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September 25, 2018

Is Capital Club's Sh800,000 membership fee worth it?

What would you do if Sh800,000 landed in your lap? Perhaps you might spend a week (or few) relaxing at the beach, boost the family herd (… by about 30 cows) or send 100 texts a day, for 22 years. In Kenya’s heightened state of security it could even pay the wages of 31 police constables.

If none of these take your fancy, then you could buy a membership bond at what is tipped as the most exclusive business club in East Africa. Only four months old, it has already drawn a list of nearly 600 top CEOs, directors and diplomats, all paying the Sh210,000-odd per year fees, on top of the re-salable membership bond, to join the likes of Surinder Kapila (director at Ecobank), Eddy Njoroge (former KenGen CEO and MD), and Japh Olende (MD of AIG).

Retiring there for a post-work drink could be the hottest ticket in town… if you can afford it.

Walking in off Westlands Road, just 100 metres from the thunderous noise and traffic of Nairobi’s Waiyaki Way – still the main thoroughfare for trucks going from Mombasa to Kampala – you enter a bubble of calm punctuated only by the clink of glasses at the bar. Occasionally the reality of outside permeates the atmosphere, as the noise from one of Nairobi’s inescapable building sites reminds you of its presence.

Minus the cranes, it is this kind of space that General Manager Andrew Christon thinks allows his business clientele space to think, chat, entertain and – for those I saw leant over humming Macbooks – work.

The club is exorbitantly international. The head chef is Italian. The company is based in Dubai. The interior designer is Australian. Everything down to the curved sliding doors, which Andrew proudly says have come from England, removes you from the Nairobi streets below.

But members can do more than escape from the Nairobi traffic. “The first thing about a club like this, as a business club, is the networking opportunity. Edna Odongo, Director of Membership tells me. “We do a lot of events to facilitate networking.”

Their opening week in March involved speakers from around the world, including explorer Adrian Hayes, and culminated in a party DJed by Sabrina Terence - “the second best female DJ after Paris Hilton”, Andrew claims. “Some people you wouldn’t expect were letting their hair down.” You might find it hard [to] imagine Kenya’s top businessmen and women hitting the dance floor.

High-profile chairman, Bob Collymore, CEO of Safaricom, has helped to pull in some big business names, making the eight events the club organizes each month worth the trip. But it is not just in Nairobi the club helps you meet people.

Andrew says that last week he put a member in touch with staff at Mercantile Athletic Club, Jakarta, who set up a meeting with Indonesia’s big IT names. A Dubai Capital Club member recently came to Nairobi to meet lawyers, Andrew had invited to the club.

“Can you imagine if you came to a city like Nairobi for the first time from a place like Jakarta, where do you start?” He says. “How do you get connections and get in front of CEOs – it could take you months.”

But entry to Nairobi’s top table does not come easy. For a start, you will have to know someone who is already a member. And even once you have an invitation, the selection does not stop there, as Edna explains:

“Every name that comes through for membership has to go through the membership committee and it’s important that as they’re making approvals to understand what the statistic of the club is. We have to make sure that everything from gender, to race, to industry is covered.” Even with the aim of a ‘balanced’ membership, racial screening does sound extreme.

“Right now we have 50 per cent African, 37 per cent Asian, and the rest Caucasian,” Edna adds.

Unlike other Nairobi clubs where members might be invited because they are fun at a party, or strong tennis players, at Capital you have to the fit the profile. You are as much a member of the club as you are an asset owned by it. The 18 ambassadors who are members are a prime example; they were invited because they represent Kenya’s trading partners.

As Andrew says, “We’re there to facilitate business”.

But beyond the politics of membership the club itself is inviting, and in particular the roof terrace provides a special space for entertaining guests or sipping an evening sundowner.

Like the membership the food is expensive, a two-course lunch with wine coming in just shy of Sh5,000. A cocktail at the bar will set you back Sh2,000, and for the day you land that big deal there is a bottle of Louis XIII Cognac going for a cool Sh600,000.

But barring an item surely only placed on the menu to cause a stir, the prices are comparable to those charged in high end hotels and restaurants – and whatever it costs, the food is excellent.

Head chef Luigi Frascella, whose English is spoken with a flowing Italian accent, has a culinary journey that has taken him through Italy, France, London and Dubai. It was during his eight years in London that he worked at Michelin-starred restaurant Loconda Locatelli, and started his own restaurant Zuma.

His experience gives the menu an Italian-Japanese fusion, tied together with some of the best ingredients Kenya has to offer. A sirloin steak, farmed in Naivasha, followed my crunchy-crusted crab cakes starter, served with spicy-chilli mayonnaise, gave me the full range of his kitchen’s talents.

Returning from the terrace I was shown a fully equipped gym, changing rooms, steam rooms, a men’s chill out room (“Men’s Den” – ladies don’t get one), a second restaurant, and a members bar. Conference rooms fork off every passage-way, nine in total, all with flat-screen TVs and video-conferencing equipment.

Ultimately, Capital Club is everything it claims to be: a business club. As Andrew tells me, Nairobi has a relatively developed high-end club scene, which previously had not catered to high-flyers with such prescription. At Capital Club you can make contacts, discuss and close the deal, and then celebrate it, all on two floors. If it is more of a social scene you are after, then you might be better off somewhere else.

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