It’s been a long time since i updated this article and a lot has changed in Kigali’s late night scene since way back in 2010. Bars have closed (no more La Classe and Downtown), New Cadillac has burned down (word on the street is that missionaries and evil satanic club-goers had a spiritual face-off in the bar, shooting fireballs from each others eyes which then caused the place to burn down – and yes, that’s actually a story I heard), new bars and clubs have opened, and once popular places have become a lot more quiet (are there still concerts at White Horse?)
For a place I always describe as ‘sleepy’, Kigali seems to do ok in the nightlife department. True, there aren’t as many crazy places as in Kampala and people tend to be a bit more reserved as a whole, but it’s not uncommon for bars to be packed until the sun comes up at 6am. A 3pm night seems to be an early one for many people (read: me). So here’s my list of places to keep yourself entertained in Kigali. I’m sure there are plenty of places I’ve missed so get in touch with any recommendations!
Dinner & Drinks
I like to start my Kigali night out with a meal and some drinks somewhere reasonably lively. Early on I’m not looking for anything clubby or dancy… just a nice place to chat with friends, eat some good food, bump into people, and knock back a few drinks before heading off for something a bit more exciting. Here are some spots with good food and a fun atmosphere to start your night.
- Caiman – I have to admit that I’ve never come here for pre-drinks since it’s so damned far away from my house. But I have been here for a few live music events (which have been really fun) and if I lived in Nyarutarama or Kibagabaga then I’d come here a lot. Full bar with terrible service (at least during the busy events… bartenders have been known to ask for bribes to serve you.. er, what?) but if you’re looking for grilled meat then the food is really good.
- Dolce – I love this hidden little place. Popular with Rwandans and the very occasional expat it’s got a decent-sized patio, high seating inside with views of the street, and a more clubby-looking interior which looks like it good double as a dance floor later in the night. I usually come for a few glasses of wine (at Rwf 2,000 it’s one of the cheapest places for wine) before heading on to another place relatively early so I’ve never seen it turn too crazy. They have a few TVs if you want to watch sports and they do pizza and brochettes.
- Green Corner / Panorama Ten to Two – Both of these Nyamirambo fish and brochettes places make good starting points, especially if you’re going to head out in the neighbourhood afterwards. If you don’t pre-order your food it’s likely to take well over an hour. Even if you do, an hour wait isn’t uncommon. Ten to Two has more choice at their bar and a better view but Green Corner has a certain charm and the food gets better reviews.
- Heaven – This place is pretty chilled and more popular with tour groups than locals or expats but it’s got a full bar and the food is good. Everyone I know complains that it’s too expensive but I think the quality of the food is usually good and they’ve got a good selection of cocktails (try the banana beer one). Zen and Urban are two other good choices if cocktails are your thing… usually pretty quiet though. I’m pretty sure they do a happy hour still from 5 to 7pm which is buy one get one free on wine and beer. True, the wine is already expensive compared to other places but at 2-for-1 it’s a good deal. Too bad it ends so early.
- Lalibela – Lalibela will leave you with a ball of injera growing in your belly for the rest of the night which doesn’t really body well for feeling sexy but Fridays here are usually pretty lively and it’s a nice place to stop by even just for a drink.
- Republika – This is probably my favourite pre-going-out place – mostly because it’s close to my house. They’ve raised their prices again recently which has made their giant half carafes of wine less of a good deal than they once were, but it’s still a nice place to knock back a few drinks and it’s close to the bars in Kiyovu, Town, or Nyamirambo in case one of those places are your next destination. Like Heaven, it’s popular with tourists and expats and often has at least one huge group dining there. Your meal can take awhile when it’s busy but that just gives you a bit more time to drink and chat. Solange, the owner, is a great host and there’s a nice atmosphere here. It’s the only place in Kigali I’d recommend reserving a table even if you just two people – especially on Friday and Saturday nights.
- Via Veneto – I’ve been here a few times during the week and always seem to be one of just a couple of tables, so the mid-week atmosphere doesn’t seem great so far. But the drinks are strong (at least the Cuba Libre is), the service and food are pretty good and they’ve started holding fairly regular events on Fridays which makes me think it would be a good place to start your night if you live on that side of town.
I wasn’t quite sure what to call this category… places that aren’t quite quiet bar but aren’t quite nightclub. The kind of in between place that people might head to before clubbing or just spend their entire night in dancing around the plastic tables and chairs in the darkness.
- KGL Fast Food – This fast food restaurant slash bar is always loud and busy whenever I drive past late at night. Which isn’t very often. Like twice. But a friend of mine went last weekend and had a great time with the mostly Rwandan crown. Then if you get hungry, a greasy fast food meal is a mere five metres away in the restaurant section.
