What you need to know:
From the swinging sixties to the troubled ‘70s and throughout the war decades up to the new millennium, Ugandans have found the time and good heart to make merry even in the worst of circumstances. Timothy Kalyegira introduces the 50 most recognised places and a special mention of all the Uganda hotels and golf clubs in the original districts:
Grey-haired folk will tell you that live band music, whether local or Congolese was brought alive at the White Nile in the then Kampala suburb of Katwe in the fast-paced post-independence night life. Kampala’s happy and free people waltzed, fox-trotted or got taken by the rumba rhythm while the booze flowed freely, couples fell in love and hearts were broken at the White Nile.
Susanna Night Club
At the height of Milton Obote’s political career in the 1960s and briefly in the Idi Amin years (before the man went completely mad), Susanna was where many politicians, older Makerere University students and feisty young people raring to go with the independence spirit found love. The music was good, the conversation loud and boisterous and dress sharp. You had to look good on the dance floor when the band struck up something groovy. There is a cheeky story told about the place, Dr Obote, Miria Nalule and a former Katikkiro of Buganda.
Even if you are not a “lifie-ist”, there are certain places in Uganda you cannot know. Ange Noir Discotheque is one of them. Under a different management, it was called Kololo Club in the 1970s. It is here where people have let their hair down and continue to groove the weekends away.
Two hundred kilometres to the east, the border town of Tororo has always had the Rock Hotel, since re-named Rock Classic as the place where the moneyed classes from the leafy senior quarters came to party and be seen.
Club Silk, opened in 1994 at the time FM radio was roaring into life in Uganda, it has never lost its appeal to the younger dancing and “clubbing” demographic in Kampala. It is a kind of Ange Noir for the younger age group.
La Bella Bar & Restaurant
It was the civil servants place between the late 1970s and 1980- early 90s. Smoky, pompous and dark. They loved the place -- and some still do.
The Viper Room
This joint, briefly, in the late 1990s, targeted a more discriminating, oldies music-loving Kampala professional middle class before fading from the scene.
Any place that is the home base of Afrigo Band will always be a major hangout joint in Kampala. Club Obligatto also played host to the Radio One town hall debate known as “Ekimeeza”, the first of several in Uganda before the government declared them illegal in 2009.
The most popular hangout joint for young people in Kampala in early to mid 1980s, at the height of the national disco dancing and breakdance craze. Remember ‘house music’?
Kololo Sports Club
Apart from squash and swimming, Kololo Sports Club in the 1980s also became a favourite youth place when it started to host dancing competitions.
White Rhino Hotel
Located on Weatherhead Park Lane in Arua, it was the most popular in the West Nile region. It used to be a centre where tourists could relax. It was named after white rhinos which were many in Ajai Game Reserve. But due to financial constraints, it was closed in 1996. It was owned by Uganda Hotels started during Obote I regime. Mainly businessmen and civil servants used to hang out in the place.
Nya Luo Hotel
This is where old and young people in Nebbi used to hang out right from 1950’s when it was started until early 1990s when it ceased to operate. This is where many cultural leaders also used to hang out and eat traditional dishes. The place also frequently played host to live bands from the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mbale Sports Club
It was founded in 1954 as Gold Course Club. According to the outgoing chairman, Mr Stephen Namonyo, throughout the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s it stood out as the most famous dancing hall in Mbale. Travellers from as far as Jinja, Tororo, Kampala and Iganga spent their weekends in Mbale to just dance at this famous place or have a drink. Today, it still stands out as the preferred destination for the older businessmen.
Still in Mbale, right from the 1950s, Kiteeso was and still is the best place to find local brew, ajono. According to Mr Zebedi Mangali, two Teso immigrant traders, Ms Jessica Apolot and Ms Elizabeth Akello, settled in this place in 1943 and started brewing ajono. It has stood the test of time and attracts all comers.
Wooden Restaurant & Bar
Wooden Restaurant & Bar on Kyebambe Road is the oldest hangout place for the middle and lower class folks in Fort Portal Town, Kabarole since 1960s. As the colonialists retreated to Boma, the African middle class found solace at Wooden. In the 1960s, night life was bubbling at Wooden Restaurant which still operates to-date.
New Life Bar
New Life Bar in Mengo was one of those established joints that went on to play host, like Club Obligatto, to live town hall FM radio debates, this time CBS FM’s “Mambo Bado”.
This joint along Bombo Road in Kampala became synonymous with the Afrigo Band, theatre group performances and live music concerts. The 30-40 year olds in Kampala will also remember the raving ‘transday’ discos at Little Flowers in the late 1980s-early1990s where they danced ‘rubber style’ to the riveting rhythms pumped out by either SM Sounds or Soul Disco sound systems.
