I walk into the hotel bar, a quintessentially intimate space with about five mahogany tables that rest on a thick grey rug. A long counter stretches at the far end. The room smells of elegance. It is deserted save for a slender and boisterous light skin lady perched on one end of the counter. She is having a drink whose glass hints at brandy and is cracking up the bar tender and two other waiters with her tales.
I sit at the counter (on the other end) and order a cheese and mushroom burger with potato wedges. I survey the various bottles on the wall before settling (again) for Monkey Shoulder, a sweet blended scotch whisky that I recently discovered at the hotel. It’s a combination of Glenfiddich, Balvenie and Kininvie, and surprisingly, no monkey bile hehe. It is amazing what names people will give to alcohol.
I am on my phone looking up things that I can fill up my time with the following day before my pal, a Kenyan who lives in Capetown (CT), picks me up in the evening for a polite night out. Being my third time here, I have pretty much been everywhere touristic (except Robben Island and diving with the sharks) and literally bought a T-shirt. From going up Table Mountain by a cable car, to visiting the penguin colony, to venturing into the rolling vineyards and wine estates, to the Cape of Good Hope, to hoping onto the sightseeing bus, you name it.
So now I want the hidden gems. You know like our nyama joints -Roadhouse or Nerkwo in South B (does it still exist?)- or Explorer Tavern for drinks in Kile. Not your Brew Bistros or Mercury ABC and neither the more genteel Talisman nor Sevens. I have the whole day tomorrow to myself before flying back to Nairobi on Sunday morning. It has been an exhausting week of pitching to clients, rambling the same rhetoric six times a day for five days. “Tonight, I’ll just have one double of whisky and my burger and get plenty of rest”, I say to myself. But fate has other plans for me.
The other girl on the counter moves over two seats next to mine and with a woeful face, asks why I am constantly on my phone. “I’m just seated here wishing I could talk to you.” She says.
I am in no mood for company but she carries on with her prattle. She’s of Namibian descent but married to a Belgian and lives in Mauritius. I almost topple over my seat laughing when she tells me how her husband and two kids (boys) are in the room sleeping and she’s here running a liquor bill at the bar like she’s the man. Her stories are packed with humour and suddenly, I am glad she plucked up courage to chat me up. She informs me that she’s on her fourth drink and still has a strong urge to unwind. I tell her I know how overwhelming motherhood can be so I would be the last person to judge.
We toast to our supportive husbands and then a plan to hit Long Street is immediately hatched. She reminds me severally that I will be in charge (given that she’s already quite wasted) and that if I feel the need to call time, she will instantly oblige. At 10.00pm, I call an Uber and we get to Long Street in six minutes. First stop is Joburg, second Pretoria and finally The Dubliner, an Irish restaurant/pub. I find it corny how some pubs in CT are named after other cities in SA.
“Hey, where did you have a drink last night?” A friend back at home would ask.
“Joburg.” I would say
“Are you not in CapeTown?”
“I had a drink at Joburg in Capetown.”
The next day, I’m nursing a hangover with zero recollection of half the previous night. My Uber receipt reminds me that I got back to my hotel at 4.00am. Its 9.30am and I am worried if my new friend made it back safe. So much for being in charge!
At 3.00pm, I head over to V&A Waterfront for lunch. The Harbour, erected just a few meters from the Cape Wheel, has the perfect ambience-relaxed and with an up-close view of the sea. I seat outside on a high stool on the ledge overlooking the sea. A few cruise boats are getting ready to take off. The menu has limited food options, all of which are quite expensive. At The Harbour, I suppose, you pay for your meal and the ambience.
I order the Beef Carpaccio and a glass of Merlot, not knowing that the meal is simply raw meat that’s thinly sliced and topped with lemon, olive oil and cheese. I struggle through four bites and throw in the towel, thinking to myself that I really should stop experimenting with food. Also, I decide that I don’t want to find myself in another posh restaurant.
At 5.30pm, my pal alerts me that he’s done with work and is on his way.
“You better be taking me on the road less travelled.” I Whatsapp him back.
“What do you feel like?” He asks. “Shebeen or tavern?”
“There’s a shebeen and a tavern in CT? I didn’t know they were international!”
“Come on Joy, those are nouns referring to different pub set ups and not names that your enterprising but uncreative kikuyu bar owners coined.”
You seriously thought tavern is a portmanteau?”
“A portmanteau. Like Brunch from breakfast and lunch so Tavern from say Taurus and Vernessa?”
“Good one!” I say, adding loads of laugh emojis as I crack away.
“I will take you to Njoro Boys.” He writes. “It’s a tavern that gets flooded by Kenyans.”
I imagine a Kikuyu who studied in Njoro Boys moved to CT to supply Maasai artefacts & curios, and after he made an overwhelming amount of cash, decided to do what most Kikuyu’s do: open a pub. And what better name to give it than one that reminded him of a place where his fondest memories were made.
