Kigali’s nightlife is best suited for the proper night owl, not the casual night prowler who is easily enchanted by lights, people and noise.
What would pass for the central business district, also casually referred to as Umujyi (town) basically empties out in the evening as vehicles cause the only city’s excuse for traffic jams and as pedestrians assemble at Kwa Rubangura taxi park to push and shove each other as they jostle for the few vehicles to ferry them out of the city centre.
The ‘happening’ places within the town are tucked neatly under nondescript but comfy buildings which ooze an atmosphere of ease, relaxation and freedom.
In such places like the La Republica, Indiana Khazana and Karibu restaurants, groups of enthusiastic revelers can be seen downing glasses of their favourite lager, their friendly chatter buzzing over the low music or the occasional programme running on the satellite TV channel.
There might be a buffet of beef, potato chips and macaroni and lots and lots of salad dressed in a layer of thick mayonnaise or fried bananas and mashed cassava leaves.
At the Union Trade Centre (UTC), the Kigali reveler has discovered a whole new world of quality evening time. People can be spotted walking into Nakumatt, shopping for packs of their favourite lager and sitting back to enjoy their purchase.
When necessary, they carry the leftovers home. The important thing is that the food is just part of ever happening party, week in week out.
A proper night owl will try to venture out of Umujyi and will collide with such diversely unique places in all directions. There’s Nyamirambo, with its perfect blend of foreign influences namely Tanzanian, Burundian, Congolese and Senegalese.
It’s a riot of noise from studios, cosmopolitan restaurants (one even promises a Senegalese dish), the different dialects of Swahili and barber shops of kinds.
The proper Nyamirambo area is a no-go area for the ‘unschooled’, you will come to learn but in the more central places – Guinness bar (aptly named) and the Stella joints of these world – delicious treats of grilled whole fish, roasted chicken and the usual large sized Rwanda beers.
Between the really nice copies of upscale places are the slums and perhaps that is one of the things that makes the place as cosmopolitan as it is.
The other side of town is really the dance capital of the city. Within a few kilometers of each other are the two more popular joints.
There is Planet Club which is commonly known for the building in which it is housed, Kigali Business Centre (KBC). Then there is Cadillac.
They both do not get active until the second half of the night, implying either people go to the bars before they descend on the dance floor or they just like having fun in the wee hours of the morning.
Planet Club has a more executive feeling trying to capture a particular niche with a more private décor and a music selection that doesn’t meet everyone needs.
Cadillac is the happy-go-lucky kind of place that generally makes everyone happy, spacious, chairs like in a restaurant, with the DJ pitched in a slot in the ‘sky’, watching over the crowd to gauge the reaction to the different music.
In Cadillac, you move from hip-hop to bongo flavour to zouk and to everything and that is what is known as real variety. In both places there are lots of eager people who would like to dance with strangers but am not sure you should pull down your guards. You never know. Enough of the bone shaking.
Further off, in Kisementi, Kimironko and perhaps as far as Remera, you will find the real party animals’ paradise that enjoys hanging around spontaneous crowds, bars at every stop and of course the beers, and yes, the lights, crowds and noise.
If roast pork is what makes people tick in Kampala, and nyama choma runs in the blood of Nairobians, in Kigali, there is brochette. In Kimironko, you will find the pork as delicious as it can turn out.
On the other side the boiled meat dish, big chunks of flesh soaked in almost a litre of tasty soup with a few potatoes and pieces of carrot soaked in, is perhaps the culinary signature of a proper Kigali night joint.
Good enough for any city in the world, Kigali at night is a place where the most dangerous thing to fear on the streets is only yourself, and your ability to self destruct.
They are no petty thieves lurking behind every dark alley to relive you of your jewelry and the contents of you wallet, nor will you encounter money hungry policemen quick to lust for a corrupt franc.
The City’s night life is too wide to document on one page. Hopefully this snapshot will entice you to discover all it has for yourself.