Nairobi is the fourth best city to live in Africa. It trails Cape Town, Marrakech and Cairo. If you are money rich and time poor, you can stay firmly in the first class.
The city attracts the great and the good and has played host to an eye-watering number of visitors both famous and not-so-famous. It is estimated that last year alone, Nairobi hosted 1.8 million visitors.
The city has an uncanny ability to attract human and financial capital, businesses, talent and wide-eyed visitors. This financial heart of the East African region and a significant African economy has beat off stiff competition from such heavyweights as Johannesburg, Tokyo and Beijing, to take the 50th position for the quality of human capital.
In short, Nairobians are smarter than many other urbanites you might encounter in other capitals around the world. Primarily because of this human capital, it is estimated it will be one of the fastest growing cities in the world by 2016. So what is it that makes Nairobi tick?
On a plane making its final descent to JKIA, you will see an orderly and green city from the air. If you have the luck of travelling with Kenya Airways, the hostesses on board with their dazzling smiles, flirty nature and generous portions of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, would already have won you over before you land.
Giving you a refined version of African hospitality. Never mind that your luggage might not have made it with you when you disembark, especially if you are travelling from South Africa.
Once you pass immigration, the number one thing that you will notice is the people. Kenyans are generally a warm and welcoming people to foreigners. They are pleasant, helpful and for the most part give useful and accurate information.
Act dumb for a second and you will be relieved of all things of value as you would expect in any decent capital in the world.
In the looks department, Kenyans dress rather well albeit conservatively. If you are looking for raised hemlines and the trending fashion, you might have to wait a while longer.
In the words of Koffi Olomide, the Congolese crooner, Kenyan dress sense is ‘British.’ If it’s ties and suits, well, there will be plenty of those on display as you wind your way from the baggage claim with your luggage hopefully intact.
If you do not attract the attention of immigration officers, either through your dress sense or country of origin, you will not escape the taxi merchants. These days, there are properly dressed and well-spoken ladies who will guide you to the nearest taxi.
Into the depths of Nairobi, you will delve and if you want to keep it first world, nothing but the best will suffice. The presidential suites in most hotels are nothing more than glorified rooms.
For Sh160,000 a night, you will get a tastefully-furnished and spacious living room at the Inter Continental, an office area, a separate bedroom by the door for your bodyguard, a large and spacious master bedroom overlooking Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s mausoleum and parliament buildings plus the option of a butler.
Popular with the Americans, famous guests have included US President then Senator Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton. The Tribe in Gigiri does have a decent Presidential suite, which was the subject of a tussle between Haitian artist Wyclef Jean and Nigeria’s D’Banj at one point.
The best suite in the Tribe sits on over 1,000 square feet. With high ceilings, a dining area, a rain shower and stunning art pieces with a view to-die- for, this is the ultimate ‘I have arrived’ suite. It will only set you back Sh100,000 per night.
For the best service, the Serena never fails to impress and for a more modest budget of Sh34,000 upwards, you can enjoy the same facilities as Kofi Anan, South Sudanese President Salvar Kiir and visiting heads of state get.
Serena also has the distinction in Nairobi of being the tea room of the region. It seems all visiting heads of state, senior politicians and wheeler dealers somehow end up in Serena having a cup of tea at the Aksum lounge.
Tusker used to be the beer of choice. Then came Whitecap. That is, until Kenyans travelled and tried different beers and realised they had been sold down the river for a song and a profit. Nowadays, there is a plethora of beers both local and international.
Two bespoke breweries jump at you. One is Sierra located on the 3rd floor of Yaya Centre in Kilimani, this pub and restaurant serves seasonal beers beginning with the light and delicate Sierra Blonde and culminating in the whole and hearty Sierra Amber.
For Sh300 a pop, Alan Murungi doubles up as chef and brew master and can pair his food perfectly with his beers. The Big Five Breweries that run the Brew Bistro and Lounge have a selection of hand-crafted beers that are named after the Big Five.
This being Safari country, it would be rude not to try the Chui, a German-styled kolsch, Simba, a pilsner, Tembo, a dark stout, Kifaru, a Belgian-style bock and Nyati the buffalo, an American-style IPA.
At Sh350, the beers vary in strength from 4.8 per cent to 6.5 per cent alcohol, so ensure you have your drinking shoes on before trying out the strongest Nyatipa!
In keeping with a long history that began in the 1930s with the Lord Errol and the notorious White Mischief set that often travelled around with a mobile bar is Brian Owango’s outfit, Aqueous.
Literally a bar on wheels, Brian and his very capable team of mixologists can set up a fully functional bar anywhere you please.