My pal picks me up at 6.00pm at the stop next to the Cape Wheel. Tourists and locals are traipsing the streets, some with bags of shopping and others licking ice cream cones. The sun, a rare thing in CT since winter is in its tail end, is just about to set. It casts a wonderful glow over the docks as we head out of this middle-class hamlet.
He tells me that the tavern is two robots away and quickly explains that robot is SA lingo for traffic lights. After about 11 minutes we find ourselves in an area that is a stark contrast of V&A Waterfront. Rudimental buildings with sidewalks infested with average dressed folks seemingly heading home from work.
“This is the hospital where Dr. Christian Banaard conducted the first successful heart transplant.” He edifies me while pointing at a sign on the left. “And right across is Njoro Boys.” It bemuses me that a hospital and a pub would be at close proximity. We park the car on the side of the road. We head over to the so-called Njoro Boys, only to find the words “Reservoir Lounge” inscribed in gorgeous calligraphy on the slab above the tall windows!
“Did you change your mind about Njoro Boys?” I ask, rather confused.
“That’s just a nickname coined by the many Kenyans who hang out here.” He informs me as he pushes the glass door open.
“I wonder why.”
We walk in and the sight that meets my eyes is anything but a lounge. A cocktail of furniture is scattered around. Three white metallic tables the height of a three-year old are lined next to the windows with plastic seats encircling them. On the far end are taller versions of the same. A pool table sits in the middle. One guy is scrutinising the tip of his cue stick as he chalks it, like a lab technician. Another waits impatiently. There’s a bar counter on the left. Two gentlemen, one donning a newsboy hat and the other with long dreadlocks the length of a Sudanese cow’s flywhisk, are perched on the bar stools drinking beers. The bottles are so huge (750ml) they might as well be sipping with straws. There are about fourteen men and not a single lady in sight save for the bartender. Wizkid’s Ojuelegba streams from the invisible speakers.
“Are there no ladies who frequent this club?” I inquire as I take a seat on one of those high seats.
“It tends to be a cock fest, flooded by guys from East and West Africa. Hence the name Njoro BOYS.” He says. “The owner is Nigerian, by the way.”
“Not a Kenyan?”
“What beer will you have?” He inquires.
Being a whisky girl, I find it strange that he asks what beer and not what drink. Probably, they only stock their KWAL equivalent, or worse still, their whiskies can’t be trusted to be legit. I am all for a different experience so I go for a Heineken (300ml) and him Castle Lite (660ml).
There’s a screen on my left that seems to attract heavy traffic towards it. Every now and then, a reveller would walk towards it, fondle with it and then walk away. My pal informs me that it is a jukebox.
“You are kidding me!” I glow with excitement, like I have just spotted a dinosaur at the Mara!
“You mean I don’t have to beg the DJ to play my favourite song?”
“Not at all. You just need two rand for every track.” I ransack my handbag for coins and he adds me some. We are set for 11 solid tracks. I walk over to the juke box and find my way around it pretty fast. There are four tracks queued up and then my collection of Tiwa Savage, Sarkodie, Tekno, Banky W and Davido will play. For the next 45 minutes, DJ Tomato (my high school alias-story for another day!) will teleport all revellers at Reservoir to the heart of Lagos.
After half an hour of dancing, I feel the need to use the washroom. I walk into a little cubicle the size of my pantry, a few steps from the jukebox. A strong stench of urine hits my nostrils. Two ladies, one in the toilet squatting over the bowl with the door wide open and the other standing in the wash area next to the sink are speaking to each other in Swahili.
“Kwa hivyo uliipenda hiyo kitenge? Nina bunch nyingine inakuja next week.” Says the one at the sink as she pats her hands dry with tissue.
I want to ask how they are so comfortable discussing business while one of them is half nude and both of them inhaling the stench. Instead, I ask where they’re from. They tell me the land of Magufuli. After a few pleasantries, they walk out and I walk into the tiny toilet. As soon as I push the door locked, darkness suddenly creeps up on me like a thief in the night. I now get why the other lady was going about her business in the wide glare of other humans. I do the same and cross my fingers that no one walks in.
I walk back to find Davido’s Fall playing, still part of my collection. I grin sheepishly as I head to the counter (no waiters at Njoro B) and get a round of Jagger Bombs for my friend and I. We toast to good health and more travel.
Four beers and two Jagger Bombs later, we call it a night. It is 10.07pm and he has a birthday party to attend while I have lots of sleep to catch up on as I soak in my adventures in the other side of Capetown before flying back to Nairobi the following morning.
P.S. Thank you Bomseh Toili for a most refreshing experience in CT. Have a Hansa on me (the big one) next time you are at Njoro B!
P.S.S. Thank you to my sister Brenda who also doubles up as my pro bono baby sitter and now my pro bono editor (only for this post though hehe). Because of her, you did not have to sit through gazillions of typos and meaningless paragraphs (hopefully).