For whom the Cathedral bells tolled….

They closed down Woodlands Drive in yesterday.

Cathedral Road, Chennai, will never be the same again.

Todays Hindu reports that by an order of the High Court, the drive in restaurant stands closed from Friday 11, Feb, 2008. Feels as if one more nail has been driven into the coffin of ‘old and gentle’ Madras. Woodlands Drive in : Rest in Peace.

The saving grace is that it seems that the Government wants to convert that campus into a botanical / horticulture garden. Thats what they say. Time will tell.

Woodlands belongs to the collective memory of most who have been in Chennai (e.k.a Madras city). A sort of Mysore touch in the middle of Madras – A Malgudi hotel on the road that connected Marina to Gemini Studio. One still remembers the arch of Gemini Studio at that end of Cathedral Road. All that has gone. The friendly environment of USIS Library (United States Information Service, that was in the US Consulate there), has been trasformed into an Alcatraz sort of barbwired fortress. And the last of the bastions, the friendly Woodlands Drive In restaurant, has now downed its shutters.

What a watering hole it was. People from all walks of life converged there. There were the legends like the famous playback singer PB Srinivasan, with his characteristic cap, a dozen pens sticking out of his shirt pocket, sitting in the Self-service side of that restaurant, composing and writing lyrics for new songs. Industrialists like Arjun Raja, who would come directly from Board Meetings, to enjoy the open-air-ambiance, delicious tiffin and coffee. Or the youngsters from colleges nearby. Families…And the germinators of Software Industry – the young colts from TCS offices in Lloyds Road, Cathedral Road and Bishop Wallers Avenue….

Tin-steel-topped tables. Old fashioned wooden chairs. A choice of dishes. A just-right dish of Pongal Avial, a cool-cool dish of Bagaala Bath, a greasy spread of Chana-Batura, a nice large plate of Masala Dosa, or simple dishes of bisi-bele-bath, or tomato rice with pachdi…Coffee in Tumbler-Davara, sugar seperate.

And after that, to relax on the circular platform in the shade of the spreading Peepal tree, chewing pieces of poisonous paakku (supaari).

After a lapse of many years, by some stroke of providence, I visited “Woodlands Drive In” just a week ago. On a hot afternoon, I walked across to the restaurant, and had a plate of Chana-Batura. I had no idea that it was going to be closed down soon, but did get a sepulchral sort of feeling as I looked around. But the old tastes still lingered. The old waiters were still there. It was like seeing an old, classic, black and white movie, once more. It felt like home.

That home now is no more.

Goodbye Woodlands Drive in. Goodbye you ‘old reliable’, and God Bless.


Folks! The Memorial Register is open. Type in your tributes.


11 Responses to “For whom the Cathedral bells tolled….”

  1. bala Says:

    Hasnt this place been around for about 40+ years. I remember going there as a youngster and most recently about 4 years ago with my dad.


  2. das Says:

    “old reliable” is the perfect word. Finding the
    perfect word is your trade, I guess I also recall that
    woodlands drive-in was a landmark when we used to
    visit Madras as school children.


  3. Srinivasa Says:

    You’ve forgotten to mention the salesmen writing their daily reports, probably fudging their expenses :). I believe salesmen were the single largest demographic there mid mornings and late afternoons.

    In addition, there used to be a kids’ pony ride for Re 1/- back in the 80’s.

    PB Sreenivos, playback singer and my former next door neighbor in CIT Nagar, was in the 80’s focusing on spiritual themes. I believe he used to sit in the Drive in writing in Telugu on Krishna bhakti. He was not born again or something, he’s from the Prativadi Bhayankaram family.

    The food’s been terrible in the Drive in for at least 25 years now. It’s just the ambience that it still had going for it.

  4. gkamesh Says:


    ambience is correct. that and the fact that it was one place you had ample place to actually park your vehicle. Now how many places in Chennai can you say that about?

  5. Ramach Says:

    So sad that Woodlands drive in had to be closed !!! I had been there
    several times during my college days at Vivekananda College, Mylapore !!!
    Stella Maris was not far away from there !!


  6. Tommy Says:

    This was a place I remember going since I was as kid ’66-’67. Clearly remember running to the swing sets while the food was being either brought to the car (which was so cool then) or sitting at a table. Brings back memories. Visited several times passing thro’ en route to RECT and driving during my last visit – even during my last visit in ’05. But then things change.accept it.. all in time – it is just a question when. At least it is not going to be a another concrete jungle …. in the immediate future.

    Good piece Kammo…

  7. Tiru Says:


    Well written but the fact is I was in Drive in Woodlands last year, the place seemed completely run down with unclean tables, equally unclean waiters, ordinary food, coffee was luke warm served in crockery with dents & Chips . I think they asked for it. Time to move on. PB Srinivas can sit in Mailai Karpagaambal Mess or Raayar Cafe in Kutchery Road, if he wants to feel nostalgic.



  8. Radhakrishnan Says:

    Have visited Woodlands exactly four times. Funnily each virtually spaced 4/5 years apart. Each a deterioration over the previous one. The single feeling that one got was of suspended animation. And some old tamil movies. The closest parallel is that of a now shrunk Airlines Hotel in Bangalore. Time moves on. It is like Moore Market is no more! That went down around twenty five years ago. Let go…

  9. Vaithee Says:

    That was neat Kamesh! Mapps had sent an SMS too! It was like seeing our name in the Hindu obituary! The “Bread piece chana” washed down with coffee and then Filter will(18ps!) was bliss! Kokku pakku- (crane supari) was to avoid the suspicious sniffers at home!!

    Will miss Drive-in Woodlands, for sure!!


  10. Vijay Says:

    hey.. it was open this sunday… as in yesterday… i had gone there about 4ish..and wound up only about 9… guess they have bought some more time to deal with this closing down thingy!! it would be foolish to belive that woodlands drive in cant be shut!! since the court have given thier orders… woodlands must have bought sometime to give thier customers a smooth ending to thier services they began 60yrs ago… so for all u woodlands drive in lovers!! take ur ride and enjoy ur tffin as soon as possible!! and click some pics… u can atleast show ur grand sons!! once this botanical garden was a famous eat out!! and they would enjoy the picS!!

    my dad has pic of the eat out which was once located on anna sqaure beach!! ( right now where the swimmuing pool is) i belive they used to have a juke box there…

  11. gkamesh Says:

    Nice note Vijay

    And in the year 2050, when people walk into the kaadunaadu poonga, a 3d Virtual Reality experience of the old foodplace… complete with that rotund big chief using the force of his personality to drive the waiters to second gear…

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