In the 1980s to late 1990s, the students Guild Canteen at Makerere University was also a favourite dancing and hangout joint. DJs who sometimes played there were two who would go on to become national FM radio stars: Rasta Rob MC and Alex Ndawula.
The foremost low-brow joint frequented by European and other western expatriates in the 1990s to early 2000s. Location: Kabalagala.
Located at Luwum Street in the early 2000s, It was a seedy place teeming with young people in their 20s and with prostitutes.
Uganda Club in Nakasero became the foremost joint after independence in 1962. It was not any other hangout joint. Its members included President Milton Obote, Army Commander Idi Amin, Internal Affairs minister Basil Bataringaya and other dignitaries. It was the Who-is-Who; the Cabinet’s and army high command’s watering hole.
After the Asians left in 1972, this turned into a favourite hang out place for the civil servants, Uganda Airlines, Uganda Airforce and other middle class people in the 1970s. It was the Kampala Club of Entebbe.
Alobo Night Club
In Gulu, the war years of Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony and his bloodlust were not enough to stop the music from playing at Alobo. Tales are told of how the rebels would come to town on some nights and mix with locals and government troops in Alobo’s pulsating embrace.
Hakuna Matata has since the mid 1990s been synonymous with pork joints. But it is also a drinking place. It started in Ntinda and now has a branch in Makindye and in Kabalagala.
Nicodemus and the street bars of Nakulabye. Roast or sizzling pan fried pork and the kafunda (beer shop) business were defined in Nicodemus and Nakulabye. Patronised by a cocktail of civil servants and all sorts, Nakulabye’s beer shops gave Kampala night life a different meaning all together.
This place along Kampala Road remains a very popular and crowded bar, patronised usually by former officials of the Amin and Obote governments and retrenched civil servants.
Sailing Club, Jinja
One of the most beloved waterfront joints in Uganda in the 1980s and the hottest in Jinja, the place of many memories at the height of partying and dancing in the Obote II period. Students of old will remember the French leaves they took from Busoga College Mwiri, escaping out of Kiira College Butiki, risking getting caught out at Jinja College or Wanyange Girls or Wairaka and other surrounding boarding schools, just so they could be at ‘Sailing’ for the kikiri.
In the late 1960s and through most of the 1970s, Wimpy’s along Kampala Road was a sort of Nando’s for the young people of the time. However, as economic times grew more difficult, it closed shop in Kampala and moved to Nairobi, Kenya. There was also a Wimpy’s in Mbale which drew a similarly youthful clientele whose parents formed the middle classes of Indian Quarters, Senior Quarters and Nkokonjeru Terrace.
It started in the 1980s and this is where Kampala’s creative souls would meet every Monday night to test their talents. Musicians and writers would go there every Monday to sing live, play instruments or just drink and have fun with friends. It was just the bohemian.
Palace View Bar
A favourite meeting and drinking joint in Fort Portal, it made news in 1998 when Toro Prince Charles (“Happy”) Kijanangoma was gunned down while enjoying a drink.
The absolute must-go to joint for westernised young people, western expats and refugees from the Horn of Africa in Kampala starting in the early 2000s and still very popular. It was once the show room of Car & General.
Its popularity with western tourists and volunteers was established in the mid 2000s when it was the first joint to create wireless Internet access. Located along Parliament Avenue.
Kampala Club for many years in the 1970s and early to mid 1980s was the preferred place of Kampala civil servants, especially the Bantu-speaking civil servants.
There was a time in the late 1990s that if you lived in Kampala and were a young person, and did not know a joint in Kamwokya-Kiseminti called Just Kickin’, you were dismissed as not “happening”. Ran by British expats, it was at one point the most happening place in Kampala.
Located on the ground floor at Udyam House. Popular with the white collar middle class in the early 1990s. This is where the famous DJ Berry started his stint in Kampala.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the DV-8 Restaurant in Kampala was briefly the hottest pool, karaoke and drinking property, especially among the day scholars of Kampala. Even GNL Zamba mentions it in one of his remember-the-days songs, as the place that launched several musical careers.
Bimbo Ice Cream
It might be difficult for young people today to imagine, but there was once a time in Uganda when the country did not have any place to buy ice cream. When Bimbo Ice Cream was founded in 1984, it became, unsurprisingly, an instant hit with young Kampala residents. It is still in operation.
In the early to late 1980s, Kisementi, an open verandah and parking area in the Kololo-Kamwokya area became the most important meeting place in Kampala for the Obote II era civil servants, politicians, military officers and others. People who grew up around lower Kololo, Kitante, Bukoto areas will recall the shootings at Kisementi when soldiers got high and angry.
Owned by veteran musician Hope Mukasa, it was the first joint in Kampala to introduce Karaoke.
Entebbe. Established as one of the most enduring places for relaxation in Entebbe in the 1970s and, located across the road from the Old Airport, its popularity has never died down.
