As the country experiences an enforced curfew with Kenyans' drinking severely hampered, bar and liquor store owners are innovating means, legal and otherwise, to keep the taps flowing.
If you want to drink, it can’t be hard to get your favourite tipple. Supermarkets, wine and spirit stores, and some bars are selling what you need, for the latter, alongside a plate of food of course.
For some, those inclined to the adrenaline of life’s illegal and daring activities, there are ways businessmen are catering for them. And so, while Kenya sleeps, these daredevils spend a good time beating the system to catch a drink, and for some bar owner, profits upon profits.
Want a sip? Say the password
Outside a dilapidated, dingy bar in Kiambu Town, a man casually walks to the closed blue doors and raps with thirst. After a few seconds, the door opens slightly and a lady eyeballs the knocker. Then, the door opens at an angle and the man slides in.
The bar sits in the middle of hawkers’ umbrellas, who continue with their work as if they are not concealing a 24-hour drinking den. With the knock, the owner can tell it’s a customer because they have come up with a novel way to gain access, a sequence of raps on the steel door.
At no point will you see two people hovering at the door. Throughout the day, the attendants make runs to wine and spirits shops for more stock. Keg containers are shipped in at night, and the drinking goes on.
Imbibe in the cover of darkness
Somewhere on Mombasa Road, a bar is full with patrons. They are talking in low tones, aware of the illegal activity they are all participating in. The bar is 90 per cent dark, save for the cashier’s booth, where an overhead light illuminates her working area. No room for fake currency and wrong change. Not even a decibel of music is sifting out. Outside, a man sits on a tall bar stool, a bottle of mineral water at his feet.
“Ako wera! He’s a lookout of for the Kenya Police chopper making its nightly rounds. Once he spots it, he ushers the few patrons drinking at the door to disappear inside,” says Mike, our source, who is a regular at the bar preferred by older men and younger women.
Apartment furnished with booze
In Westy, Riverside and Kileleshwa area, furnished apartments have been converted into drinking dens. Smart alcohol-prenuers have shipped an assortment of beer and liquor brands to these spaces, complete with cashiers and waiters. Groups of thirsty Kenyans book and appear for a good time. Ladies of the night are on speed dial, in case you are up for more action.
“You will be shocked, but these entrepreneurs regularly invite top cops over for the parties. That way, their business remains operational without interference,” says another source, a lady who has been in one of the apartments.
“It’s always great to have the right people in your corner.”
Wet your throat in the neighbour’s living room
Over in Umoja, an ambitious wines and spirits shop owner had extended his business to his living room and balcony. Since he is only allowed to sell alcohol, and not host customers at the shop, he has invited them to his house where he stocks what he has at the shop. Throughout the day, especially weekends, customers, including his next-door neighbours, walk into his house for a drink.
“The family has had to adjust. When the place is crowded, they move to the balcony,” says the shop owner
When ‘Curfew O’clock’ strikes, his neighbours are safe within the building, only leaving his house ‘bar’ for a meal or to kiss the kids goodnight.
Total lockdown, cessation of movement. In a bar
“I spend most weekends locked inside bars,” says a Pulser who was very ready to point us to which bars to drink at. “I buy a meal as the rest of the customers, but I am in no hurry to leave. So while everyone else rushes home to beat the curfew, we get more comfortable.” These bars operate for 24 hours, locking revellers in for the whole night. If you feel like leaving, you do it at your own risk, in case cops nab you.
“In case you want to head home, the best time is past 2 (am)… There is almost zero patrols taking place at that hour,” he adds.
According to him, some of these bars are well-known but have means to ensure the police never interfere with the operations.
Clean my car as I sanitize my throat
For liquor stores and bars located at garages and car wash establishments, the tidings have never been this good. While the boys get their cars ‘fixed’, for a whole day at times, the cashiers have been busy.
“The way garages and car wash places operate is the perfect alibi and excuse to have a drink. Anyone passing sees mechanics and washing attendants busy, not the boys with drinks at their feet,” said Salima, a wines and spirits operator on a busy car wash on Thika Road. “All of a sudden, this place is crowded all the time.”
This is the most popular form of hanging out at the moment. Walk into any car wash and you will leave with a quenched throat.
If you can’t beat them, join them… in an officers’ Mess
For some, that is their current drinking mantra. These individuals invoke their acquaintance and blood relations to officers to access police canteens, which are located deep inside police stations, prisons compounds, and army camps.
“You can drink until your money runs out…” said Martin, who has used his friendship with officers to beat the system. “There is neither a hurry to stop drinking nor the threat of a raid. Nani anaeza raid the raiders?”
Get your high from up a hill
Revellers with an eye for natural beauty, their only solace comes from driving atop scenic views. Driving to scenic sites, parks, hilly sites and green tea farms while sipping your brew seems to be attracting all the party lovers and what’s more, the wardens are game; they usher you in.
“I’m cool with this. Sip my drink play good music and see some uncorrupted wild animals. I’m game! It’s the new norm,” Steve excitedly explains.
Musau, the Jack Daniels of all trades
The pandemic has turned night guards into liquor store operators. Since curfew starts way before binge drinking stops, night guards have become middlemen, selling or fetching drinks to keep the parties going. And because they offer ‘essential services’, they have the pass to roam as far as they want, any time of the night. Watchmen are now in a lucrative business partnership with local stores in the hood.
Theme parties for hood socialites
With so many Pulsers itching for parties, the business-minded in these gated communities are now coming up with themed parties. These noisy, raunchy parties are stocked with beverages that cater to all. There is entertainment on offer, loud music pumping, with notable DJs on the deck.
The advantage is that you can always stagger home, a stone throw away, whenever you have had too much, with zero worries of bumping into the police. The party continues way after daybreak.
“I don’t like clubbing but I can do this every day. At least we get to mingle with my neighbours,” said Tito from Ngumo.
Of course the cops know your habits. The police are not really sleeping on the job.
Over the weekend, Utawala MCA Patrick Karani and 16 other people were caught drinking past the curfew hour and were taken to Kayole Police station, to be arraigned in court on Monday. Another group was nabbed on the afternoon of the same day having a party within Komarock estate.
In April, a Nyeri MCA, Paul Kanyari, and his personal assistant were among 17 individuals nabbed by the police while drinking inside a bar.
In May, an inspector of police in Siaya County was among several people arrested having a party in a bar past 8pm.