Once the life of the party, city centre is losing its beat

Beirut Restaurant in Nairobi’s Central Business District. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]
They came, they hit, they ruled. For a long time, they filled the city night air with music and sprinkled colour on the tranquil streets from their neon bulbs.

For decades, they ignited the Central Business District at dusk, making it the undisputed king of nightlife.

Now, they are hitting the canvas hard, crashing out of the entertainment scene one by one. The party scene in the CBD seems on a free fall. What in the world is going on?

If it’s not a club shutting down, it’s another rebranding in an effort to survive as is the recent case with long-standing Tribeka Lounge. The joint, situated on Banda Street, was established at the tail-end of 2011 with its swanky VIP section, Beka Lounge, opening its doors in late 2012.

Tribeka now joins the long list of nightspots gone by. While the joint is said to have shut for renovations, according to management, which has also been confirmed by a notice by the Urban Planning Compliance and Enforcement Department of the Nairobi City County, word on the street is that it has permanently shut its doors due to mismanagement after a fallout between directors alongside an aggrieved staff over unpaid dues.

Craze of restaurant

The same management ran its sister clubs: Natives, Zodiac, Fahrenheit and Rafikiz, which closed a few months ago.

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In the past decade, the ideal partying hub has lost its allure and given way to restaurants, banking halls and business stalls. Take Club Fahrenheit, formerly, Silk, the infamous Kimathi Street nightspot. It closed its doors making room for Alfajr Jamia Restaurant. Seasons on Kimathi Street, also gave way to Micro-Finance Institution Faulu Kenya.

Zeep, New Florida aka Mad House and Simmers were brought down by bulldozers, Club Soundd on Kaunda Street is now a restaurant, City Classic. Club Psys also fell victim to the restaurant craze with Somali-owned coffee joint, Dream Bean, setting up shop.

Gravity gave way to Café Pronto, and I-Club, which had rebranded from Tacos, became Pepino’s Pizza. Others are club Florida 2000, Club Bettyz, Secrets Lounge, Club Envy-, Riviera, San Burners, Hooters and Verandah, the list is endless.

So how many restaurants can the city under the sun hold? Apparently many. When Alfajr Jamia and Kilimanjaro Jamia set up shop on Kimathi Street, they already had a retinue of competitors on a street that now houses more than 10 restaurants, with Artcaffé Coffee & Bakery and Java House’s new brand, Kukito, being the newest kids on the block.

The country’s bustling capital centre is now thriving with many eateries -  from roadside food stalls to five-star dining establishments to everything in between. From the Arab and Indian cuisine stop, Beirut to Al-Yusra, which offers Somali and Swahili cuisines, to Pronto Restaurant, the various Kilimanjaro Jamia Restaurants, Hamdi Restaurant, Berlin, Faraja Fariji Catering Kenya, Moodys, Kulan and the famed CJ’s Restaurant and Charlie’s Bistro, that look like they walked right off the set of Architectural Digest.

There is no question Nairobi’s booming restaurant scene has experienced what can only be described as a ‘tasteplosion’.  

“There is a high demand for Somali and Swahili food. Kenyans’ palates have outgrown nyama choma and it is about time. People are paying more attention to what they eat, so it’s not that our presence in the CBD is killing other industries, rather, we are giving people what they’re asking for. Call it Little Mogadishu or what you like, but isn’t it better that Kenyans are eating well and drinking less? That is something worth celebrating,” says Abdirahman Takar, owner of Beirut Restaurant.

K1 Klub House on Ojijo Road recently celebrated 21 years. The tavern, which still stands stoic, opened its doors in 1998 and was last year the Top Night Destination for Uber riders in Nairobi in a report released by the ride hailing company on the Top Destinations of 2018.

“K1 was born from the realisation that there was a big niche in the market,” Sammy Kahama, one-fifth of the shareholders at Kahama, owners of K1 Klub House.

The Klub House has become a cultural icon and hub that shapes the local arts and entertainment scene with its mastery in the art off reinvention and longevity.

“We hit the scene with a bang! Now the problem was maintaining. Whatever we did, we found a replica in other units. We realised we had to be a step ahead, innovate ourselves, both out in the field and in the back office – the core, and that’s where a lot of people make mistakes. We decided we would not copy anybody, rather, we would come up with our own unique ideas. We weren’t inventing the wheel, rather taking a look across the world at trends, and from there, we were able to create what stands to date - 21 years down the line, and now, we are legal!” Laughs a proud Sammy.

Nairobi is in the throes of a ‘culinary orgasm’; from the arrival of the gourmet burger to grilled ox balls, fried ice cream and a heavy movement of chefs positioning food as a high form of art.

“Setting up such an establishment is not easy. It is expensive. Beirut cost about Sh3 million plus – from the setup, décor, kitchen; you have to invest heavily in order to get good results. Location is also important – it is significant especially in matters of breaking even, which takes about six months to a year. You have so many businesses not making any profits and this has greatly contributed in the new wave we are seeing in the CBD,” says Takar.

As the nightlife in the CBD ebbs away, many are also quick to point an accusing finger at Alcoblow, a sentiment shared by renowned deejay, Xclusive.  

“If you look around, you will find every hood has a local. Mombasa Road has Blend, Buru has Taurus, Langata has 1824 – what was once the party hub has lost its shine to locals. Is Alcoblow at fault? Yes.”

The celebrated mix master early in the year kicked off The People’s Tour.

Luring clients

“I realised Nairobi was too congested. We have so many people fighting for space and yet, there are vibrant towns all over the country, which have become nothing more than afterthoughts in all matters entertainment. The tour allowed me to target towns I’ve never deejayed, and really, it was about time to take myself to the people,” shares Xclusive.

Popularity of local pubs has also had a hand in the death of majority of nightlife spots in the CBD. And as such, this has also caused a lot of clubs to change tack; from guest appearances by celebrities and socialites to theme nights, special incentive to patrons, targeting party lovers who like partying on Sundays to others going to the lengths of serving free breakfast to anyone in the club at 5am.

And who can blame them, really! It’s a jungle out there and only the fittest will survive.  

“Unfortunately the business world is not doing well. And I say business world because I think it is global. However, we have really been hammered harder. Today, buying property within town is almost impossible,” says Sammy.

He goes on to add that business requires commitment and a good team.

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