A hub for the Capital’s opulent, Dhan Mill, with its European-style cobbled streets, designer benches and a gamut of tastefully done cafes and luxury brand stores, emerged from a trade establishment dealing in something that was far from luxury, in fact, a necessity.
Back in 1978, agriculturist RK Jain, who had migrated to Delhi from Chhattisgarh in 1964, bought 4.5 acres of land in Chhatarpur to set up a granary. As time progressed and Delhi grew in wealth with multinationals pouring in, his sons turned it into storage warehouses for their products.
“Initially, it was a distribution hub for grains and that’s exactly how it started being called Dhan Mill (dhan — pronounced as dhaan — in local parlance means paddy). However, towards the end of 2010, we started giving the space on lease to a bunch of multinational companies for the storage of their own products,” recalls RK Jain’s 26-year-old son Rishabh, who handles the place with his sibling Gunjan.
Offering a blend of art and culture, food, shopping and much more, the place looks humble from the outside with an unimpressive gate leading to the 28 outlets, including co-working spaces, retail stores and cosy cafes.
“Gradually, brands started pouring in. They figured out that this could be a great hub for commerce in the coming years and they were proved right. It was not meant to happen this way but once brands started entering, it did. To begin with, we had Nappa Dori and The Oddbird Theatre & Foundation who entered the space in 2017 and since then there’s been no looking back. Dhan Mill compound holds a lot of potential and I am sure in the next five years, this place will be unparalleled,” added Rishabh.
A 10-minute ride from Chhatarpur’s crowded Lakshmi temple, it attracts a number of visitors despite the heavy vehicular traffic leading to it.
“The traffic does play havoc at times, but people still flock in numbers to experience Dhan Mill,” says Anugrah Chandra as he ekes out time after wrapping up a meeting with the clients at his store which sells clothing brand koAi.
The experience that Chandra refers to is of the quietude that Dhan Mill offers for people tired of the hustle bustle of the city.
It is afternoon and a group of colleagues are curiously looking into a design studio before settling on a bench outside a shack offering coffee and snacks. There is a young couple taking a selfie, and then there is a group of young executives from a start-up who have come for an afternoon snack.
“I have walked the streets of most of the city’s urban villages, but Dhan Mill is incomparable,” says Mudit Khanna, a corporate employee who is trying to capture a bougainvillea tree in the alleyways of the compound. As he waits for his clients, his eyes can’t stop romancing the backdrop of the cafes.
“My last meeting was done at Champa Gali and I was taken aback by the beauty that it has to offer. But now Dhan Mill will be my go-to place for every other meeting,” he explains.
“It’s not like this is the ultimate destination but what’s really attractive is the silence and solitude it offers to the visitors.”
Being picturesque, youngsters can be easily spotted here taking a picture or making an Instagram worthy video.
Abhilasha, an upcoming designer, sums up, “This rustic street in the lanes of busy Chhatarpur is a treat for lovers of art, culture, handmade goodies, design and food.”
Haven for shopaholics
Designer wear shops make up a significant chunk of the outlets.
“As there are a lot of bridal designers [in the stores], we mostly welcome couples who wish to shop for their wedding,” says Chandra who runs KoAi.
He also explains that the Dhan Mill management has carefully curated every commercial space.
Besides Chandra, there are outlets of Manish Arora, Divyam Mehta’s blend of Indian and Western clothes and Delhi Vintage Co. There’s also Bloni — designer Akshat Bansal’s exclusively black-and-white clothes — and NauklseN’s evening wear.
Designer Manish of Delhi Vintage & Co. says, “When we came to Dhanmill in 2018 it had a very interesting vibe to it. There was this space with a shed placed interestingly. It had the capacity to become a destination for art lovers and people with good taste. I fell in love with the space.”
Delhi Vintage and Co. takes pride in its research and finds old vintage fabrics, embroideries and patterns and try to recreate them again. Brands like Delhi Vintage and Co. or koAi follow the belief that fashion is hidden in resurrection of the old.
To complete the fashion tour is Cherry on Top, a saloon for hair and make-up, owned by make-up artist Ambika Pillai, and Karma Production & Studio.
Siddhant Gupta, 21, a visitor at Dhan Mill says, “Dhan Mill is unique in the sense that it is merging and amalgamating high-end designer clothing with streetwear clothing. There are outlets of Indian streetwear brands like Blue Orange and JayWalking.”
Dhan Mill is also becoming a den for artists, with co-working spaces for creatives, a studio for shoots. Above all, the vibe of the alleyways is to die for. Traditional bench arrangements, and roughly done walls address the millennials’ interest in originality and nature.
Amanda Gill, a third-year student of Delhi University who is busy painting, says, “I have been to numerous cafes in the capital but none is like ‘The Palette’. I wanted to spend a wintery afternoon with my friend at a place where we can just be ourselves. I came across The Palette while scrolling through my Instagram feed and here I am.”
Ashish, 34, has been running ‘The Palette’ cafe in Dhan Mill compound since last year. It is probably Delhi’s first art café. Every nook and cranny of the cafe oozes creativity. As Ashish sits to discuss the uniqueness of his venture, he says, “Every now and then a cafe opens in the city. Someone will have better furniture, decoration or something else. So, I thought why not fuse art into the cafe and make it unique for the youngsters. Art is therapeutic and engaging. You indulge in your art while you wait for the food. The Palette Cafe offers the people the canvas to create art at the cost of Rs 250.”
Gupta, who found the blend of streetwear with high-end designer wear appealing, adds, “Along with designer wear stores, the place has some pretty cool places like Cafe Dori and Bombay Club, which are theme-based and have great ambience.”
While every cafe in the Dhan Mill compound is unique in one way or the other, there’s Bombay Club which is creating a different impact in the minds of people. Well, what sets it apart from the rest of the cafes at Dhan Mill is the food. While every restaurant/cafe has mostly Italian or American food, the Bombay Club serves only authentic Indian food.
Sneha, a brand consultant at the Bombay Club said, “When we realised that there is no cafe in Dhan Mill which is serving Indian food, we jumped in without a second thought.”
The menu has been created keeping in mind Mumbai’s heritage, sensibilities and the mélange of flavours there. The cafe pays homage to the city’s diverse residents, cuisines from Goan, Parsi, Mangalorean and Anglo-Indian communities are served at the restaurant. They serve many dishes including the frankies, keema pav and Bombay fish and chips plus their signature Bombay raspberry.
Celebrity Chef Nishant Choubey who recently visited Dhan Mill after a hectic meeting to relax over a cup of mocaccino and vada pav at the Bombay Club, asserts, “What a vibe it is! This place is fresh and unforgettable. While their mini vada pav can’t replace the flavour of Mumbai’s actual vada pav, it does excel in attempting to satiate the urge of having vada pav. The aesthetics of the cafe is to gush over. It is a perfect place.”
Choubey, however, expresses concern. “I hope this place – Dhan Mill — doesn’t lose the charm because of commercialisation. I remember Hauz Khas Village and what we always thought about the artistic cafes there. But gradually it lost its charm in the face of commercialisation.”
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