How to party in Kenya’s Rhumba capital, where ‘pesa otas’

Imagine yourself, basking in the soothing shade of a tree on a scorching Saturday afternoon. You cradle a cold beer in your hand, the rhythmic beats of Papa Wemba’s Rail-on providing a melodic backdrop. Your gaze wanders over Lake Victoria and the town’s architectural panorama, seen from a bird’s eye perspective. Welcome to the quintessential weekend experience for a Kisumu local at Suzanne Owiyo Art Center.

As the sun gracefully descends in the western sky, more kindred spirits join the gathering. Equipped with Herman Kardon and JBL Bluetooth speakers, they contribute to the communal effort of winding down the week at this Riat-based haven. The establishment boasts a mini bar and kitchen, yet graciously permits patrons to bring their own drinks with a nominal corkage fee.

Venture fifteen kilometers away to the opposite side of town, and you’ll encounter a comparable setting along the lake’s edge, but with a touch of wildness. Car speakers blare music, the air tinged with the aroma of khat being chewed. Chama groups and friends engage in animated conversations over plates of ugali and freshly fried tilapia, sourced straight from the lake. You are at Hippo Point, a public beach that not only offers the pleasures of a carwash but also provides food and ample space to relish the lake’s refreshing breeze.

For those yearning for a more serene environment, embark on a brief five-minute drive from Hippo Point towards the former Kiboko Bay hotel. Here, you’ll discover a cozy park-and-chill spot overlooking the lake. Unlike the other locales, you’ll need to bring your own seats and drinks. Alternatively, you can simply recline in the comfort of your car, savoring the tranquility as the sun gracefully sets.

Dunga beach

Returning towards Hippo Point, an immaculate mini beachfront oasis named Le Pearl awaits. This hidden gem not only offers a splendid view of the lake but also tantalizes your taste buds with delectable delicacies, all within a budget. Trust me, their fish wet fry is an experience worth savoring.

Embark on a short journey towards Dunga Beach, and you’ll find yourself at the enchanting Dunga Hill Camp. This haven offers a distinctive ambiance in both open-air and sheltered settings, creating an ideal setting for sundowners and evening gatherings. It stands as the sole beach establishment where the magic of a live band, leisurely boat rides, and delectable fresh cuisine converge seamlessly. Keep your eyes peeled, for as the evening unfolds, you might catch a glimpse of hippos adding an unexpected touch of wildlife to the scene.

For those seeking a more refined yet laid-back atmosphere, ascend to the rooftop pool bar of the Acacia Premier Hotel. Here, you’ll be treated to a picturesque panorama of the city, accompanied by the soulful tunes of a live band serenading the weekends.

Rhumba aficionados

As the night descends, the spectrum of entertainment widens. Venture around Patel’s flat, just off Kisumu Kakamega Road, and you’ll discover a street lined with joints catering to Rhumba aficionados. Begin your musical journey at the newest player in town, Pitstop, a haven for Rhumba enthusiasts offering a taste of authentic African cuisine. Adjacent to it is Mamba Lounge, providing a similar vibe but within an entirely outdoor setting. On the other side is Club Otro, catering to a diverse audience with an eclectic mix of musical tastes. If you veer left towards Kakamega Road, you’ll encounter numerous trendy bars with inviting outdoor spaces, known for their attractive retail price offers on beverages.

Crossing the street along Nyerere Road, you’ll find the ultimate rhumba hotspot in town – Da Vundu Bar. This venue hosts electric performances by Congolese bands and occasionally indulges in the rhythms of Benga. Once upon a time, this prestigious spot was held by Club Vimba in the same locale, but it closed down two years ago under mysterious circumstances.

Closer to the heart of the Central Business District (CBD), Samba Marina stands out for its prowess in hosting top-notch Rhumba DJs and providing affordable accommodation within its hotel wing.

Additional noteworthy rhumba destinations include Kondele’s Dondez Club, boasting a spacious outdoor area and an unmatched selection of both white and red meat. Highway Bar, a stone’s throw from Kondele’s roundabout, and Club Barizi, situated opposite Nightingale Hospital, also hold their own as popular hubs for rhumba enthusiasts.

Afro-pop and contemporary music

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For those seeking a more upscale vibe and a penchant for Afro-pop and contemporary music, the heart of the city, the CBD, beckons.

At the forefront is Alleways Beer Garden, renowned for its Aluta parties where the celebration extends nonstop for two to three days, especially during public holidays—a top-tier choice for the revelers. Amidst the pulsating beats, the in-house chef crafts delectable dishes (do try the pan-fried kienyeji chicken), and just beyond the club’s confines, an ecosystem of kuku choma, mayai pasua, and smoky vendors adds to the vibrant atmosphere. This venue is distinguished not only by its lively crowd but also by a commendable sense of camaraderie, praised for warding off vices like drink spiking and theft that have plagued other popular joints.

A few strides away, Alpha House harbors Cafe Ole, a rising star in town with an energy that promises a future explosion onto the scene.

For those preferring a more composed environment, La vue Lounge at Tufoam Mall provides a perfect space for music and conversations, offering a panoramic view of the town. Meanwhile, Mega City’s Da Bar takes the crown for an upscale ambiance, boasting stellar cocktails, food, and craft beer.

Within the CBD, Level 4, formerly known as Club Signature, continues to draw a younger crowd with its vibrant DJs and expansive dance floor. At K-City Business Park, Africana Rooftop Bar stands out for its fantastic music, food, and reputation for reasonable drink prices.

Youthful patrons

Venturing beyond the CBD to Kondele, Fabric Lounge holds court, particularly popular for midweek theme nights that captivate its youthful patrons. Although the famed Black Pearl Lounge would have been a top contender, it is currently closed for renovations.

Irrespective of your musical preferences, the pinnacle of the party scene in the city resides at Club Da Place in China Town, proudly self-proclaimed as the Enjoyment Headquarters. Nestled in Mamboleo, this club boasts top-tier DJs and live performances from established East African artists, especially during the legendary Kikao Sundays. It’s a haven for football enthusiasts, featuring numerous large TV screens and a dedicated section with a TV panel for major games.

While there are undoubtedly more entertainment hotspots in town that haven’t been covered, I leave you with a noteworthy establishment—the Kenya Association of Professional Counselors. If your vibrant nightlife is starting to take a toll on your financial, social, or professional well-being, this is a place where you can reach out to a counselor. In this city, where the mantra is often “party and pesa otas”, spend it wisely until it’s not.

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