- Lemon Tree, Rosty’s Club, and Joytime Bar – These three bars are all located on the same Remera corner in what looks like a seriously lively part of town. I’d heard a few times that Lemon Tree was the new Sundowner: A patio bar with a more local crowd, fewer thieves, and better music but I’m not a fan. It was packed the night I went and we could barely move. The crowd was made up of 80% guys who were that horrible combination of grabby, needy, thievey (a friend had her phone stolen), and aggressive and I just wanted to flee. If the crowd were a bit more chilled it might be a good place but we didn’t have much luck that night. We scampered across the road to Joytime which was less crowded but still fun with good music and a way more laid back crowd. Rosty’s was also busy and, though we didn’t head inside, but I know it’s a popular place.
- Micha’s Bistro Cafe – This is one of the stranger places in Kigali (matched only by the weird bars in Nyamirambo that occasionally have ‘comedians’ in white face paint and over-sized clothes pretending to bark, meow, and fart along to noises coming from the speakers… true story) with seating is set up facing a stage with regular performances of lip synching by teenage boys, grown men, and scantly clad women who lose more of their clothes as the night goes on. I went innocently on a Thursday for some akabenz and was assaulted by these ridiculous and yet strangely entertaining performances. The bar part is down the sloping driveway on the right, behind the regular restaurant.
- One Love Club – As the name suggests, this place is a rasta kind of place with reggae music blaring and a funny smell in the air. I’ve only been a few times several years ago and I remember it being fun with a fire pit and lots of outdoor seating. They’ve hosted a few Halloween parties here so maybe that’s their thing? I keep meaning to go back here but I have no idea what nights are busy so I never seem to make it. But I do have lots of fun memories of this place so check it out… then report back!
- Papyrus – Ah Papyrus. Probably the most popular bar in town with foreigners but it usually has a good mix of Rwandan guys on the hunt for new arrivals. Young blondes, beware. Or don’t. The atmosphere here is usually pretty good and it can be nice for a quiet meal and a few drinks mid-week in either the restaurant or bar. It gets really busy on the weekends if you’re after something a bit more lively. If you’re new in town this will probably be one of your first stops and and potentially a place you get sick of quickly. But if you don’t know anyone and you’re reasonably outgoing then it’s a pretty easy place to start talking to strangers and maybe make some friends. Those hoping to bust out their elaborate dance moves would be better off at the club downstairs since upstairs is more of a standy, talky, and posey type place.
- Spectra – The smelliest bar in Kigali. No idea how they manage that since the place has doors everywhere but maybe that’s what happens with a room full of dudes dancing furiously. Anyway, it’s a pretty fun bar when you stand outside plus there are some lively spots across the road, too. Watch your stuff though – this is Gangster’s Paradise, after all. But bars in Nyamirambo can be a lot of fun.
- Sundowner – For me, Sundowner started as the place you’d go for a meal and some drinks before shuffling on down the hill to the old Papyrus. When Papyrus closed down for awhile, though, nightlife in Kigali was shaken up and Sundowner seemed to grow into Kigali’s busiest party bar, despite the regular playing of Ace of Base songs. Now it’s been cemented as the place that never seems to close and you can usually guarantee a pretty crazy weekend night. I like it occasionally but it’s just so dark and so thievey and full of 16 year olds these days that I tend to avoid it.
One of the complaints I get about this site fairly often is that I don’t list live music venues and events. The problem is that I don’t really know many places that have live music on a regular basis so, please, fill me in! If you know of bands playing somewhat regularly at a place, let me know so I can add it to this list. In the meantime, check my events calendar for not-so-regular performances at places like Heaven (open mic night) and other random spots around town.
- City Beach – There was a jazzy type band playing here each weekend last month (March 2014) and I don’t know if it’ll be a regular thing or if they’ll find other bands to keep the live music thing going. It’s a small but nice venue for music, I think. All intimate and stuff with a dance floor busting out just in front of the band and seats around the outside to hide away a bit. If anyone knows whether music here will be a regular thing, please let me know!
- Hilltop Hotel – I’ve never been but have recently been told that they have a reggae band playing here every Friday. It’s located way out by the airport.
- Hotel des Mille Collines – They seem to have bands playing fairly regularly here but it’s pretty chilled and more of a background noise sort of thing (although it’s also crazy loud so I’m not sure what they’re going for) and finishes at around 9 or 10pm. Go early, grab a seat on the comfy patio far from the overpowering speakers, order some brochettes and overpriced drinks, and then shuffle off somewhere else once the music finishes.
