There are two places to hear music at Galoka.
The first is in the bar, whenever a live act is performing. The second is in the kitchen, where the owner, Vikas, chants mantras while he cooks. Although it's not unusual to hear chefs singing or talking to themselves while they work, to Vikas it's an essential part of the recipe.
"I believe that the chanting, the positive energy of the prayers and mantras, is being infused into the food," he says.
Galoka is covered from floor to ceiling in original paintings and unusual musical instruments, artifacts that are also offered as supplements, a spiritual nutrition that is the cornerstone of Galoka's raison d'etre.
On a typical Saturday night, the bar is trafficked by an assorted mix of UCSD students, local musicians, turntablists and older jazz connoisseurs. Second Saturdays are Brazilian night at Galoka, so, on those nights, a sizable portion of Brazilian San Diego shows up as well. A patron might be hard pressed to find a conversation in English, but Galoka's visitors share glances and nods that seem to be a form of congratulations for finding the fringe in the heart of Yuppieville.
A few minutes from Bird Rock in La Jolla, Galoka is basically a double feature of Indian food and jazz.
Vikas is an unlikely restaurateur. He holds a bachelor's degree in sociology from UCSD and a master's from Harvard. Fresh off his graduation from the latter in 1999, he started the restaurant as a favor to his father, who wanted to expand his already successful restaurant, Café India, into North County. As a strictly temporary option, Vikas agreed to help prepare the Bird Rock location for business. The two-room establishment quickly began to take on a personality of its own.
"I called my sister and told her to come down and help me launch," Vikas recalls. "She told me she had to go to medical school so she could be an artist. I said, "Why are you going to school to be an artist? Just be an artist! You can come down and open a gallery at my place.'"
Vikas' sister Preet installed her artwork and created Galoka's design. To this day, the walls are tightly packed with Preet's original paintings and collages. A large, freestanding clock partitions the dining area. The ceiling is painted cerulean blue. Initially, Vikas began to play jazz through the sound system, and the clientele was into it. Slowly, Vikas began performing himself, transforming the restaurant into a venue for avant-garde and experimental music. Soon after, it became clear that Galoka could not be passed off to Vikas' father; it was too much a product of his own artistic inclinations.
"In New York, in San Francisco, in London, it's spreading. Modern Indian restaurants are becoming more common because we're the first generation to come of age and start a business. It's a total reflection of us," Vikas explains.
Galoka's credo claims it's "more than a restaurant, it's a revolution." Between the vegan food and the avant-garde music, it would seem appropriate if Galoka were radical and highly politicized, a rabble-rousing hothouse akin to the Che Café. Instead, Galoka is a peaceful environment that reflects Indian spiritualism more than collegiate activism. Vikas maintains that this is revolutionary.
"People got out and protested the war, but it was just more violence," he says. "They were reacting to the violence of war with anger-an inner violence. We must embody the peace we want to see-live the end in the means."
Vikas' deeply held belief in the power of peace and awareness informs the ambience of his restaurant. It's as if his inner calm has settled the air, and allows patrons to react to his music unfettered by their normal inhibitions.
I witnessed this at a recent performance by Forward Funk, an outfit that features Vikas on drums. An older woman dressed entirely in leopard print surprised the audience with her passionate and poetic physical interpretations of Funk's music. In an idiosyncratic pastiche of modern dance, hip-hop and ballet, she cut lines across the dance floor and never once seemed the slightest bit self-conscious.
While most of his band chuckled discreetly, Vikas bore down on his kit and pumped out the backbone for her flailing conclusion. Even as the music built, and the leopard woman became increasingly hysterical, Vikas stayed firmly within himself, hardly reacting to the spectacle.
After all, this is what he created.