‘I will need one photograph for my article,’ I said to Oliver Geyer, the General Manager of the Nairobi InterContinental, ‘Something that captures the character of this place. What do you suggest?’
‘From the roof,’ he said.
‘So what is up there?’ I asked.
‘No, it’s the view,’ he said, ‘the view of Parliament, the KICC, the statue of Jomo Kenyatta, and all the new buildings going up.’
Having talked with him in the sixth floor lounge for an hour – one of the most enjoyable talks I’ve ever had with a hotel manager – I knew exactly what he meant.
Oliver Geyer may have been here in Nairobi for only three years, but he has a real feel for the city – and for the InterContinental’s place in it. It is very much a city hotel, a business hotel. And being so close to Parliament, the lobby must be the MPs’ favourite meeting place. I guess a few of them spend more time there than in the National Assembly!
Of Nairobi’s top flight hotels, with the Hilton it is of a second generation. The first generation hotels, the Norfolk and the Stanley, even now celebrate Kenya as safari country – even retain something of the flavour of the country’s colonial past. They could be nowhere else but Kenya. But InterContinental is an international brand – the world’s biggest international brand of hotels, as Oliver reminded me. Nevertheless, along with its ‘globalness’ (if that is a word) it has some features that are distinctly Kenyan and African.
There is a warmth in the colours of the bedrooms and public rooms – the red and yellow ochres and the browns. There are live African jazz performances on two nights in the week at the always lively, so I am told, Makuti Bar alongside the swimming pool. And there are paintings and fabrics by African artists on the walls. Right now there is an exhibition of paintings from the Yoruba market town of Oshogba in Nigeria, famous for producing so many artists. It is an exhibition arranged by Alan Donovan, the joint founder of African Heritage and the inspiration behind the gemlike Nairobi Gallery, which is nearby at the corner of Kenyatta Avenue and Uhuru Highway.
Alan Donovan is celebrating his 50 years in Africa – just as the InterContinental Hotel, the Golden Lady, is celebrating its own 50th anniversary. And that is why I was invited to visit and write some celebratory words. I thoroughly enjoyed the Friday night and Saturday morning there. Given its strategic location in the city, the hotel deserves a makeover and maybe a few more floors, but it still has plenty to offer us Nairobians.
I had dinner in the Bhandini Restaurant with its North Indian cuisine. My Aloo Ghobi was excellent; the Baileys Honey Cake was delicious (it was the Nairobi Dessert Week) – and the Chardonnay house wine was good too. After dinner, I thought I should take a night-cap at the Makuti Bar, just in order to sample the place, you’ll understand. I left at about 10.30. ‘Why are you going so early?’ one of the hotel staff asked. I didn’t have a proper answer for that. Anyway, it meant I was spritely in the morning, and ready to indulge myself with breakfast, my favourite meal of the day. And a buffet breakfast at the Terrace has a variety that can indulge any taste.
What else? The Makuti Bar features the Jacob Astiyo Band on Tuesday evenings and the Band Bandits on Thursdays. On other evenings there is a DJ. And the big screen shows all the key sporting events. (It’s the F1 Monaco Grand Prix next weekend.) You can prepare for your own sports at the well-equipped InterFitness Centre, with its sauna, steam bath and massage. Or you can try your luck at the Mayfair RKL Casino. So join in the anniversary celebrations.