With the growing influence of satellite pay television, Jocker’s in the late 1990s, like Just Kickin’, made its name by broadcasting live English Premier League matches on widescreen TV sets.
Nsambya Sharing Hall
This hall, owned and run by the Catholic Church, became an unlikely hit with Kampala’s young people, playing host to a range of recreational activities, music concerts and other events.
Located along Dewinton Road, it is a favourite restaurant and meeting place for older Ugandans, like Slow Boat, who remember more honest and orderly times in the 1970s and 1980s.
It is still one of the major hangout joints in Kampala. Based in Bugolobi, frequented by football fans, pork eaters and other revellers since the late 1990s.
In the early to mid 1980s, Jamaica Grill Restaurant along William Street, owned by DP politician Robert Kitariko, was one of the most talked-about hangout places in Kampala.
This was also another of those early 1980s Obote II places where the youth of Uganda congregated to see and be seen, to date, to stand and be counted. It was located at Crested Towers and later became House of Entertainment, then the Blue Restaurant.
In the 1990s, Cathy George was renowned for well-done cow hoof (emolokony) among the just-out-of university types. They were noisy, happy and plastered here during the weekends. Some would leave Cathy George only to relocate to either Charlie Deluxe or Yakobos across town in Bukoto/Ntinda.
In Wandegeya, Bermuda and Baghdad never went to sleep. Makerere University students, undesirables from the surrounding slums and all sorts found common cause in the noisy racket that emanated from the place’s beer shops.
A popular joint in Fort Portal Town in the 1980s, almost the only serious drinking and hanging out place during those times of economic difficulty.
It was a restaurant on the ground floor of Uganda House in Kampala for many years, poplar with the same types as frequented Labella Bar, Sardinia Restaurant and Slow Boat Restaurant: the people who remember Uganda before the NRM. It later was taken over by Canaan Restaurant and now is called Bravo. The patrons of old will remember when Rachel Ssenkebejje and others tore up the place with live band music.
Additionally reporting by Felix Warom, Felix Basiime and David Mafabi
• Apollo Hotel
• Agip Motel
• Club Clouds.
• Hideout Lodge.
• City Bar.
• Silver Springs.
• Lira Hotel
• Uganda Golf Club, Kampala.
• Club Volts.
• Uganda Golf Club (Entebbe).
• The Centre.
• Odeon Cinema.
• Drive-in Cinema.
• KK Beach Ggaba.
• Satellite Beach (Mukono).
• Lutembe Beach.
• Lake Nabugabo.
• Bamboo Village.
• The Deep.
• Café Javas.
• Kampala Casino.
• Rock Garden.
• Capital Pub.
• Jinja Club.
• Dam Waters
• Kololo Club.
• Hotel International.
• Ssese Gateway Beach.
• Muyenga Club.
• Telex Bar.
• 24/7 Lira
• Musicians Club ’89 (National Theatre)
• Jajja Asinansi in Nansana
• Teacher’s Grill Wandegeya
• Paris Club Wandegeya
• Joy’s Joint Wandegeya
• Deep Blue Wandegeya
COUNT DOWN TO INDEPENDENCE
Coat of arms is approved
On October 1, 1962: the coat arms was approved by the Governor of Uganda Sir Walter Coutts, and formally established by law on 9 October.
The shield and spears represent the willingness of the Ugandan people to defend their country. There are three images on the shield: those on top represent the waves of Lake Victoria and Lake Albert; the sun in the centre represents the many days of brilliant sunshine Uganda enjoys; and the traditional drum at the bottom is symbolic of dancing, and the summoning of people to meetings and ceremony.
I was there on 9/10/1962
I mistakenly thought that after this day, all the British would be out the next day and that all Uganda’s problem would be solved that day. I was a member of the UPC Youth league. We had actively mobilisation people to demand for independence from the start of 1960. There was only one message- Kick out all the British from Uganda.
But as the day approached, I was called to Harvard University in the U.S, but that did not mean that all hopes for jubilation had remained home. At Harvard, I was the only Ugandan but was joined by students from other East African countries. We were 21 students in total.
The Tanzanians consistently told stories about their country and self-rule which they had acquired much earlier on, which always left me anxious about what would happen to Uganda the day the Union Jack would be lowered.
I tune onto BBC every single morning and on October 9, all 21 East African students woke up early. It was in the fall, towards winter; with the BBC giving a minute-by-minute report it was something to reckon with.
We were joined by friends from Ghana, Egypt and more African Americans who had a pan-African spirit. Simply put, “it was a big party. Lots of drinks, foods, loud African music, it was absolute merrymaking as we listened to radio about what was unfolding at home.
That was the independence celebrations for the Harvard- based Ugandans.