Chic nightclubs shake sleepy townsThursday May 04 2023
For many years, entertainment was concentrated in Nairobi, Kisumu, Nakuru and Mombasa. Away from these cities, very few people made good money from nightlife.
But with urban-rural migration owing to job losses and search for new opportunities, nightlife has turned into a money-spinner in counties.
In early 2000, there were very few classy bars and nightclubs in Eldoret town.
Party animals visiting Sam’s Club or Club Samba knew each other by name or by face. Because if you were not partying at Sam’s Club this weekend, next weekend you would be there.
Now, tens of bars and nightclubs are proliferating in town and the middle-class areas, attracting lawyers, and doctors to businesspeople who have relocated from bigger cities.
Others come to the town to party while in transit to Kitale or neighbouring regions.
From Friday evening to Sunday, Tamasha, Kettle House Bar and Grill, The Infinity, The Container, Vaxx 1000, Alberto’s Lounge and Grill, and the E-Lounge clubs, among others, get full easily.
Justus Kibet, 39, who owns the popular Tamasha Lounge located on the Eldoret-Kapsabet road, says he hosts revellers not only from Eldoret but from Nairobi, Mombasa, Kitale, Kapsabet and even Kakamega.
The club opened its doors in 2020 at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic but business has picked up fast. Initially, it was just a car wash space and progressively grew into a club. Today, he has 161 employees.
“We decided to put up this [club] to bring closer to Eldoret what revellers experience in Nairobi and other big cities. We noticed that there was a gap in this market,” explains Mr Kibet, a trained accountant, noting that he stocks alcoholic beverages selling from Sh2,000 to Sh180,000, a bottle.
He stocks the King George V Scotch whisky, a pricey alcohol for the who’s who in Eldoret.
What has also helped is that the town has gradually grown, attracting a large number of investors such as banks, supermarkets, furniture shops, and colleges, among others, whose employees have a high purchasing power.
To draw customers, some of whom may be teetotallers, Tamasha's owner has incorporated a fancy barbershop, a restaurant, a bakery, and a car wash.
“We have those who don’t take alcohol like the clergy who come to enjoy our meals at the restaurant,” says Mr Kibet, adding this strategy ensures the sustainability of the business.
When setting up the club, he picked many lessons from big cities where revellers have sophisticated tastes.
Sometime back, they noticed that some revellers walked into the club and out after some minutes.
They sought to establish where the problem was to fix it.
“I visited some of the leading clubs in Nairobi and Kisumu to understand what they were doing differently,” he says. The findings helped him tweak the style and ever since, people seem to like Tamasha.
“What we brought was new in this market,” says the entrepreneur.
Club owners have had to invest heavily to spruce up the spaces or expand to beat the competition. The popular Timba, for instance, was closed last year for renovations to cope with the intense competition.
For Mr Kibet of Tamasha, he also credits the live performances graced by the big names in the entertainment industry for the good fortunes.
Recently, Tamasha hosted Tanzania musician Matatizo hit-maker Harmonise and registered a total of 5,000 revellers, its highest number ever recorded in a single day. They paid for his private jet.
Read: Here's what it takes to enjoy classic whisky
“Every three months, we ensure that we bring big artists to entertain our clients. I can confidently say that there is no major artiste and Deejay who has not had a chance to perform here and they are quite expensive. But if you keep the money, you will not be giving the clients what they want. Again, clients have a platform they request for the deejay or artiste they want,” says Mr Kibet.
He says success in the industry comes to those who offer the right entertainment and vibe.
“There is something you will find in one joint but miss it in another,” he adds.
Another entertainment joint, the Kettle House Grill and Bar was known as Relax Inn or Simba Village under the same management on Eldoret’s Kisumu Road.
It opened its doors in the 1980s as a hotel business but management changed hands in 2011.
Daniel Letting, the general manager, explains that they rebranded to keep up with the intense competition following the dwindling numbers.
“When Covid-19 struck, the numbers tumbled down. We hoped that the numbers would improve afterwards but they didn’t,” he says.
“We decided to do major renovations and rebrand and truly we are seeing more revellers coming. Going forward, we’ll be doing serious renovations often because revellers get bored easily,” he says.
Part of the additions include three humongous screens including all-weather ones and 20 TV sets. Besides, they also introduced Ugandan dishes, Sharwama, and more cocktails.
“We changed seating arrangements to open up the place. Previously it was cubicles but now people can freely intermingle. We also have an outdoor space in gardens for families or chamas,” he says.
Kettle House Grill and Bar host up to 500 revellers per sitting, mostly people coming in from Nairobi, Kapsabet, Kisumu, Bomet, and Iten.
However, this is dwarfed by Alberto’s Lounge and Grill's 1,500 to 1,800 reveller capacity.
The club, off Eldoret-Kitale Road, sits on three acres of land and opened last December. It is owned by Kenya-US citizen Paul Chelimo, a 5,000m Olympics bronze medalist.
“On Mondays and Tuesdays, you will find the elderly enjoying the quiet ambience. Some buy just two beers and nyama choma. But other days, when loud music is playing, we get younger revellers,” says Jared Tai, the manager at the lounge.
He has seen Eldoret become the new frontier for entertainment.
“Nightlife in Eldoret is very different. If you ask anyone where they would like to party outside Nairobi, most of them choose Eldoret..it is overtaking other towns,” he says.
Those who come to Alberto’s Lounge and Grill are football fanatics and music lovers.
“Football fanatics have good money and spend a lot... whenever we have live matches on screen, we get many fans from as early as 2 pm and when there are champions league matches, the numbers are even better,” Mr Tai says.
He adds that setting up the joints outside the town has been a blessing in disguise since “most people want to enjoy themselves out of town because of the limited parking space in the CBD.”
Read: GenZ in an old rich man's bar
But the nightlife business is dicey. Drink spiking has led to the collapse of Nairobi clubs in just months.
“In the first week, it was a serious problem. We decided to pay our bouncers well because they can identify them [criminals of spike people’s drinks in nightclubs] and block them from accessing the venue,” says Mr Tai, adding that they employ 36 staff permanently and 15 casuals on the busy weekends.
Another popular club that opened its doors in 2021 is The Container located on the busy Kisumu Road. Just like its name suggests, it’s a container club.
According to Felix Kimwetich, the club’s manager, its unique setup was popular with the revellers.
“Nowadays, most people want a setup that is open and unique. This container can hold between 150 and 200 people per sitting. But if we arrange outside it can host up to 400 revellers,” explains Mr Kimwetich.
And just like new nightclubs in big cities, they stock drinks that give well-travelled and suave drinkers options. At The Container, the most expensive drink is Glenfiddich 18 years that costs Sh17,000.
“We have drinks that go for between Sh200 and Sh17,000,” says Mr Kimwetich, adding, “but last year, we expanded and opened another club-The Bak with drinks that are relatively higher priced than at The Container.”
Other joints such as Sumvilla Park Autospa and Grill, which opened last December have gone cosmopolitan; hosting musicians from different communities.
“We have theme nights like Luyha, Luo or Kikuyu nights. We also have different local cuisines,” says Michael Omollo who manages the joint.
In the Headlines
Ruto's first budget signals deep pain for taxpayersBy ELIZABETH KIVUVA
World Bank: Tax plans to hurt purchasing powerBy DOMINIC OMONDI
Oil dealers petition MPs on 2019 taxBy JOHN MUTUA