Chennaiís landmark drive-in haunt set to close

For a place that had so wedged itself in the public consciousness, it will not be easy to drive out Hotel Woodlands Drive-in from Chennai's collective memory. The popular joint in the city is set to close after a recent ruling by the Madras High Court. After legal wrangles lasting several years, the court has asked the hotel-owners to return the property to the state government. In fact, Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi announced its closure in the Assembly on April 17, saying that a botanical park will soon take the place of the landmark hangout.

Located in the heart of the city, Hotel Woodlands Drive-in came up in April 1962 on an 18-acre land that was taken on lease from the Madras Agri-Horticultural Society. It was an extension of the 'Woodlands' brand, once popular in Chennai as the only 'Indian hotel'.

At the time, the drive-in was indeed a unique experience, what with the entire parking lot acting as the restaurant and the novel contraptions for holding glasses attached to the vehicle doors. Woodlands was the Madras version of the coffee house concept, where people could sit for hours, talking and reading. The hotel also provided green relief in the hot and sultry city. Not surprisingly, it was an instant hit. Soon, it attracted patrons like film stars, writers and journalists, most flocking in for a chat under the tree over coffee and dosas.

Through the 1960s, '70s and '80s, the hotel remained popular among local masses. Later, as the city grew and several hotels came up offering cuisines from across the world, Woodlands continued to remain popular, mainly due to the huge parking space between the heavy tree cover.

However, all this is set to end with the government deciding to take back the land that it claimed the society had given on lease without prior permission. As is usual with such cases, there was a political twist to the case as well. When the government tried to take possession of the land during the earlier regime of Karunanidhi, there was a rumour that an AIADMK leader was helping the hotel management, prompting an unusual interest from the government. However, it soon fizzled out, when the leader in question, current state minister K.K.S.S.R. Ramachandran, joined the DMK.

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