Nightlife in Kigali

Fridays are a big deal in Rwanda. So big, in fact, that the government officials get their Friday workday cut in half – supposedly to promote exercise (who ever heard of a productive Friday afternoon anyway, eh?) Despite this official endorsement of crazy partying (yes, we choose to interpret it as such), Kigali has a disappointingly low number of nightclubs, especially considering the amount of dance-crazed holiday-minded expats in this city. We’re surprised at the slow growth in the clubbing business… after B Club burned down, the rate of growth might actually be negative.

The scarcity of clubs does however lead to a more intimate party scene (enunciate that word with as much of a sexual undertone as you deem proper) and definitely takes the mystery out of where you might run into the hippest people (read: most recent hook-up). Don’t worry, they’re pretty much all guaranteed to wander into Papyrus at some point during the night…

So to aid your exploration of the Kigali nightlife we present this short list of places to go drinking, dancing, singing and make new acquaintances.

Papyrus (Kimihurura)

Much like a werewolf, this Italian restaurant transforms into a lounge/nightclub as soon as the moon comes up. With its combination of the latest hip hop/house music, late-night snacking options, dark corners and (oh, why sugarcoat it) smokin’ hot regulars, Papyrus is in many ways a perfect place to spend a night on the town. You will find people here at any night of the week, Fridays unquestionably being the most popular. It has, on several occasions, been so packed there on Fridays that we have been stuck between the bar and the dance floor for hours, though since they recently opened the new dance area (with AC!!!) it has been considerably more room for our elaborate dance moves.

The party usually gets started around midnight and lasts until the early morning hours (your late snacks might very well be better referred to as breakfast) with the music keeping you dancing the entire time. The clientele is one of the most diverse at any Kigali club, with a harmonious mix of expats and Rwandans; as young as 18 and as old as late 60s. Lately  (clearly as a result of the many middle-aged muzungu men) Papyrus has attracted more professional sex workers (PSWs), and though they’re an entertaining addition to the party scene (you wont see anyone else venturing up to dance on the bar!), they do cause problems for the innocent boy trying to meet a nice Rwandan girl to dance with. Be aware of overly cuddly girls in mini-dresses, or anyone who pulls on your armpit hair to get your attention and you should be safe.

Besides the growing issue of PSW-related harassment, you are pretty much guaranteed to get something stolen, either from your parked car, pocket or purse. Papyrus also would benefit from improving their bathroom situation. As of today they only have three bathrooms; one for boys and two for girls, which on busy nights translates into a lot of time spent standing in line, often in the company of PSWs with attitude constantly trying to sneak past you. But hey, at least the toilets actually flush most of the time and they rarely run out of toilet paper. Oh, and girls, go for the innermost bathroom if you get the chance as it’s the only one with a mirror.

Cadillac (Kimihurura)

Situated down the hill from Papyrus, Cadillac is a natural choice for those wishing to take it up a notch. With its high ceiling, an actual dance floor, and even disco lights, this is the closest you’ll get to a nightclub in Kigali. And compared to the densely packed Papyrus, it certainly offers more elbow space (so for those of us with amazing dance moves, this is the place to show it off.)

They charge a cover, usually around 2000 RWF, but if you’re looking for a more authentic clubbing experience, you really won’t be able to escape a cover charge anywhere. Cadillac was one of the first clubs in Kigali and still stands as the only club worth visiting to many young Rwandans. In general, you will find that the clientele is more local than at Papyrus, and that the DJ often includes African pop songs in his/her repertoire – a welcoming addition even if you don’t know the meaning of the words you’re singing (read: hoarsely screaming) along to.

If you find yourself overwhelmed by the crowded dance floor, the girl grinding a chair, or the flock of persistent boys hungrily waiting by the bar, you can always retreat to the billiard lounge where the sound level allows conversation, and the lighting allows face recognition…

Planet Club/KBC (Kimihurura/Kacyiru)

Yes, the name of the club is Planet but because it is part of the Kigali Business Center (KBC) building, that’s what we’re going to call it (not to be confused with KCB or BCR, both banks, or BCK, a supermarket). Many people tend to end up here after Papyrus has passed its main peak, usually around three in the morning. The music is good (hip hop/African pop), the cover reasonable (around 2000 RWF) and the locale is actually kind of nice with several small lounge areas (perfect for meaningful conversations with the catch of the night).

The major drawback for KBC is the PSWs (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.’

