The other day it was the birthday of Choudary alias Ravi alias Koni alias Shiva alias God knows what, my friend from school days and he expressed a desire to visit Alex's Kitchen, a Chinese restaurant near what was once known as Liberty theatre in Hyderabad. This Liberty theatre played English movies only, and was a prominent landmark those days with its typical architecture. Later on I remember the theatre showed a series of shady movies before being broken down to make way for some commercial buildings. Across the road was this little shopping complex with no parking space, an ice cream joint in the front, leading into Chinese stores selling leather goods, shoes and bringing up the rear was Alex's Kitchen, the haven for cheap Chinese eating.
We probably visited Alex's during our college days, maybe 1984 or so. It had the same decor inside with the main theme being red, little chairs and tables huddled together in a very compact way, a small waiting area outside because there was always a crowd waiting to get into the restaurant. They played good western music then and we spent many hours listening to ballads from Wham, Scorpions and others while drinking up soup or eating noodles or fried rice. When we did not have enough money (which was more often the case), we'd order one fried rice and spice it up with sauce and share it - there would always be a good quantity even for growing up sportsmen then. And when some demure lass agreed to go out with us, we'd head to Alex's Kitchen specially if we did not have much cash and is she was not too fussy.
There was this chap called Bob, or at least that's what we used to call him and he was the Alex's icon. Chubby, smiling and always making everyone feel like he knew them very well Bob was in a big way, the face of Alex's and drew many people to come back over and over again because he made them all feel special and wanted. Certainly the chaps behind the counter never ever looked like they wanted to make friends with anyone but Bob seemed to know everyone and always had suggestions for the undecided. Countless times, we spent our birthday party money at this joint - Choudary, Sanjay, Subbu, Ali and me.
I visited Alex's a few years ago just for old times sake and found that the wait had grown longer, Bob had left which brought down the place's charm by 50%, the decor and interiors were the same, the music was gone and that excellent pork dish was missing. It still did not take credit cards, chaps behind the counter were as phlegmatic as ever, the quantities as huge as ever and the prices as affordable as ever.
So it was not very surprising when Choudary expressed his desire to go to Alex's where he probably ran off with one of the girls on the sly, and I said we'd do it. We drove through rain and bad traffic for almost an hour and reached the restaurant. We'd called Ram but he somehow missed our calls and could not make it. Don and Kiran joined us a bit later, feeling rather light headed after a few large ones I was told. We parked, saw the place which was teeming with people, booked ourselves a table, walked out to go to the ATM (still no credit cards), ate jalebis on the road, looked at the leather goods shop that was shutting down and had a sale and got ourselves inside. Choudary ordered as usual, what seemed to be over the top, and we saw huge mountains of food being served, and we all said that we cannot possibly eat it. The music was not there and we missed it, Bob was not there and we missed him but we reminded ourselves of the good old days and dug into the food. Surprise, surprise, we actually managed to polish off the whole thing!
The bill was really small - 650 bucks for the whole works and we wondered if they had made a mistake. Anyway, the evening was quite enjoyable and when I told Sanjay that we'd gone there, the anguish in his voice at missing out was evident. Well, there's always next time.