For a splash bar of Sh3,000 per head, Aqueous can cater to the most discerning of tastes, it is no wonder during the inauguration of president Uhuru Kenyatta, Aqueous were invited to do the bar. If it is good enough for the president…
This first encounter with a taxi driver can be a hit or miss. If you are lucky, this will be your unofficial introduction to Kenyan culture. These guys can get you anything from prescription drugs or domestic services.
Of course, you can skip all of these steps, and lose out on a world of local knowledge by getting a protocol officer from your High Commission or Embassy to fetch you as soon as you step off the plane, whisk you into an air-conditioned lounge, process your papers while you wait with a cold beverage and escort you to a waiting limousine where the driver will only speak if spoken to.
Normally, your luggage would follow in a different car. This hustle-free entry can be facilitated at a fee – about Sh40,000. In case you would like to drive yourself during your stay in Nairobi, then hiring a car is ideal.
Top-end luxury cars such as Range Rovers begin at Sh45,000 per day with the option of a driver/bodyguard. The ironical thing is that hiring a Toyota Landcruiser V8 is more expensive than hiring a Range Rover starting at Sh50,000 upwards.
If you are security-conscious then a close protection officer or bodyguard, if they are any good, would be hired for between Sh80,000 to Sh260,000 a day and they come with all sorts of hardware, gadgets and previous experience. Most are ex-forces guys and can plan your itinerary, secure locations and interface with local authorities.
For a formal business power lunch, nothing quite beats the ambience, service and Japanese culinary perfection of Furusato. It is the place to show off your internationalism while marveling, over shots of warm or cold sake, just how great the weather in Nairobi is.
Average pricing for lunch starts at Sh2,000 per person. For a sit-down lunch or dinner, Pango Gourmet Brasserie at the Fairview hotel is it. Pango is devoted to promoting fine dining and preserving the camaraderie and pleasures of the table hence its Chaîne des Rôtisseurs membership.
Guide price without beverages would be at Sh5,000 per person. For a more casual dining experience, and you must try the feta cheese and coriander samosas as they are the best in Kenya, you could try the Talisman.
This artsy, rustic restaurant is quite homely and Chef Marcus comes out to meet and greet the clientele with some hilarity. Expect to see Kenyan cowboys (who are either trustafarians – people with trust funds – or run failing tour companies) and cowgirls (who are failing artists who delight in dressing in vintage clothing accessorised with suede bags and shoes).
A meal plus a drink will probably set you back Sh2,000 plus you’ll get the chance to see an art opening or two if you are lucky. The ArtCaffes, and they are many, dotted around Nairobi are a great place to watch expatriate and upwardly mobile, yuppie Nairobi walk past.
For a pocket-friendly Sh1,600 on average per person, you get to see people going on a first date, singles surfing through the city and enjoy free Wi-Fi. But Nairobi’s best kept secret in the culinary delights is Sagret Hotel – situated on Milimani Road.
For as little as Sh1,000 per person, you can enjoy that authentic nyama choma experience that you only get in Kenya. The ambience is not much to write about, but like fellow scribe Jackson Biko says, when a restaurant is too well put together, the food never does impress.
Nairobi is dotted with golf and country clubs that capture a more genteel side to this bustling metropolis. A place to spoil a good walk, meet some interesting people and see some stunning signature holes.
The best and most exclusive is the Muthaiga Golf and Country Club in the posh neighbourhood of Muthaiga. A great place to meet and network, this facility is only open to members, their guests and members of reciprocal clubs.
Membership after a rigorous and lengthy introduction process is not as steep as many would expect starting at around Sh50,000 per year minus subs. More business-oriented is East Africa’s premier private business club, the Capital Club East Africa.
Modelled after the Capital Club in Dubai, it is envisioned that this will be the ultimate place to meet anyone who is anyone in business. Membership is by ‘invitation’ and if you are successful will set you back a princely sum.
If you fancy a roll of the dice, the Mayfair Casino in Parklands is the perfect place to try your luck. The gaming room has the American Roulette, Blackjack, Pontoon, American Brag Poker, Caribbean Poker, Texas Hold ‘em, Jumbo Poker, Bingo, Super Bingo, slot and video machines.
In the privé, there are two card tables and one roulette table. It goes without saying that for all the players, complimentary food and drinks are available.
If you have kids who are of a certain age, it would be rather awkward to run into them in a club. So Westlands in general would be a good place to avoid. The Tree House does, however, put out some rather good concerts and there is a decent enough dance floor.
Cover charges vary depending on the act. Dolce, on Koinange street, is still the best place to go for a bit of slow rhumba or golden oldies. The clientele is mature, the drinks decent, a modest cover charge of Sh500 stands between you and some injury-inducing dance moves.
The ultimate in dancing in Nairobi used to be the Club Afrique which unfortunately shut down and we wait, with bated breath, for it to reopen.