Chennai's loss is Pondicherry's gain. The depressing liquor scene in the city forces many to risk driving three hours along the narrow, winding East Coast Road on weekends. Pondicherry, where you can rent a premium AC room for Rs 750, offers a spirited welcome. At the year-old sea-facing Promenade, a boutique hotel, you get Glenfiddich or Remy Martin for Rs 125 and a generous buffet for Rs 285. "Every weekend, each of the 15 major hotels in Pondy has at least 60 cars with TN and Karnataka registration. Over the past few years, the Bangalore crowd has swelled the liquor-driven tourism industry here," says D.P. Ramamurthy of RR Wine Mart, a leading liquor distributor in Pondicherry.
At the stylish Ajanta bar, a group of young men has converged from Bangalore and Chennai and is guzzling beer. "In Chennai we pay Rs 130 for a KF at an ordinary bar," says Venkatesan Raghuram. Ajanta indulges them with Foster's for Rs 60. "In Chennai, the few decent pubs insist on shoes and semi-formal clothing. Here you can walk in with rubber slippers," says R. Arun, Raghuram's companion.
Pondy's attractive not just because liquor is cheap (due to lower taxes and duties), but because it has wider choice. "While in TN, for a new brand to be introduced, a tender has to be issued, a fee has to be remitted and the Tasmac Board of Directors has to meet and approve, in Pondy there's a single-window clearance," says Ramamurthy. While TN has not seen a decent new brand in five years, Pondicherry offers one every week. Since Pondy is sandwiched on all sides by TN, people take a local bus from Cuddalore, Villupuram, Kanchipuram and Chennai, drink their fill, and return. Budget-conscious drinkers take a bus from Chennai (for Rs 60) in the morning, drink over lunch and dinner in Pondy, and return by night. For Chennai revellers, Pondy offers solace. The several accidents every weekend on the ECR, due to drunken driving, are hardly a deterrent.