The Firpo’s Restaurant was the place where royalty once dined. It was the place where once white men and women used to be involved in merrymaking and that is the beautifully curved ornate staircases, where the tails of the gowns of the dignified ladies would sweep the floor, as they proceeded to the dining area. Known by its name, it was once a fashionable meeting place in Calcutta and most popular among the European community of the city.
Firpo’s Restaurant in Calcutta was established after the Great War I, around 1917 by Angelo Firpo, an Italian by birth and culture. Angelo Firpo, a young man, travelled from Genoa to London and then Calcutta and brought with him the flavor of Italy in the flourishing city of Calcutta. He opened a tea room, named Firpo’s Restaurant, with a pastry shop and a popular catering service.
Soon, it became a favourite spot for the aristocratic society and even earned the appreciation of Lord Irwin, the then Viceroy and Governor of India. It is believed that, on every Sunday the Governor-General used to lunch there, with his officials. The restaurant also owned the hearts of many native rulers, known as Maharajas, the King and Queen of Nepal, Aga Khan and numbers of other important dignitaries among its clientele.
During its prime time between 1917 and 1960, Firpo Ltd had an enthusiastic band of more than five hundred employees in Calcutta and one of the biggest producers of bread in undivided Bengal. Apart from that, the Firpo’s Restaurant had some specialties of its own. In their la carte menu, they did not have any separately priced items. Instead, they strictly maintained a pre-set menu, known as the ‘Table d’hote’. It is a type of menu, where multi-course meals with restricted options are charged at a fixed total price. However, they always used to serve a five course meal, with perfect options.
In those early days, along with Polynesia at the Grand Hotel and the Great Eastern Hotel on Old Court House Street, only Firpo’s, was equipped with dance floor and live bands and till 1960s, these places were the happy hunting grounds of the affluent society of Calcutta for Christmas lunches and dinners.
The ambience and the cabarets in the Firpo’s were European, while the orchestra was a huge band, consisting of trumpets, saxophones, trombones and a complete string quartet with drums. The full sized dance floor was equipped with a speciality of its own. It was the only sprung floor in India, giving dancers an extra lift as they quickly moved with rhythmic steps and waltzed and tangoed their way through the night.
The charming Lido Room of the Fipo’s used to treat its guests with six cabarets in a single night. In a way, the Lido Room made a history, as the first Bengali Cabaret dancer Arati Das alias Miss Shefali used to perform here during the heady days of the sixties and became famous as the Queen of Cabaret.
However, Firpo’s had to face the first shock during the later part of the 1960s, due to the mass exodus of the Anglo-Indian community of Calcutta. But, the scenario drastically changed during the 1970s, with the rise of the so called Naxalite movement and the consequent turbulent political situation prevailed in Calcutta. Entertaining business became dull and dry, as everybody was eager to avoid risks and wanted to return home, as soon as possible. After all, life is more precious than entertainment. Yet, that was not the end of the show. Despite the adverse situation, suddenly an exorbitant entertainment tax was imposed by the local government on the dance and live music entertainment business in Calcutta, with the exception of ‘Trincas’. That was the last nail in the coffin of the once glittering Firpo’s and soon the glamour of the nightlife faded in the entertaining scenario of Calcutta.
The inevitable end came soon. The owners of Firpo’s Ltd appealed to the local Government in 1977 to allow them to convert the hotel building into a commercial market and the appeal was readily turned down. However, after a few years, with the change of political power, the necessary permission was issued by the Left Front Government and the Firpo’s Hotel with its restaurant was unceremoniously erased from the entertaining nightlife of Calcutta.