Will city nightlife twirl to its heydays?


Shot of a female DJ playing music at a nightclub. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

In its heydays, Nairobi Central Business District’s nightlife was centered on almost every street.

On Kimathi Street and Lane, there were about 12 nightclubs that turned the city into a party scene once it hit Friday.

Then gradually the nightclubs closed down ushering in restaurants and coffee shops.

“There was Hollywood, Brilliant, and Vision. They closed. Then Hornbill, Hunters, Polos, Ibiza, Wallet, Hornbill, Heartz, Verandah, Zeep, Betty’s, Psys, Zigzag, Porter House, Wine Bar and Steps, Florida 2000, Mad House,” says Steve Ambani, who frequented these clubs in the 90s and 2000s.

The city was one big dance floor, depicting the vibrancy of a town that the Tourism industry would have easily marketed as a nightlife destination.

But now, on some Friday evenings, quietness falls on these streets like a mouse, save for hooting cars and loitering street boys. The curfews, closure of entertainment joints to halt the spread of coronavirus, orders to stop the sale of alcohol, job losses which meant diminishing purchasing power and desire for many to drink near their homes, have pushed city pubs to their death knell.

However as the opening hours shift from 7 pm to 11 pm, investors who have remained in the city and party-goers hope that normalcy will gradually resume.

Charles Kariuki, a Nairobi resident is looking forward to a Nairobi where people have fun till the wee hours of the morning.

“In bars, there is a guarantee of good music, a vast array of options in drinks and bitings and the best crowd to drown your thoughts and worries as the night goes by, I hope things will get back to the way they were,” he says. Sheila Atieno remembers the nights she and her friends would struggle to sample the too many clubs.

“We used to bar-hop, from one club to another. In a night, we would visit at least five nightclubs in a single evening, before heading home to our “locals” (bars in residential areas), and then home. It was fun and I miss that,” she says.

But others say that nightclubs are still many, in the city outskirts and it is the restricted hours that are fun-limiting. From the 1824 Whisky Bar to 40Forty Lounge, Brew Bistro & Lounge, to Golden Ice Bistro, Nairobi party lovers still have options to choose from. The bars have even come with modern amenities. Some are located on rooftops or balconies where you can sit and explore Nairobi as you enjoy your drink.

On economy

The entertainment industry plays a major role in the economy, but the pandemic has adversely affected it.

The Pubs, Entertainment, and Restaurants Association of Kenya (Perak) have since March 2020 been urging the president to extend operating hours saying enforcement of the restrictions continues to hurt the recovery of the sector.

About 7,500 popular bars, hotels, and entertainment spots have been shut countrywide and workers sent home, while owners face auctioneers, the Bar Hotels Liquor Traders Association (Bahlita) said.

Bahlita said that more than 250,000 jobs have been lost since the onset of Covid-19 in Kenya.

“Closing at 7 pm left many businesses struggling with low sales and inability to pay workers,” Simon Njoroge Bahlita chairman said.

Some employees did not receive their pay as pubs closed unceremoniously. “I was told by a colleague that Mojo’s was closing and when I tried to inquire from the management, they only said they would get back to us once the curfew is lifted. Now the curfew has been lifted. Let’s hope they will keep their word,” said an employee who was a bouncer at the facility for three years before they were sent home.

A waiter who used to work at the same pub says she has been home since March. “I hope to get that call to go back,” she says.

David Khatamba, a security guard at a club in the Central Business District, is not very optimistic about a full recovery. Despite the no-curfew announcement and longer drinking hours in pubs, Kenyans have changed their habits: They prefer drinking in Naivasha, Nanyuki or Lukenya camping sites, places with no restrictions and stuffiness of crowded spaces with sweaty patrons.

Standing at another bar in despair was Anna Kimeu, who was wondering how she would support her four-year-old son working in a struggling industry. “There is nothing we can do except wait,” she said.

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