There is something critical that proprietors of fashionable clubs and lounges, especially in Nairobi’s uptown areas, have to constantly remember, make hay while the moon shines.
For there is no fickler patron than the Nairobian partygoer. Clubs and lounges in this disloyal concrete jungle may be trending today, and in two or three years, they disappear off the asphalt, as if they had never existed. Others stubbornly hang around, like abandoned old men, in an old people’s home, just waiting to die.
BDLife did a walkthrough of Nairobi’s arguably top 20 clubs and lounges; the trend (ing), the sad and the dead.
The barman upstairs has no idea why this whisky lounge on Nairobi’s Lang’ata Road is called 1824, but the graffiti on the wall behind him captures the zeitgeist of the club well.
“Wherever I roam, it is our Nairobi that my heart calls home,” it reads. 1824, with its whisky-themed ambience, up-and-downstairs spaces, and great music by DJs like K, Exclusive and Grauchi, as well as large TV sport-screens — perfect for catching soccer —is one of the most popular hangouts in Nairobi.
The ‘Sunday School’ is a huge crowd puller, and during the pandemic, it was the most raided club by police in the city, as desperate night crawlers made it their home.
Michael Koko, an interior designer who has worked on many clubs believes that the secret of the success of 1824 is both in its location and design.
“First of all, it is along the road on a site long associated with clubs. But mostly, 1824 brought the concept of the whisky lounge and an ambience of a gentleman’s club, but with pub vibe (and of course a cool place for women too) to life,” he says.
Other whisky lounges in this era are Sailors, Whiskey Arena, Sky Lounge, Swiss Cocktail Lounge, 7 Degrees, Level 8 Ciroc Bar and Lounge and The Whisky Library.
Whiskey River, on Nairobi’s Kiambu Road, is one of those that lost flavour with Nairobians, after upstaging and copycatting Wayne Fernandez’s ‘Jikonis’ that ruled the roost on Kiambu Road.
PARIS CLUB GRILL
Across the road from 1824, it is also whisky bar-club themed. Whereas 1824 sits just beside the site that was the legendary Psys Club, which started as Kenya’s first rock club in the mid-90s (and featured original girl group Tatu dancing on its counter, a la Coyote Ugly), PCG, as it is called, is at the entrance of the road that leads to Carnivore Hotel, that was the key party club in the 1980s and the 90s when the Lang'ata area was also the premier party city site. Psys, like its owner, is now long gone into the annals of nocturnal nostalgia, replaced by Pizza-and-Chicken Inns.
Once in the 2000s in Nairobi, the theme of the night scene was ‘we’re gonna go on down to Electric Avenue, and then we’ll take it higher,’ themed after the Eddy Grant hit.
Westlands was the ‘Electric Avenue’ of Nairobi, and from that era, the club that has seemed to survive is the Irish-bar-ish ‘Havana.’ It is still popular with the odd foreigner and has a nice ambience, reminiscent of ‘Westie’ of yore.
Once at the red-hot centre of Nairobi’s nightlife, Black Diamond in Westlands has lost quite a host of its customers, if not quite its musical and atmospheric lustre, and certainly not the dancing night ladies.
If there is a club in Nairobi that has managed to draw in and retain the expatriate club, alongside affluent locals, it is The Alchemist in Westlands. It can even afford to charge entrance fees on many party nights when others are struggling to court non-entrance-paying revellers.
It has its separate lounge place upstairs, a large dance space, an interesting nocturnal compound, and very costly cocktails, but the crowds just keep spilling (in). This is despite parking being a nightmare.
Chinese businessman Peng Chen, and his former TV anchor spouse Michelle Morgan, have certainly found a ‘Club Coehlo’ formula to turn nocturnal party crowds into gold.
The opposite is true for this club. Once a super-trending club, it is now a ghost of its former self.
SIPPERS and DINERS
Souped-up and with good TV screens and lighting, with rhumba rumbling over the speakers, Sippers still seems a small, speciality patronised place, great for ‘getting-to-know-you’ couples, the wine way too expensive, and with an interesting fake ‘Mona Lisa’ with that enigmatic smile at the back of the room.
Just across the road from ‘Sippers,’ Vibes Tamasha is still hanging onto its vibe, and attracting a full house weekend crowd of old-timers.
Its trick seems to be music that still holds memories for city folks in their late 30s to early 50s, including old aughts hits from the likes of Nameless, Nazizi and Nonini.
The club on Argwings Kodhek Road also have a large space, split in two, with some comfortable lounge chairs for creaky backs, great service and mature stewardesses.
I still remember the Sunday morning of May 2017, at Jiweke, the huge crowd there ecstatic on a two-for-one whiskey offer, as Eliud Kipchoge ran the ‘no man is limited’ race in under two hours. Fast forward, six years, two months and a week.
Jiweke is now a half-demolished site in Hurlingham, and the place that was always full is now a ghostly concrete hulk in the night.
In the days when it was owned by a West African called Oumarou Moumouni Ali, Kiza Club was the ‘it’ lounge in the city. Then in 2018, the Niger consul was deported.
