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Why eateries are taking over city centre’s night life space

Just three months ago, you would have sat here to enjoy your favourite beer while watching exotic dancers wind and grind. This was Fahrenheit Night Club on Kimathi Street. Before Fahrenheit another nigh life club, Silk, stood here.

Last week, Alfajr Jamia restaurant opened its doors at the same spot. Another night club was giving way to a restaurant in what has become the trend in the Nairobi Central Business District.

Tucked a floor above Java Coffee shop and Planet Yorghut with KFC fast food across the street, Alfajr Jamia, which is located next door to Kilimanjaro Jamia, another Somali themed restaurant, already has a retinue of competitors on the street that now has over 10 restaurants.

Next to KFC is Kaldis, a coffee shop, and Ranalos which has over the years built a reputation as Nairobi’s fish capital where everything, from power meetings between CEOs to lovers’ dates and make-up lunches between politicians, take place.

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City centre night life was once among the most vibrant. Now, just like typewriters disappeared after serving the world loyally for decades, the night life era at the CBD is dying.

And there are examples everywhere you look. If it is not a club shutting down, it is another rebranding in an effort to survive from what looks like an unstoppable train. One of the most significant clubs shut down in March when bulldozers flattened Simmers, now a parking yard, on Kenyatta Avenue.

Simmers, which started off as a Chinese restaurant, is credited for opening the way for bands like Bilenge Musica, Rhumba Japan, Viva Mosokusuku, Generation Wenge and Musa Juma’s Limpopo International. Vaso Dagama, one of the band leaders of Rhumba Japan, describes the downfall of Simmers as unfortunate.

“Only a heartless person will see the situation as normal,” he says.

Before Simmers, the iconic Florida Night Club, popularly called Mad House and arguably the most popular club that had withstood the test of time on Koinange Street, was pulled down to give way for a skyscraper.

As Alfajr Jamia was wooing its first customers, Café Pronto had already settled down the road after opening its second restaurant near the intersection between Kimathi and Mama Ngina streets.

Café Pronto also displaced another night club, Gravity. Next to Café Pronto where Pepino Pizza now operates from was IClub which had rebranded from Tacos before closing down forever.

Once ranked number 131 of 162 things to do while in Nairobi by Lonely Planet travellers, Tacos now seems like a distant memory for those who were in the party scene before 2012. But in its hey days media coverage about anything worth celebrating like the New Year, Christmas or the Champions League was incomplete without its mention.

“After 10pm this place goes quiet and we have to move up the street in order to get customers because there is no life, just street children watching free TV up there,” says Delvin Kinuthia, who has operated a taxi on this part of the street for over a decade and a half.

Many are quick to point an accusatory finger at the introduction of breathalysers in 2012.

“Rightfully so, you would rather arrive home alive than get into an accident and get injured or die,” says National Transport and Safety Authority (NTSA) Director Francis Meja.

The National Police Service, which at the end of last year took over some of the enforcement roles from NTSA, has continued with the alcoblow tradition on weekends.

Faced with the threat of spending a night behind bars and paying hefty fines for being caught drunk driving, motorists who have higher spending power now opt to drink nearer home at the ‘locals’. As a result, new partying hubs have sprung up in Lang’ata, Kamakis and lately Kiambu road where finding a parking at Jikoni’s on a Friday night is hell.

But as the night life ebbs away from the heartbeat of the CBD, a dining culture is taking its place. And it is happening fast. On Banda Street, a new restaurant is being set up the mezzanine floor of JKUAT Towers. If the inscriptions on its metal rails are correct, the new restaurant that will overlook Jamia Mosque would be known as Beirut.

On Koinange Street, which used to be the call girl headquarters, they have all but disappeared. The opening of CJs restaurant on the street in May was the clearest indicator of how lucrative Nairobi CBD’s restaurant industry has become. CJs, owned by Café Java’s, a Ugandan restaurant chain, has for years been battling with Kenya’s own Java over the latter’s decision to open restaurants in Kampala, citing a similarity of names.

Today, while in the CBD you can have a taste of Japan at Terriyaki along Mama Ngina Street, eat Turkish at Antonio’s grill (Kaunda Street) and at Big Knife (Monrovia Street) or eat Italian at Sale E Pepe (Mama Ngina Street) and Tratoria (Kaunda Street).

And if you are a fan of Chinese food, you will be spoilt for choice between Panda on Kaunda Street, Tin Tin at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC), Jia Yan Shi Fu (Loita Street) and Hong Kong (Koinange Street).

Obado Obadoh, the founder and Managing Director of Café Deli, which is also trying to fight for space in the CBD with three restaurants already and another two on the way, says the death of night clubs was expected.

“The big thing killing bars is the influx of taxes so their profit margins are diminishing. On the flip side restaurants are growing their margins by adding value to food while for clubs you just buy alcohol from suppliers and sell it,” he says.

Additionally, Obadoh says the tastes of Kenyans are changing due to access to information which is creating a demand for niche restaurants.

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