Why Woodlands Drive in was special…

One of my friends, Sowmya Simhan, who founded and runs an NGO that deals with Disability issues, wrote to me about the restaurant.

Physically challenged, she drives around in a specially designed scooter, and is more active than most people.

Sowmya had this to say about the ‘old reliable’.

I give her mail below.


dear kamesh,

actually i am very sad today. You know why. because
of the closure of woodlands drive in. You know it was
such a wonderful place. I have been going there for
the past 20 yrs because they used to serve in our
vehicle. I used to sit in my scooter and eat. Even
when you had to go inside there was no steps etc. so
it made things very easy for me.prices were also very
cheap. no parking problem. i cld go there all alone
also.you can be as long as you pl. it was so very
wonderful. we can never get something like this again
in chennai. its a great loss to the glory of chennai.
all that i hope now is that these polituicians dont
mess it up by making it another concrete jungle.



Sowmya runs an organization called Sukriti Social Foundation.

You can see their website at http://www.sukriti.org/

And you can know more about Sowmya at:


7 Responses to “Why Woodlands Drive in was special…”

  1. Ravi Chandramowly Says:

    very sad indeed….it was never in the forefront of one’s consciousness but yet was comforting as a watering hole…..inhalation hole ……..in more ways than one can imagine…….mysore masala, poori bhaji, dahi vada……coffee in davara tubmler then a nice goldflake kings from that small potti kadai inside …….man, life is bliss there….and then hangout in the green expanse in the thick of the din of traffic just 100 feet away on cathedral road, gemini flyover ….yet so quite inside…….alas no more……..guess thats life

  2. devendra kumar rvs Says:

    Those were the years I lived in Chennai in Royapttah and worked in an office on Mount road.Every morning I would ride my bike[HRC 49] to the ‘Drive in’ at 8:30 am .There was a particular table very close to where I parked my bike,normally occopied by group of 2-3 people ranging from 35-40 years of age .I was 20 then.There were no introductions only an exchange of smiles ,when a late comer arrived. I think that it was my unfamiler registration no of Haryana which got me an inviting smile from the group the first time to join their table.

    All give their seperate orders and paid seperatly.No names were exchanged nor was any personal information exchanged.Including a packed lunch of 3 idlies and 1 vada and my breakfast I could never spend more than Rs1.50.

    I had left home[Delhi] for the first time in my life and this morning breakfast session gave me a lot of comfort.The interesting sideline was Rati Agnihotri also visited in her car many times for breakfast.She lived in Mylapore then.The others at the table would often give bits of advise on how to handle the small problems that I would often face in a new city.

    When time came for me to leave Chennai on transfer I told my friends at the breakfast table on the last morning of my stay .They had already guessed as I did not bring my bike that morning.It was packed for transport to its new home in Lucknow.

    There was never any exchange of addresses nor promises to meet later,just a loud ‘Best of luck’.

    Five years later I went to Chennai on some work and as I was staying at Hotel Maris ,took a short walk to ‘drive in’ at 8 am and occupied the same table.When none of the old gang appeared till 9 am I asked the waiter who was familiar. He told me that the group for unknown reasons had just stopped comming more than 3 years ago.

  3. Dan Balan Says:

    That’s beautiful.

    As a fellow writer I can fully appreciate the emotional gift of touching someone.

    But her line” without any steps” jerked me emotionally for a fleeting second.

    We writers read differently; we savor words for they pack an emotional dollop, sometimes unobtrusively.

    Nice share .

    75 degress in Chicago. Went for four mile walk in the evening.

    I am with you Brother!

  4. gkamesh Says:


    Your comment makes great reading.

    Yes. WDI was that kind of place. A time-warp….where you step in to get away from the physical and mental pollution of city life. One can therefore perfectly understand your table-group…folks who spoke without needing to know names, addresses… yes… there was philosophy in that ambiance… an earthy sort of philosophy… and you have brought that out so well. thanks

  5. S Venkatesan Says:

    I may not really miss the Drive-in – certainly the quality and taste of food was eminently forgettable.

    The first time I really heard of it was in the late 70s when I was still in REC Trichy. Never got to go there until about end of 1980.

    Yes, for a person from outside of Chennai (and a smaller town) I was in awe of the name (Drive-in). I assumed that only those who had a car could go inside and dine; later on saw a few bikes and assumed that one needs at least a two-wheeler.

    Thanks to my batchmates who worked in Chennai I got to go there from about end of 1980. I had to pass through Chennai for the first eight odd years of my career (in Bombay and then in Delhi). Almost always used the brief time in Chennai to network with my classmates from the 1980 batch.

