The grand 17th-century Jama Masjid’s administration recently shocked Indians by briefly barring solitary women from entering the mosque. But an elite, invitation-only cafe next to it is changing the way the monument is viewed.
The Gumbad Cafe gives out South Delhi vibes in the heart of Old Delhi. Some even call it ‘mini Dubai’ or ‘mini Turkey’. And it has the most majestic – and chilled out – view of the Jama Masjid: Up, close, and personal.
From the French ambassador’s family to popular YouTubers, Instagram influencers and bloggers, the cafe is the new ‘it’ place for the well-heeled to hang out. You spot visitors with the popular ‘Senorita’ mocktail and a kebab in their hands, shooting reels with the lit-up white dome of the Islamic monument at the back.
“I have seen a lot of cafes like this near the mosque in Istanbul, but it feels great to sit so near this famous mosque,” says Aadmir, a tourist from Croatia.
The new ‘it’ spot
Before Gumbad Cafe, it was considered hard to move around Chandni Chowk’s congested lanes wearing heels and bling. Now it has become the setting for romantic dates, parties, and celebrations. The cafe even offers parking facilities to its visitors, an almost impossible luxury in Old Delhi.
The rooftop cafe on the old Aiwan-E-Shahi hotel is getting popular by the day for offering a picture-postcard view of the Jama Masjid. From the minarets and dome to the verandahs inside, you get a secret peep into the heart of the mosque – so intimate that it almost feels wrong.
Within four months, Gumbad Cafe has seen unprecedented popularity. In the beginning, some people made cynical comments about the cafe.
Old Delhi is known for its street food and crowd. Neither alcohol nor anything else that can hurt the sentiments of the mosque-goers is served at Gumbad Cafe. People have questioned the hookah service too. “This is only herbal hookah without tobacco,” says Zainab Bukhari, the owner.
The music in the cafe is also stopped during namaz hours. “We do not do any such work that may hurt the glory of the Jama Masjid. Rather, we are providing such a place where you can come and see the mosque peacefully and enjoy the sunset or even the moon.”
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Not for everyone
Local residents, though, have a complaint.
“They do not allow anyone from Delhi-6 to enter the cafe. It’s like they do not want to get exposed to us. Don’t know what they do in there. It’s not right; this is a place of worship,” says a local boy who works in a dry fruit shop in front of the Jama Masjid.
There are some strict rules about who gets to visit the Gumbad cafe. Families and couples are given priority. Single men get a thorough once-over before being allowed in. This is done so that women and families inside do not feel uncomfortable, according to the cafe’s owner. “Earlier, boisterous, fukra-type men used to come. We do not want our guests to feel uncomfortable, so now we give entry to people only after seeing them,” says Bukhari.
Food lovers have a lot of choices to pick from.
“Along with Mughlai, we also serve Chinese and Italian food. People like our pizza a lot — dozens get finished within hours,” says Nadeem Khan, the manager. With a walkie-talkie in his hand, Nadeem coordinates with the security guards at the entrance to filter people in.
“I am a cafe lover. I have come here from Noida — an hour’s drive — just for this view,” says Amanpreet, a scholar, soaking in the sunset and the view while sitting in a high chair with her friend.
A couple sat at the table next to them. “I wanted to see the Jama Masjid but didn’t want to walk amid the crowd. So, my friend told me about this cafe. Now we can sit here comfortably, watch the mosque, and enjoy,” says Roopali, with a hookah in her hand.
“We get 100 to 120 calls daily. Sometimes I get upset and switch off my phone. Those who come directly are also let in, but couples and families are allowed first,” says Nadeem. Many have to DM the cafe on Instagram to reserve a table.
Most people come in the evening — and there’s a long waiting line every weekend. A bouncer at the gate said that he relays the information to Nadeem about the people who show up without a reservation on the walkie-talkie. Only when Nadeem okays it does he let them in.
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Tourism and history
Everything in the cafe smells of Old Delhi, and the black and green menu details the history of the Red Fort and Jama Masjid. You’ll be impressed by the food and get intimate with history too.
But some history buffs don’t entirely approve of it. Abu Soofiyan, who organises heritage walks in Old Delhi and runs the Puranidilliwale page on Instagram, says that a few things about the cafe aren’t consistent with the theme of the old city.
“Old Delhi is known for Mughlai food. But this cafe offers intercontinental food.” Soofiyan, however, agrees how such cafes serve as spots for tourists as well. “In a couple of years, there will be more cafes like these. In Old Delhi, the markets and food shops are not managed. You won’t get a proper place to sit and chat so these things are local tourism,” he says.
But for the gumbad view, some people are even willing to book a room in the hotel downstairs. “I saw this cafe on the internet, and only for the view, we booked a room for one night. It was amazing,” says Julia, an Australian tourist, travelling with a friend.
It’s all for the view, agrees Soofiyan. “Everyone wants to get a picture or shoot a reel with the Jama Masjid in the background.”
(Edited by Humra Laeeq)