- Fantastic Restaurant – I know this place as a great place to come for a giant and cheap lunch buffet. Apparently it’s also home to live music on weekend evenings. Can anyone confirm or deny?
- Tiamo – Last I checked, Tiamo has a Congolese band playing every Friday. The music is good and the place gets pretty packed but there’s no outdoor area so it’s really cramped and stuffy. If you want to hear good music on a regular basis, though, then this is really the only place I know.
- White Horse – They used to have a concert every Friday here, usually reggae. It used to be really popular back when the old Papyrus was closed down but since the new version opened up it seems to have turned back into a regular ol’ restaurant. Does anyone know if they still do concerts here?
I’m definitely not a clubber. Or whatever the kids are calling it, these days. If I end up at a nightclub it’s probably because I’m very drunk. Which means that the details are usually pretty foggy. Below is a list of place I’ve either been or or maybe just heard something about. Please let me know of other places so I can add them to the list!
- Black and White Club – If you are looking for a Rwandan crowd, but feel like Le Must might be just a tad too upscale for you, Black and White (located inside the Alpha Palace Hotel in Remera) is a good alternative. You will find expats here as well, but because the DJs tend to favor Rwandan pop music, the majority of people on the dance floor will be young Rwandans. The downside: if you don’t like it there, you’re pretty far from town and the rest of the clubbing options. I’ve heard that they sometimes have live music here.
- Club Next – This club in Muhima closed down for awhile and when it was reopened the entire interior was decked out in white. Plus, on the night I went, they were hosting the post Diner en Blanc party which meant all of the people there were wearing white. It was strangely heavenly. But I think I was overcharged for my drinks so that ruined the trippy experience. Or maybe the drinks just really are super expensive… I never did figure it out. I always have a good time when I come here (which admittedly isn’t that often) and usually end up staying until the sun comes up. Which is weird when the bar has a huge window to let all of that light in.
- Crystal Club – This bar is located at the top of Top Tower Hotel, somewhere up around the multicoloured rooftop laser space beam (or at least that’s what I assume that thing is…). I’ve been here once, already quite drunk as with most of my nightclub adventures. I remember there being one way in and one way out – a small, rickety, terrifying elevator. I assume there’s a staircase somewhere for safety reasons… but I never did see it. Great views but expensive drinks and a weird vibe. This really is not the place to go to if you prefer a crowded club, however, as there never seems to be anyone here. From time to time, people do rent the place to host private parties, in which case it can be a lot of fun, but apart from these sporadic occasions we see no reason to go here unless you are prepared to bring your own fun. See: How to make friends in Kigali.
- Golemi – This club is located inside the Lemigo Hotel and the three times I’ve been I’ve had fun. One time was most probably due to the free booze that somehow kept flowing. It’s got a ‘proper’ nightclub feel with mirrors on the walls, a sunken dance floor, and a full bar. It’s been empty most times I’ve been but if you go with a few friends it can be fun.
- K-Club – The fancy club for fancy people with a Rwf 5,000 cover charge and table service. Dress nicely. It’s probably the most ‘proper’ clubby type place in Kigali so give it a try if that’s your thing.
- Legacy Lounge – This is the nightclub at Mille Collines. I’ve never been for a night out but I poked my head in one Tuesday as I walked by when the doors were open. It’s certainly cozy but it’s kind of cool in there. Drinks are expensive and I think there’s a cover charge on the weekends. Another fancy place for fancy people.
- Le Must – Apparently, Le Must originally started out as an exclusive members-only club, but has now opened its door to the man in the street (as long as he’s wearing a suit and polished leather shoes and doesn’t mind paying an entrance fee). The little inside club is regularly crammed with about 50 people too many and the tiny dance floor can be crossed in a mere split jump, but it can be a nice change to the expat-saturated Papyrus and Sundowner. Thursdays are the busiest night (and the only night I’ve ever been) and things fill up quickly from around midnight. I stick to the patio… inside is a bit overwhelming and trips to the toilet are a traumatic experience after about 1am. Seriously. Scary shit. Go in pairs to clear a path. The crowd is friendly and mostly local with a smattering of foreigners starting to find it. Keep a close watch on your stuff here.
- Papyrus Nightclub – The entrance to the Papyrus nightclub is located on the bottom floor of the obnoxiously large building near the brochettes BBQ and pool table. Most people seem to prefer the top floor bar and fight against the subtle push to the club downstairs. Last time I was there (well over a year ago) I remember the club being way too loud, weirdly well-lit, and having an annoyingly large cover charge. But it can be fun with a group of friends and is an easy next stop if you start your night in their bar or restaurant.