    When we decided to meet on a day, all that used to be communicated by our eternal event coordinator (the good samaritan CV Swami) was the time (Dai, 6 manikku vandidu..). The place was always the Drive-in.

    We used to have the same menu all the time – rasa vada, dosai, chenna / cholaa batura,coffee in the porcelain cup (you had to specify – otherwise it used to be served in a dirty glass). We had to put up with inefficient and indifferent waiters who used to take their own sweet time to even come and pick up your order. There used to be a wait for the bill to come too. The washbasin used to have one-eighth of a Sunlight bar soap and was always soggy.

    Apart from the area open for cars, there also used to be dining area in the open adjacent to play-area for kids. Here you had to be careful with crows showering their generosity on your plates and water glasses. Seen them happily swooping on the plate even when you were eating.

    Self-service in the afternoons and in the evenings used to be a boon as we were not at the mercy of the waiters. But the choice was limited.

    PB Sreenivos was a permanent fixture and one could go and talk to him. He made me buy a cassette of his ghazals (the songs were rendered by OS Arun) and wanted a review of the rendition!!

    On Saturday and Sunday there used to be a huge rush of North Indian and Gujarati folks – most of them after their morning walk. The oily pongal and dosa and the high-cholestrol vadai would ensure that the benefits of exercise were lost for ever. The bisi bele baath was watery and the kichdi had only oil.

    Seen some groups meeting on select days – August 15th (a tribe of city journalists used to converge there); Rotary members on a few Sundays and so on… Whether there was a DMK meet in Gopalapuram or Arivalayam or an AIAADMK event in Lloyds Road, the cadres used to show up in Drive-in (in Sumos, Qualis or Innova..).

    There used to be sale of mangos during season. There there was also a counter for ice-creams. The kids used to flock here.

    Of course it was the only place where you did not have to book in advance. Besides it was bang in the centre of town and approachable very easily. While it was not value-for-money, the food was certainly cheap and affordable – certainly for the Entry level engineers in Cognizant, TCS and employees of Rane, Chemplast etc

    Cognizant used to have their Cathedral Road Office bang opposite and I had a cabin from where I could see the entrance of the Drive-in. I used to have candidates come over there for interviews over a cup of ‘kaapi’.

    Over the years, the place appeared to be run down – though there were(are) some fresh construction. I felt that the garden was thoroughly neglected. It was tough to approach it in recent times given the one-way rules etc. The New Woodlands restaurant (a child concern of the Drive-in) was more hygienic and had a better choice.

    If at all I miss the Drive-in, it would be only for its welcome-all ambience and spirit.


  6. Srimanikandan Says:

    Few things that spring to my mind when I think about Drive-in. We just call it that way as we are not aware of any other Drive-in Restaurants in town!

    The waiters were all slim and fit. I distinctly remember a very old waiter (thatha) of the place who had not a single inch of extra waistline. I used to wonder how this is possible and finally concluded it’s all because of the amount of ‘ground they cover’ serving food in the restaurant, from inside the main hall, to the AC Hall then to the open area and finally to the parked vehicles. Just imagine the amount of walking. However, the chef makes sure that the fat burnt by the waiters is more than compensated by adding it to the customers!!

    And then there was the waiter who is only ‘Vegetarian Body builder’ in town. If you buy candies/ pakku after your meal, the shop keeper proudly shows off his colleagues’ picture. I don’t recollect the waiter’s name

    Most of the time, we had food there we would also follow it up an ice cream sold near the children’s play area.

    It’s encouraging to know that the place is going to be used for developing some rare flowers and other plants. Hope Govt. sticks to this and executes the plan


  7. S Venkatesan Says:

    Great post Mani (for those who don’t know him he is a Finance professional. Mani is Money!!)

    Coming back to Woodies (that was another popular reference to this place), as you pointed out it was only next to the Marina beach in regard to meeting of ‘liking’ minds!! Won’t elaborate further on this!!

    If I sounded that I hated the food I apologise. Several times I have enjoyed the sambar vadai, upma, bonda etc. In all, I have been to the A/C dining hall a couple of times – a relief from the asbestos-covered general dining room.

    Some of the waiters used to request for positions for their qualified wards – Woodies was one of the places where you could meet the Recruitment teams of Cognizant, TCS… and submit ones candidature.

    Today (April 17th), there was a debate about the Drive-in in the state legislature. Our Honorable Chief Minister has lamented on the abuse of the property and has assured that there will be a horticultural garden on par with Lal Bagh etc.

    I heard that from the newsreport that the property was worth Rs 1000 crores – hmmmm. How many zeros are there in this number?

    The inevitable end of Woodies is very near.

    Let’s be thankful for all our experiences in that landmark..


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