The Alchemist: Rock, roll and racism at popular Nairobi club

The Alchemist Bar in Nairobi

The Alchemist Bar in Nairobi which closed its doors for the first time in six years as patrons came out to share their experiences at the high-end establishment in the wake of allegations of racial discrimination.

Photo credit: Lucy Wanjiru | Nation Media Group

The Alchemist Bar in Nairobi closed its doors for the first time in six years as patrons came out to share their experiences at the high-end establishment in the wake of allegations of racial discrimination.

A video clip depicting discrimination against black customers went viral last weekend, prompting Governor Anne Kananu to shut down the bar, pending investigations of racism.

The club reportedly has separate queues for blacks, whites and Asians.

It has now emerged that the bar was caught up in a similar incident four years ago and was forced to apologise to a customer.

Ms Cynthia Mbuthia alleged that she and her friends had been discriminated against at the establishment.

She claimed that the bouncers “acted and spoke in a racist manner towards her and her friends”.

“Thank you for bringing this issue to our attention and speaking with us on the phone. Looking forward to meeting and working with you in person to address this issue more deeply. We hope you and your friends accept our apology,” the bar tweeted on August 25, 2018.

‘Diversity of people’ dream

The Alchemist was built on a dream of “diversity of people, experiences and activities”. It was to be a cornerstone of diverse experiences. This has, however, remained a mirage.

“We hope you can empathise with us when we say that all dreams take hard work. It takes dedication. Mistakes will happen. But most importantly, it takes ownership and commitment to constantly improving,” the management said in a statement in 2018.

It did not, however, state the measures it would take to stop discrimination against black customers. At the time, the club said it held a meeting with its “security management company and removed the accused individuals” from its service.

“We will be posting signs around the venue that inform customers that any issues or complaints regarding staff or other guests can be voiced immediately to our managers on duty and be dealt with,” they stated.

With a “promise to do better”, it seems it was only but a short-term endeavour of damage control to protect their image. Four years later, same circumstances, same accusations, same venue.

Racism meted out on Kenyans

The viral video shows the racism meted out on Kenyans at the establishment daily. On Tuesday, Nairobi Governor Anne Kananu suspended the club’s trading licence over allegations of racial discrimination and noise pollution.

The bar is located at Parklands Road in Westlands. A black steel gate at the entrance is guarded by guards, who usher patrons to the bar. Beyond this gate, revellers are usually segregated and served according to their skin colour, according to patrons’ accounts.

Nearby traders and public service vehicle operators that ply the Westlands-Central Business District route told the Nation that patrons start strolling in as from 5pm.

No activity inside

On Wednesday, however, there was none, signalling little or no activity inside.

“It’s usually patronised by very wealthy people. You can tell by the cars they drive. If you have a poor sense of fashion, you are unlikely to be allowed in,” a trader told the Nation.

On Twitter, @Murgormurgor claimed he had also been a victim of discrimination at the club. “Nilikuwa huko nikachujwa three times because I am black, even after using my UK accent,” he tweeted.

@brsifuma tweeted: “Alchemist don’t even hide their racism, one time the manager, an Indian, asked me for the serial number on my ID, not the ID number but the serial number. I asked him if he knew his. I remember seeing my high school juniors enter without a problem as I was being interrogated.”

He, however, said he won’t be boycotting the club.

Another Twitter user added: “A group of 17-year-old white children jumped the queue and went. No IDs checked. I asked the bouncer why they were treating us like guard dogs outside. He got defensive.”

Many high-end restaurants have in the past been accused of racially profiling their clients. For instance, they reserve the best seats and scenic spots for foreigners by claiming they have been reserved, only for “foreigners” to be welcome there even without reservations.

Kenyans have also been complaining about poor service in some restaurants, where orders are either delayed or forgotten altogether as foreigners get preferential treatment.