NAIROBI’S nightlife is an intriguing mix. Compared to Kampala which perhaps has some of the best night clubs in east Africa, the likes of ‘Angenoir’ and Club silk, not forgetting the new up class types like the Rouge and Club Sway, Nairobi is more into the more open air, ‘Nyama choma’, live band joints as opposed to the cosy, air conditioned, lots of mirrors and large screens types, of which the Kigali clubs like Cadillac and Planet club are a replica.
As opposed to the Florida night clubs which have held sway in Nairobi for more than two decades, the places to be in Nairobi are the likes of the Carnivore, with its open-air meat specialty restaurant, with lots of normal and game meats like giraffe, zebra and crocodile, roasted on Maasai swords over a huge charcoal pit, and passed around by waiters while still on the sword to be carved off onto the plates, eaten and refilled for as much as you like.
The place in Nairobi that exemplifies this lifestyle is Simmers restaurant, situated right in the central business district at the junction of Kenyatta Avenue and Muindi Mbingu Street. It is a characteristically loud place, with music blaring from the speakers, mostly rumba or some other African or Kenyan beat. The partially open air restaurant-cum-bar is crowded in most evenings.
Patrons chat above the noise of the music, as they drink down their worries with lots of meat and Sukuma wiki (kales) to accompany the Ugali. The food is mainly with traditional African cuisine and in most cases than not, a live band will be playing.
My first experience at Simmers was a few years ago at the height of the campaign for the referendum on the new Kenyan constitution, which was perhaps the initial polarization of the country along the lines by which the recent violence occurred along.
The mood was lively and the music was predominantly ohangla, a Luo traditional music sang along the beats of a cylindrical shoulder slung drum played normally to the accompaniment of flutes, Nyatiti.
A band was performing praise songs for Luo politicians and the debate on many of the tables was clearly about the orange and the banana camps. The bubbly mood of the night, aside from the political undertones of the moment was very infectious.
Patrons were gurgling down their frothy drinks. My colleagues and I who had been fortunate to attend a conference in Nairobi then had had only one night to feel the pulse of the city, and there it was at the Simmers, whose central location puts it within less than five minutes’ walking distance from any of the hotels in the city in well-lit side of Nairobi.
A few Tuskers down the road, in an alien atmosphere we elected towards taking a taxi ride back to the hotel, wary of the unknown but conscious of our early morning travel. Recently, when I revisited Simmers with a friend resident in Nairobi, people did not want to talk politics. The crowd was noisy and lively as ever.
I did not notice the music that was playing in the background because I was too engrossed in my roast chicken along with a few glasses of original tusker, well aware that would be a long time before I indulged in such heady pleasures.
It brought back memories of the days when having visited a childhood friend who was residing in one of the University of Nairobi hostels, an anti-government riot, in the late years of the Moi government, broke out at the campus, riot police with batons backed by tear gas trucks charging at stone-throwing students for the better part of the day.
Since I was spending only one night in Nairobi, it did not matter if there was a riot or not, because I had to ‘go out.’
And indeed, after arming myself with a friends national identity card, just in case we ran into some policemen (they hated students like hell), headed for a popular joint in parklands called K1 (Klubhouse One).
The askaris at the club, a wooded two-storied grass thatched affair, noticed the discrepancy in my documents and demanded for some Embassy lights, so they could ignore the problem. And indeed, a few cigarettes later I was enjoying the hospitality of Baba Moi’s country.
The rest of the embassy lights soon found themselves between the lips of my female colleagues (university students), something I realized was not untoward in Kenya (women smoking).
Some white patrons were flinging themselves here and there along to Nameless’ and other local songs, while others were playing cool, the dancing resonating on the wooden floors.
Later I realized that the new waves of bars in Kampala, like Steak Out, TLC and Kyadondo rugby club were actually adopting the Kenyan theme of night life, of grass-thatched structures, providing open- air dance club – cum bars-roast meat joints.
On being constantly prodded by colleagues, we left the lively noise of simmers, walking back to the notorious Accra road centre of cross-border transport centre cum den for thieves to board our Dar-Es-Salaam – bound bus.