The five best cafes of Pondicherry

Here I am, trying to weave my way through pedestrians of  Pondicherry who are coming onto me like waves of an ocean. A little deft twist here, a little deft spin there but the waves keep coming. This town on a weekend can be a town full of people but on a long weekend, it can be even more people and just less town. And peaceful Pondicherry, they say.

But where is the coffee shop or to be precise, a cafe as this is the Frenchiest part of India and you better act like one. Which gets us to a very basic question. What do we look for in a cafe when travelling. Mon Amie, isn’t it simple; good coffee, wi-fi, a peaceful ambience with enough space to stretch those legs and if the universe comes together to provide good food too, then we are all willing accomplices in the criminal activity of letting time slowly tick by unnoticed.

So the hunt is on in earnest that would have made Joan of Arc sign me up for her troops.

I run into the first cafe almost by mistake. Cafe des Arts is not really my idea of a cafe. Because there is graffiti of monkeys shouting at each other on the walls outside and a sale of Rajasthani miniature paintings in the art shed inside. Then I see a dog enter the cafe and I think to myself, if this mutt is finding this place so curious, let me too just step in and sniff around. Walking in, I notice a showpiece rickshaw in a small garden. There is an open verandah to my left and a coffee bar to my right and the rickshaw straight ahead.

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

The old wooden lounge chairs are very comfortable and am immediately attended to by a smiling lady of French origin. Coffee in France usually means the expresso variety. The regular coffee which we have with milk is usually had at breakfast. Otherwise it is mostly black.

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

Proud to be armed with this knowledge, I order,
“One coffee, please”.
“Black coffee or milk coffee?” comes the question.
“Coffee with milk, please.”
“Oh, why didn’t you say latte.”

I grimace in extreme pain. This lady is quite at her eloquent best later too. Her reply to a customer’s offhand remark that there are flies buzzing around is met with a, “You can’t stop nature, can you?”

Cafe Des Arts, Pondicherry

Cafe Des Arts
Coffee – Good (No cappuccino)
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes
Prices – Medium to High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Colonial home turned into a boutique cafe, no air-conditioning
Closes – 7 pm

If a canine led me into the previous cafe, laziness leads me into Artika Cafe. It is right next to where I am staying on Labourdonnais Street. Thus familiarity led to contempt until one lazy morning, I saunter in for lack of a better thing to do.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry

It was one of the best things I do in Pondy. The narrow shrub lined path from the gate of Artika Cafe leads me into a beautiful small courtyard with graffiti and paintings of various hues and themes all around and canopied by the salubrious shade of trees bedeckled with pistachio coloured bougainvillea flowers.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry

It also has a small art gallery and a clothes boutique. This certainly is the best cafe to laze around in Pondy and better when there are some paintings hanging inside. Karthik, the owner is a friendly guy and flits between Goa and Pondy though he is even more friendly if you buy some of the paintings.

Artika Cafe Gallery, Pondicherry
Artika Cafe Gallery

Artika Cafe Gallery
Cappuccino – Maybe the best in Pondy and the chocolate cake is excellent
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes
Prices – Medium
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Colonial home turned into a boutique open air cafe, no air-conditioning.
Closes – 6 pm or so.

Left to myself I would never visit Hidesign Cafe. It is located in the shopping district of the city above its proprietary store on the third floor and is as commercial as it gets.

Hidesign Cafe, Pondicherry

Thus it is a cafe that you would find in any other metro in India except that it is more plush and aesthetically pleasing and since Hidesign owns this cafe, leather is prevalent everywhere. The view of the neon sign lit Nehru Street is colourful at night. Unlike other cafes in town, this one has a bar available and thus on a hot day there are interesting diversions available.

Hidesign Cafe, Pondicherry

Hidesign Cafe
Cappuccino – Good
Prices – Medium to High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Modern with air-conditioning.

On the busy Bussy street, (yes, you read that right), amongst the medical shops, there is one signboard of a gentleman who looks like Sherlock Holmes, holding a platter.

Bakers Street offers medicine of a different kind which is cheese. Owned by a French gentleman or gentlemen and I do not check the veracity of this, this is a busy place because of its authentic cheese oriented food. On a lazy Sunday, sit down in a nice corner and ask for the wi-fi password and indulge in the salads, sandwiches and baguettes.

Baker’s Street, Pondicherry

Bakers Street
Coffee – Average (No cappuccino)
French breakfast in Pondicherry – Yes and it is the best
Prices – High
Wi-Fi – Available and Free
Ambience – Cake shop like with very good air-conditioning.

I am not sure why I walk into Bon Bakes. Owned by a hotel and located on the busy Gingee Salai right next to Hot Breads and the canals, it has a very commercial looking glass facade. But if you are living in Pondicherry, you will visit Bon Bakes again and again. They have the best Irish coffee cake, best coffee and it air-conditioned in this otherwise sultry town.

Cafe Irish Cream – Bon Bakes, Pondicherry

Bon Bakes is primarily a bakers shop which also gives a very good view of what is happening on the street. Most establishments in Pondy insulate you in high walled French houses so that nothing of the outside can be seen. But on a lazy afternoon when there are no crowds, visit Bon Bakes and look at the traffic go by.  It actually gives you a view of the Indian Pondicherry.

Oh! So Many Cakes, Bon Bakes, Pondicherry
Bon Bakes, Pondicherry
A cappuccino

Bon Bakes                                             
Cappuccino – The best
Prices – Medium
Wi-Fi – No
Ambience – A commercial bakers shop with a cafe style ambience and includes air-conditioning.

There are other standalone coffee shops or cafes in Pondicherry. Cafe Ole, Indian Kaffe Express, La Casita, Le Cafe, New Banana Cafe, Cafe de Flores and Mission Cafe are a few.

Cafe Ole, Pondicherry

Cafe Ole is too small and serves really watery coffee and its sister establishment Zuka’s cakes though excellent are served in very small portions.

Le Cafe, though very ordinary, is always busy because of its location on the Promenade next to the sea but is an excellent place to be in during very early mornings and really late nights.

Indian Kaffe Express is a really nice place to laze around but there is a flaw. It serves Indian street food and cuisine. The whole idea of coming to Pondicherry is to experience “Pondy” but if you are taken back to Bangalore or Delhi then what is the point. Their staff always seem a bit uninterested and are found staring at the television as if some epochal event is happening.

I need to watch television, Indian Kaffe Express

Mission Cafe is a cute hole in the wall and may come in handy now and then.

La Casita has potential to be a very good Tamil Quarter based cafe if refurbished as it has a beautiful view of the adjacent temple.

Cafe des Flores is in the building of the Alliance Francaise and has a nice airy verandah and garden.

La Casita, Pondicherry

All cafes in Pondy open early and serve breakfast and the French owned cafes are closed on Tuesdays.

The New Banana Cafe, Pondicherry



One Comment Add yours

  1. cakenflower says:

    Very interesting blog….


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