His wife took over Kiza Lounge, but then Covid-19 hit like a bomb. When we visited the now supposed ‘Kulture Afrika’ club on a Tuesday night, despite a banner and wall notice saying it was open, it was closed, the site is now the office for ‘Homeboyz.’
From the 8th floor to the downstairs of Galana Plaza, there used to be the crowd-pulling but very controversial B-Club. Kilimani resident associations, like the one led by activist Irungu Houghton, were constantly trying to shut it down, including in court. It was raided over noise pollution, but like a zombie, it stayed a nocturnal hotspot.
Then in mid-January 2020, the club DJ Evolve was shot in the neck by a revolver at dawn. But B Club, unlike Felix Orinda (DJ Evolve), did not survive. It is now a Brazilian steakhouse called ‘Fogo Gaucho,’ with a Chinese casino next door patronised by excited Chinese.
Not much dancing, of the calypso or any other dance, goes on at Calypso in Nairobi’s Kilimani, but it has its mature crowd, and a comfortable cosy area inside, as well as being well-hidden.
It also has a large outside area, that is contained within its interior, and quick service from stewardesses like Vero. Great for both intimate couples and ‘chama’ group hangouts.
Just speed past the Roadhouse Grill on Nairobi’s Dennis Pritt Road, turn left into the Maalim Juma Road, and on your left, you will find the perennially popular Alfajiri, Swahili for ‘dawn.’
It has both an inner area with a DJ, and a large outdoor area, with tents, and like Habesha, they also sell liquor in ‘nusu mzingas.’ And, yes, the last of the owls do party till dawn.
THE BAR NEXT DOOR
It is almost all an outdoor affair, the party people around barrels and perched on stools, and it is the epitome of Nairobi’s nocturnal culture. All the ‘cool’ Nairobi drinkers go to this bar if you live in Kileleshwa.
I met former classmate and Seven Seas’ CEO Michael Macharia there and reminisced about the long-closed Gipsy’s, and how they used to play songs like ‘Sweet dreams are made of these, I have travelled the world and the seven seas.'
KETTLE HOUSE BAR and GRILL
The name is misleading. Kettle is more like a long hangar on Nairobi’s Gitanga Road, more warehouse than grill, and chockfull of party people because it is currently one of the most trending nocturnal spots in the city.
The crowd is a cauldron, the temperature like a boiling kettle and it reminded me of the vibe of ‘Party Island’ in Naivasha, another of those places that are popular with Nairobians, for the time being. Just like The Kettle, we’ll see how it settles.
Once upon a nocturne, this Brew Bistro ruled the roost, attracting both foreigners and locals ready to burn money at night in equal measure. It would get so full; that folks were turned away. We went there on a recent Friday from 11 pm to midnight.
There were three friends in the balcony area, a drunken couple inside, and an intrusive barman who thought folks do not know what a crispy chicken is but made a great rum-n-vodka cocktail.
Brew Bistro once blew up so much, that they opened that second one in Westlands. If the ‘Westie’ one is in ICU, this one is in ‘HDU.’ And that is how fickle the Nairobi nocturne can be.
Zephaniah, one of the workers there, blames this on the excitement of Nairobians to rush onto new things.
“Orchid Lounge, Onyx Lounge, some new grill in Greenhouse. All these opening up just down the street (Ngong Road) hurt us," he says.
Zephaniah observes that it is this fickle character of revellers, especially among younger folks, that even causes marriages nowadays not to last.
Their restaurant and drinks business, though, as we saw on a mid-week, is still going well and strong.
After the disappointment of finding ‘2 Grapes’ closed on a Wednesday, the comedy night and laughter now long gone, Ashaki Grill on Nairobi's Kindaruma Road is a sure bet to find a crowd.
Known for its great grill, and very full on weekends, on Wednesdays it seemed to be a hook-up place for the city’s better-heeled night runners.
I met the new buyer of Garden Square there, the iconic bar at the corner of KICC, which Barack Obama clubbed at in the 1980s/ 1990s visits, and immortalised in his book ‘Dreams From My Father.’ The Garden Square man says funeral meetings will be ‘dead on arrival’ at the new GSq. Ashaki lives on.
Why so? I am still waiting for an answer from manager Kevin Okinyi.
The LOCKDOWN LOUNGE
Wednesdays at the local in South B, the ‘Lockdown Lounge,’ were very popular, since this lounge replaced the old seedy Blue Flame club at the Hazina Complex, three female friends daringly launching it during the lockdown era of the corona, where it became a popular oasis for revellers near (and far) from South B.
Until recently, it even had the celebrity Ngangalito hosting its karaoke nights. And then, all of a sudden, the crowd quickly evaporated. The music stopped. And on a recent 8 pm, the guards at the complex turned us away, saying Lockdown has been locked up, and is now out of commission.
Its last karaoke was on May 23, 2023, hosted by Antoneatte, with DJ Deckster on the decks. The last posting on its WhatsApp group by DJ Harrie shows a toad-like fellow dancing in the club. Wife –‘If you go to the club, don’t come back to this house!’
Caption – me at the club at three a.m., knowing Ruto will build me a house.
Tony Mochama is the author of ‘ Nairobi, the Night Runner’s Guide to the Nocturnal City in the Sun.