibrant, energetic city. The place was also mentioned in Gregory David Roberts’ novel Shantaram, which led to its popularity among foreigners who visited Mumbai. As it has been described in the book, Leopold Cafe is always full. The high ceilings and rotating fans are characteristic of the cafe. 

Dishes listed on the menu are a mix of Indian and European. Patrons may choose from pastas, risotto, stroganoff, sandwiches, kebabs and Mughlai curries. There is also a dedicated Chinese section, which mainly includes Indian-Chinese dishes like chilli chicken and vegetable manchurian. The cold coffee and shakes are also very popular. Tables are arranged close to each other, and there’s always the sound of laughter. 

Leopold’s customers are diverse, ranging from Mumbaikars to expats. The place doesn’t take bookings, so people tend to arrive early to be able to get tables. It’s less busy in the mornings so a lot of people visit for breakfast. Waiters are dressed in Leopold T-shirts and dash around the place trying to deliver orders to the right tables. With a backdrop of Bollywood posters and vintage advertisements, it's also the ideal spot for a bit of people-watching. 

Source: Leopold Cafe 

Some people feel that Leopold’s is less of a cafe and more of a bar. People tend to visit for glasses of beer over cups of coffee. The place is also known for its beer towers, which comes with taps that beer can be poured from. A tiny shop area at the back sells Leopold souvenirs and T-shirts. Leopold’s is one of the few Irani cafes in Mumbai that’s still doing good business. It’s located along the Colaba Causeway, across from the Colaba Police Station. 

The cafe stands proud today, not just as an icon of defiance but also one of the few remaining Irani cafes in the city. As more Irani cafes begin to disappear from Mumbai’s map, both residents and tourists can take some consolation in knowing that Leopold’s has survived the worst and still continues to thrive.