- Planet Club (KBC) – Yes, the name of the club is Planet but because it is part of the Kigali Business Center (KBC) building and that’s what people tend to call it (not to be confused with banks KCB and BCR or recently closed supermarket BCK). The music is good (hip hop/African pop), the cover reasonable (around Rwf 2,000 last we checked) and the place is actually kind of nice with several small lounge areas (perfect for meaningful conversations with the catch of the night), a pool table area, and a dancefloor. The major drawback for KBC is the PSWs (‘Professional Sex Workers’ – yes, we do love our abbreviations). The place is literally swarming with metallic body suits, leather mini skirts and leopard-print stilettos (not that the girls can’t pull it off). And don’t think their relentless unwarranted flirting is reserved the boys – every time we have been there, we have ended up having to ask the girl humping our thigh if she could ‘kindly stop doing that, murakoze cyane.’
I should probably title this section ‘Watching Football’ because that’s pretty much the only sport that Rwandans seem to care anything about. Fortunately for us ‘other’ sports watchers, there are spots around town that play a good variety of things.
- Car Wash – This huge patio bar is popular with all sorts of people and is centrally located at the bottom of Kimihurura. They occasionally host concerts here but it’s really most well known as the best place to come for football. They’ve got big screen TVs and it usually fills up with fans, making for a fun atmosphere. This would probably be my choice for watching the world cup or any other big football matches.
- Chez Lando – If I lived in or around Remera I think this would be one of my choices for drinks and dinner before a night out. The layout is kind of cool with little cave-like spaces along with a more open patio and a pool table and TV area. It’s a popular place when there’s a football match on so if you’re into men yelling at a TV while other men kick a ball around then you’ll like the atmosphere here on game days.
- Meze Fresh – The atmosphere isn’t really sports bar-ish and it’s kind of uncomfortable propping up on the high stools next to a bar where there’s nowhere for your knees to go, BUT the American owner has a good selection of channels and it’s a good spot for a variety of sports. Plus they have good margaritas by the jug, a few other cocktails, and good Mexican food. This is the place to come to watch for a lively annual Superbowl party.
- Ozone Sports Bar – I don’t know anything about this place except that it has ‘sports bar’ in the name and is located in the Kigali City Tower somewhere. The menu on their website promises craft beer and chicken wings with blue cheese sauce. Considering the menu appears to be an exact copy of this Florida bar, I don’t have a lot of faith.
- Serena Hotel – Atmosphere here is zero and drinks and food are crazy expensive but if you really really really must watch something and if it’s something obscure like the Winter Olympics, then this is probably your best bet. Head to the lounge area (straight ahead after you enter and up some stairs), plop down on one of the couches and if nobody else is watching anything you can ask for the remote control to surf around. They tend to have about 15 channels at once but they can access more with a flip of the satellite switch… or something. So if you know the channel you want and it’s not there, ask to see if they can put it on for you.
- Sportszone – There’s a pretty good sports bar located at the Casino on the second floor of Top Tower Hotel. It’s a somewhat bizarre place, sharing the space with a casino, but they’ve got four or five big screens and the Canadian manager makes sure to show things that us weird North American like. It’s the best place to come for those rare hockey and baseball games that get shown.
From time to time an inspired soul takes charge and – to the gratefulness of us mere mortals – arranges a private party. These events are a blessed diversion from the regular Kigali nightlife trail and usually attract a lot of people (though the crowd tends to lean heavily on the expat side). Keep your eyes and ears out for flyers, posters, gossip or just wait for a friend to make a Facebook event and invite you and you’ll probably be able to find a party each weekend – big or small, birthdays, going aways, just-for-the-hell-of-its… whatever. If you host or attend a house party, keep your stuff safe. People here tend to let their guard down at friend’s parties and there’s been a consistent increase of petty theft. So keep your bag on your shoulder or locked in a room and if it’s your party, lock your valuables away and keep a close eye on the sound system. Seriously. Whoever these thieves are will steal the music right out from under your ears! It’s happened.
- Aloha Club – This place is located next to Caima in Kibagabaga and is basically a swimming pool with a small bar and some sitting areas around the edge. They occasionally hold pool parties.
- Inema Arts – This Kacyiru art gallery organises fairly regular parties at their cool gallery. Some parties are to support a new or visiting exhibition, others are just because. They usually have food from Meze Fresh and they’re a fun and relaxed way to start your night and meet some new people. Follow their Facebook page to make sure you don’t miss anything.
Thanks to Sean for the photo!