The PSWs aside, KBC really can be a fun place to shake your tosh, and if you do happen to find yourself in good company; the large couches in the innermost rooms are a cozy place to end the evening.

Le Must (Kiyovu)

If you happen to be in companionship of one of the aforementioned government officials, you will most likely end up at Le Must, the number one choice for the elite Rwandans. It 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). The little club can’t possibly fit more than a maximum of 40 people and the dance floor can be crossed in a mere split jump, but it can be a nice change to the expat-saturated Papyrus, KBC and Cadillac.

The music – like the clientele – is undeniably more African, with zouk being the predominant genre. Plus there is a lot more classy pair dancing than at other clubs. In an effort to prevent PSW-related harassment (we should probably abbreviate that whole expression to PSWRH come to think of it…), Le Must recently started to charge a cover to – get this – only women. If you are a muzungu woman you might get in for free, but the safest bet to avoid paying up to 5000 RWF (!) would be to come in the company of the club members (casually wait by one of the many Land Cruisers and Hummers in the parking lot, and you’ll be sure to bump into one.)

Black and White Club at Alpha Palace Hotel (Remera)

If you are looking for a Rwandan crowd, but feel Le Must might be just a tad too upscale for you, Black and White is a good alternative (Black and White is the club located inside the Alpha Palace Hotel.) 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.

Crystal Club at Top Tower Hotel (Kacyiru)

This bar and dance floor is located at the very top floor of the Top Tower Hotel. The views are amazing, and – depending on the DJ that’s working that day – the music is pretty awesome as well. 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).

A word of warning: when you see flyers for Ladies’ Night at Top Tower that say “ladies drink for free”, do not be fooled into thinking that drinks are indeed free, as the sentence might suggest to any regular English speaker. What they meant to say was that ladies do not drink for free. If you do order a drink (or most likely several drinks, being under the impression that you wont have to pay) you get ONE disgustingly tacky cocktail without charge – and not one per lady either; one per table.

Sky Hotel (Gitega)

For 1000 RWF you gain entrance to the dance club located in the cellar of Sky Hotel, a slightly run-down hotel on the cusp of Nyamirambo. They have a decent dance floor with typical dance music, but the location (Nyamirambo is by some referred to as ‘gangster’s paradise’) does make muzungus a special treat. If being the only drop of a vanilla in a sea of thug-chocolate is your thing, however, Sky Hotel might be just what you’re looking for.

One Love Bar (Kimihurura/Kimicanga)

We are embarrassed to say that after a year in Kigali we have not yet been to One Love, supposedly a fun place to spend a night out. So humiliated are we, in fact, that we’ll just discretely move on, and continue this paragraph as soon as we’ve visited it. However, one friend who has been has fond memories of getting stoned in the bushes with some random dreadlocked Congolese men, which sounds about right for a reggae-influenced place.

Passadena (Gikondo)

We’ve heard this place is fun, but have not actually checked it out. What is it? What do you do there? We don’t know, but we’ll try to go there next weekend, how ’bout that?

Places that aren’t really places at all…

B Club (Nyarutarama)

…burnt down. But we heard it was awesome. They opened a new B Club in Goma, so get out your passport and jump on the next bus to Congo. There has been talk of re-building it here in Kigali, but we will have to get back to you on that one.

Random House Parties and Warehouse Raves

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.) Most of the time, the host will charge an entrance fee (or sell drinking bongs), which in most cases, is totally worth it. Keep your eyes and ears out for flyers, posters, gossip or – shameless self-promotion ahead – the ‘Living in Kigali’ message board, and you won’t miss a single party!

The Top Floor of the New ‘Skyscraper’ in Town

This really isn’t a place at all, but the tiniest bird in the world whispered that there might be a club opening up at the top floor of the new office building in town. Because this would be such an amazing site for a nightclub, we would like to invite you all to send positive thoughts into the universe in a collaborative attempt at making the bird-whisper a reality. We’re thinking New York, Standard Hotel.

About Inga

Born and raised in Norway, culturally transformed in the US, and now residing in Rwanda. Studied biology, but teaching English in Kigali while finishing up my Master's, and debating future career options. At the moment starting up a cocoa plantation is at the top of my list, closely followed by founding an improv society. Severely technologically challenged, but somewhat creatively gifted. A great lover of the Universe, as well as cakes and salt. A passionate hater of small concrete rooms. Email me at inga@livinginkigali.com.