Nairobians and Kenyans by extension are a fickle lot. Few brands or institutions can claim to have a loyal base.
Often, Nairobians switch to the next popular thing that surfaces without as much as a farewell to the thing they previously cherished. Just look at the slow and painful death of Nakumatt.how many brands do you know just folded up and left like they never existed. Kenchic. Seasons. Kodak.
The best example of the capricious nature of tastes in Nairobi is how several clubs within the CBD in a span of ten years have closed shop, giving way to other restaurants, banking halls and business stalls. Most have been taken over by the relentless takeover of Somali restaurants.
The latest to succumb is Gravity on Kimathi Street, which closed shop late 2017 and we predict a Somali restaurant will mostly take over the place, or some meaningless stalls.
You can always predict when a club in on the verge of collapsing. You will find it mostly deserted before midnight, while previously it used to be full until dawn cock crow. Secondly, the waiters and waitresses are mostly disinterested. The toilet becomes filthy. By the time your favourite juice or poison starts running out on Sunday afternoon, the future of the facility is in ICU. And when they serve you four-day-old fries warmed off a faulty microwave, move.
Two years ago, Florida Night Club often called Mad House had that final and fatal encounter with the bulldozer, effectively sweeping the rich tapestry of history that the spaceship-shaped club held. Think about it, reggae big wigs King Yellow Man, Glenn Washington, The Might Culture, South African Jazz virtuoso Hugh Masekela, Congolese musicians Koffi Olomide, WengeMusica as well as Apache Indian, Kelly Brown and Shaggy are some of the names you are likely to encounter in their visitor’s book, if they had one. Now, another meaningless glassy skyscraper is being erected making Nairobi more corporate, less artsy.
In the 2000s Florida gained notoriety when newspapers reported that government ministers had been sported there cavorting with commercial sex-workers. But now it is gone. Forever.
Seasons, Kimathi Street, closed its doors three years ago giving way to the Micro-Finance institution Faulu Kenya. Seasons was popular with couples in their late 20s and early 30s, mostly bored of each other. In the mid-2000s, it was the mature club, amidst the popular clubs along Kimathi that attracted teenagers such as Tacos and Tropez (now Tribeka). In Seasons, they served a buffet; there was a section for Pool and enough leg room to maneuver through the reasonably expansive facility. Now it is a faint a memory of those who patronized there.
There are countless clubs that died. Now they are subject to nostalgia.
Here are some that closed, for the memories.
1. Zeep, Norwich Union, Mama Ngina St. Opp Hilton
After surviving for nearly six years without any upgrading while several clubs in the vicinity upgraded, Zeep did finally shut down. It gave way to stalls and now it is painted green with MPESA which presumably will be more lucrative than the bar. In its heyday, it attracted a mature crowd. Its upstairs was capacious enough with lounge chairs and room to squeeze in some dancing. In its last years, it struggled to maintain its clientele. Conveniently located in the safest part of Nairobi, near bus stages and sold drinks affordably, one will never know why Nairobians simply abandoned the premise.
At its peak, Genge kingpin Nonini shot the video for his 2005 wildly popular song ‘Keroro’ which had a host of celebrities including Jua Kali and Tony ‘Smitta’ Mochama introducing the video comparing Nairobian liquor to Russia’s. It is believed that its clientele grew up and moved to greener (pun-intended) beer dens. They are probably on their bad side of the 30s or better side of the 40s. I think even the video to Jimwat’s paedophilic hit “Under 18″was shot there.
2. Club Soundd, Kaunda Street
Right in the heart of the city, Club Soundd along Standard Street in Hamilton House targeted the corporate lady and gentleman. Their beer was slightly overpriced. And for a number of years, they hosted the Kwani? Open Mic, a poetry and spoken word session in the early hours of the night, as individuals enjoyed their tipple. Tony Mochama, Dennis Inkwa, Grandmaster Masese and a variety of enthusiasts graced the occasion that later moved to Arfa Lounge in 20th Century and God-knows-where presently.
Club Soundd closed a few years back giving way to City Classic, a Somali restaurant. Observers have reckoned the demise of Club Soundd to the arrival of Psys in the next building. Psys took the groundfloor and an upstairs place for lounge chairs, while Club Soundd was in the econd floor.
3. Club Psys
Club Psys that killed Soundd, hardly lasted a year. They closed shop giving way to a cool Somali coffee joint, Dream Bean. Formerly it was a popular football joint called Hooters.
