Hungry like the wolf? Well head to Chatham Street and the Pagoda Tea Rooms.
If you don’t get the reference it’s to one of those classic 80’s tunes by that archetype 80’s band Duran Duran. From somewhere in England with floppy blonde hair, ripped jeans and a sound between rock and pop with some synthesizers thrown in they were THE band of the early 80s. Hungry like the wolf was the track that made them and the music video was played virtually on loop on a just born MTV.
Now anyone with a passing interest in the history of Rock and pop will know this, but what most don’t know is that the defining music video- with the band roaming some impossibly exotic tropical city, was filmed in our own Colombo. More precisely it was filmed in Fort in 1982. In the false dawn between Mrs B’s bread queues, the first JVP insurrection and the ethnic conflagration that was to come.
You see a bustling Fort/Pettah brimming with life, energy and big smiles. In the year after this amazing advertisement for our country was filmed however Sri Lanka and Duran Duran took rather different paths. The band’s star kept rising while our country went up in flames.
Battered by bombs, buried under checkpoints and barbed wire Fort, the city’s heart, would soon stop beating. This video therefore beyond launching pop’s New Wave into the musical mainstream also documents the very last days of the Colombo Fort as the true centre of the city. While, 30 years later, our ethnic war has finally ended it’s hard to imagine Fort will ever be the bustling centre you see in the video. But we can always hope.
One sign that the Fort is coming back to life is the fact that the Pagoda Tea Rooms- which as a tripped out version of itself, actually stars in the music video – has been refurbished.
In real life I don’t think table mounted snake charmers were ever a feature but Pagoda has always been a pretty fantastic place. A literally cavernous interior sunk back from the ever-charming Chatham Street this has long been the Fort lunch spot par excellence. Somehow it’s owners clung to this location throughout the dark days of the trucks bombs and infinite checkpoints.
To survive though it literally went into a state of suspended animation. Nothing seemed to change for decades and everything seemed to be straight out of the Duran Duran era. Recently though we discovered that this retro classic had refurbished – embracing the fact that with the Dutch Hospital, further refurbishments and big government plans the Fort is going through a renaissance.
The Tea Rooms now feature spanking new furniture, the interior feels lighter and brighter everything has been given a new lick of paint and the bathrooms are much better than the ones in Dutch Hospital. The place has really been reborn but for all the new gloss it still manages to retain a dollop of old word charm. How could it not? Founded in 1884! it’s the oldest eating spot in the city after all.
And refurbished or not they always dished up a good, cheap, fried rice, a decent lamprais and plenty of short eats(its long been under the same ownership as the pretty superior green cabin).
Unlike Green Cabin though its still maintaining short opening hours –opening at 7 closing at 5 to serve an office working crowd. We’ll know Fort is really back in business when it’s serving dinner to a throng that spills out onto the beautiful surrounding streets.