Nairobi’s lost lifestyle: Let’s go back to the year 2000
In a month, Nairobi Governor Johnson Sakaja has promised denizens of this city a ‘Nairobi Festival’ the kind of which we have never seen before – that will celebrate the city’s performing arts, sports, film, photography, ICT, trade and culture. Yet at the turnpike of the millennium, Nairobi was a different city. Tony Mochama takes us back to the ‘Year 2000’ to bring us a time-scope of the town that was ‘Nai.’
A fortnight ago, walking at night through the Village Market Mall in Gigiri during their Halloween Night, a friend from Finland, Sepp Pannen opined: “Nairobi has a million malls. Has it always been like this?”
In a flash, this writer was back in 1999, at the October “Win A Truck” Capital-FM sponsored competition, where all we had to do was ‘hold’ onto a pick-up for days, with city radio celebrities like Fareed Khimani and Eve D’Souza cheering us on, until the last wo/man literally left standing/holding on took the pick-up.
The Internet didn’t exist around the Year 2000 in Kenya, so googling who won that competition yields nothing as it wasn’t ‘uploaded.’
And Village Market was the crown jewel of the very few malls that existed in the city of Nairobi, with Sarit Centre being the very first mall in Westlands, followed by The Mall just across Ring Road in Westlands, and Yaya Centre up in Kilimani.
22 years on, malls dot the city-scape like confetti at a Nairobi Festival street parade – Westgate, that was the centre of an international terror attack in the September of 2013, The Hub in Karen, Galleria, Capital Centre, Next Gen, Imara Mall, The Junction, Juja Mall, Diamond Plaza, Thika Road Mall, Greenspan in Doonholm, the upscale Two Rivers with Ferris wheels, Rosslyn Riviera; there is even a Mandera Mall in Nairobi.
And then there is the nocturnal life of bright lights, or else the non-working street lamps of Nairobi that existed at the turn of the millennium, a town with its municipal services slowly going to seed, with street urchins on every corner and every broken pavestone growing a cluster of weeds.
But it was a town that knew how to party, right from the heart of the CBD, to the ‘drive out’ clubs where people dressed to the nines (and tried to get into the club before 9pm because it was free for ‘ladies’) to the city places of the night, with their twilight girls, whose doors either never shut, or at least always remained partially ajar.
Twenty Clubs from the Year 2000: La Papa Loca: locally known as ‘the Crazy Potato’ by its regulars, and situated where 40 Lounge now is, La Papa Loca with its live music, disco, pool and large dance area – complete with ‘Freaky Friday’ rave nights that attracted expatriates by the dozens – was the ‘it’ club of Westlands on Muthithi Road, and the immediate precursor of the ‘Pavement Club’ that hit shortly thereafter.
Gipsy’s: located at the back of Ring Road opposite Barclays Bank (now ABSA), and now permanently closed, thanks to good food and decent DJs, Gipsy’s was a very popular uptown club, especially among the hip upper middle classes of Nairobi, and now so-called ‘cool kids.’ The city’s gay community also loved Gipsy’s, so Tuesdays, then Fridays, became an informal ‘gay night’ at the club.
Klub House, Parklands: Playing pool, alongside rhumba music as performed by the likes of the brilliant Awilo Longomba, were the huge Kenyan crazes at the turn of the millennium, and no one capitalised on this craze more than Klub House back then by having huge rows of pool tables and games going on 24/7.
Sports Bar & Restaurant: If one had thirst for a beer and a football game, in the era when Arsenal and Manchester United were dominating the English Premier League in the early 2000s (before Chelsea FC under Abramovich showed up to break the boring two-team trophy stranglehold on the English game), then this was the place, on Lenana Road in Milimani, to go catch games on their giant screens.
Fredz: Forgotten in the mist of the clouds that crowd around the memory of the turn of the century is ‘Fredz,’ also in the Milimani area, on Ralph Bunche road. Fredz opened at sunset, with no fee for the early night birds, but the disco ignited like gasoline much later on.
New Florida 1000: Shaped like a giant mushroom about to take off into outer space, and popularly known as ‘Mad House,’ F1 was as frantic and frenetic as a Formula One car race, with insane dancing going on featuring foreigners, locals, and a boiler room distinctly decadent atmosphere of anything goes. Situated on Koinange Street, it put the ‘red’ on a red-light K-Street district that no longer exists in the CBD.
Florida 2000: F2, situated on Moi Avenue (near Kenya Cinema Plaza), was more structured than ‘Mad House,’ with its hardcore tarts who would not hesitate to yank the weaves off ‘strange’ women in the ladies’ lavatories. It had a loyal if incoherent clientele and a proper cabaret show on its large silver coloured dance-floors beneath strobe lights, and mirrors on pillars in which the ‘ladies of the night’ could observe their seductive dance moves, or simply add a dash of lipstick to fire-red lips.
Simmers: Smack bang in the middle of Kenyatta Avenue, with Congolese bands at hand to entertain, this legendary outdoors pub (that was brought down by bulldozers sometime back) was the hub for CBD ne’er-do-wells who wanted to spend their salaries with salacious lasses, as well as more adventurous foreigners.
Simba Salon: Friday night disco, Sunday night soul, Wednesday Rock night, Simba Salon at the Carnivore – ‘Carni’ or ‘Voo’ for old-timers in their twenties in the year 2000, was the ultimate Nairobi party place.
Baricho Road: With Choices, or ‘Ka-Choi’ as its centre-piece, Baricho road starting around the Year 2000 was the ‘party street,’ rivalled in Nairobi only by the ‘Electric Avenue’ street of Westlands, Mpaka Road.
Mamba: If you were a young, swanky Kenyasian, then ‘Mamba’ on Museum Hill, just next to the International Casino, was the place to party at in the year 2000. In subsequent years, as Kamlesh Pattni opened a church in the compound and the place became the cemetery of nightclubs.
Buffalo Bill’s: In front of where Heron Court Hotel was, and still is, a legendary bar straight out of the Wild West – where all of Nairobi’s adventurers, NGO employees, local eccentrics, entrepreneurs, safari operators, dodgy politicians, disco queens and BS artistes used to show up – to drink beer at 80 bob, listen to disco music from the 1980s, with hookers trying to pick up all the guys.
Modern Green: A rough and ready Nairobi institution on Latema Road, Modern Green Day & Night Club, truly a 24/7/365 joint, by the year 2000 had the legend of never having closed its front door to patrons for 32 years (not even on August 1st, 1982 coup day).
Friendship Corner bar lay across the road from ‘MG,’ and was a much tinier but far more lively place, beloved by the young backpackers and turn-of-the-century hippies who passed by on one-night stays at the New Kenya Lodge, as they walked up from River Road to Latema Rd especially after 3 am, for a dear bottle.
Finally, for the more upmarket manners and pockets at the turn of the millennium, there was the Exchange Bar at the ‘New Stanley Hotel’ on Kimathi street, the Boulevard at the bottom of Harry Thuku road, Lord Delamere at the Norfolk, and Ngong Hills Hotel for local ‘old school’ spenders, all still there, 22 years after a Nairobi that is like the line from the Blur song that goes: ‘let’s all meet up in the Year 2000, won’t it be fun when we’re all fully grown? Let’s meet up at the fountain, somewhere on the road’
Tony Mochama is the writer of “Nairobi Night Runner: A Nocturnal Guide to the City-in-the-Sun.” [email protected]