4. Riviera, Kimathi Street
Another club that targeted reasonably mature crowd, given their beer prices. Riviera had a laid-back attitude and not ostentatious like the many clubs that surfaced along Kimathi Street in the closing years of the 2000s. Like Zeep, it never upgraded for over five years. It was shut for over a year. All along Java Coffee House was renovating the facility and has converted into another meaningless coffee house that conspicuously sits across a KFC. Pointing to the growing number of American franchises in our midst.
5. San Burners, Kenyatta Avenue, near Kipande House
Fairly new, it was set to be a sports bar, complete with an expansive area with many lounge chairs, and several screens. Additionally, it served Nyama Choma, besides the drinks. And on Sundays, they targeted young peeps for jam session. Then early this year, we woke to find the club burnt, literally.
6. Hooters, Kaunda Street
Popular with football fans in the 2000s, the club went down, giving way to Psys which used to attract the corporate types. (see above).
7. Verandah along Kenyatta Avenue
Totally forgotten. Verandah was popular with mature university students and those slightly out of campus on their first job. Verandah gave way to a Casino. And Club Mojos opened behind where Verandah used t be. Last time we checked, Nairobi Water and Sewerage Companies had some offices there. Not in any way missed though. There was another Veranda along Ronald Ngala at the Umoja bus stage. But was converted into the biggest shop that sells hair and beauty products for women.
8. KPs in Utalii House
KPs was a minuscule hotel that turned into a nightclub at night. It was popular with University of Nairobi Students out to impress their girlfriends on that anxious first date. That is before the young women discovered that Laico and Serena are proximate and there are slightly older men who can afford to take them there. They left their cheap boyfriends who moved to the adjacent Mwendaz for cheap shots. It was popular also for birthday parties. KPs shut down, giving way to a hotel run by Somalis.
9. Maggies, Tumaini House, Moi Avenue
Popular with students and young men and women in their middle-20s. Maggies existed in the chaotic environment with four other clubs within its spitting distance: Samba, Attitude (formerly F1) and now Highland Platinum, Dodis (now Branch Restaurant) and Sabina Joy across the road. Maggies too succumbed to the Somali restaurant takeover onslaught.
10. Lifestyle Restaurant, opp-Nakumatt Lifestyle
Popular with university students, for football matches and for some averagely good dates for young people, the restaurant faced insurmountable competition from Kenya Comfort, Pizza Inn, Steers and a number of hotels and restaurants inside Nakumatt Lifestyle. It has since been claimed by stalls commonly displaying clothes.
11. Rezorous, Westlands
It is Rezorous that single-handedly popularized Riddims eight years ago, courtesy of the Thursday Riddim Nights by G-Money of Homeboys. The Thursday reggae nights were fashionably famous and popular and it was always a full house. It is Rezorous that made Thursdays start to feel like the new Friday. And then every club started playing reggae on Thursdays. It is impossible to believe that the facility now houses a Casino leaving the life of a party spirit associated with Westlands red light district almost drained off. It has been reclaimed, but can never be restored to its old days whenever music video was shot in the many clubs in Westlands.
College-going kids in the 2000s, who are now happily married and settled frequented Tacos before Bettys opened across the road at Corner House, killing Tacos, slowly and softly. At some point, it was considered a gay bar and most men did avoid it. They closed shop in the late 2000s, opened shop two or so years later as iClub, which was actually a good upgrade with the blue-lighting and better screens for Saturday afternoon matches. But iClub died along with the Chicken House (formely Kenchick) that used to sell the best Masala chip in East Africa.
Why they close shop?
Boni Mwalii, an events organizer, attributes the death of the clubs to the way they are marketed.
“They are sort of marketed as a fashion trend. So when the heat dies down, so does the hype about the club. It is not easy to sustain the hype,” he says, regretting, “their target market is mostly the youth or young working class who apparently are trendy people. Thus they get attracted to anything that trends. Presently Space and Jiweke Tavern are very popular.”
When the clubs stop trending as cool, they vacate. Mwalii speculates that Nairobians like eating Nyama or Kuku choma that are hardly served best in town at a pocket-friendly price, hence why as individuals grow older with responsibilities, they move closer to their neighborhoods, to their ‘locals’.
The overzealous alco-blow police killed clubbing on Lang’ata Road.
“It changed the drinking culture, for good,” says Mwalii.
“Many Nairobians in the past couple of years have opted to drink at home. Where they meet with friends, buy their whiskey from a Wines and Spirits shop and enjoy themselves from the convenience of their houses. This has fewer hassles like fights, overpriced drinks for many people who struggle to make ends meet in Nairobi.”
For the memories, here is Nonini, down-the-memory-lane hit song.