Food & Drinks

Old-School Bars Stand The Test Of Time


When bars are trying very hard to modernise their look to attract as many new generation customers as possible, there are some that are not in a hurry to change with times.

They have distorted lighting, scraped up floors, old seats, no adherence to interior design standards and one bartender as if they are in the 80s.

Kamlesh Kamau, 61, who has patronised one such bar along Nairobi's Juja Road for the past 33 years says “these bars are like a home to me … I feel so comfortable to a point I do not even realise I'm spending. I can buy beer on credit and when I will die, the managers will even fundraise owing to my long history with them.”

Julius Kariuki, 52, says he has no time for modern bars “which are full of evil people who spike your drink and rob you.”

Walking into these bars, the first impression you get is that they are abandoned houses or under renovation. Then you see waiters busy serving patrons.


Kioi’s Bar in Nairobi is one such bar that has stood the test of time. It has been in existence since 1960s when it used to sell muratina, Agikuyu traditional brew.

Its management says it will unlikely change its style.

Job Kioi, who manages the bar says, “You tether your donkey where you wish … That if you don’t like our style, you are free to go seeking where your comfort will best be catered for.” Older men, who now have few places where they can sit and enjoy a drink without too much noise, he says, frequent his bar.

When it rains in these old-school bars, the roof leaks and customers just shift from the drops without any complaint. They are bars that do not pretend to strive to assuage your ego.

Some of the bars have no restrictions on how to behave once drunk. You can light up a cigarette without caring who will get offended, the onus being on you who feels uncomfortable with the smoke to devise a way of getting of the path of the offending smoke.

They also identify themselves with the tribal tag. In Nairobi’s Park Road, they have traditional names and they are spacious given that they were designed during independence.

David Irungu, a manager of an old bar called Rwathia in Murang’a town, says they want to retain their historic roots. At the bar, they do not play loud music.

“We exclusively play one kind of music. Even the bartenders are old-school,” he says.

In these bars, you cannot expect to watch European football because there is only one TV tuned for news only.

“These bars have a unique history. They have weathered pressures of modernity and have retained that commoner’s feel as their selling point,” says James Kanene, a manager at Kimani’s Place in Nairobi’s River Road.