I'm always complaining that there are not a whole lot of places to get a good cocktail in Nairobi. I am not sure why this is, but I do have a couple of theories on it.
I don't think Nairobians necessarily care to have the palate for a cocktail. Most people think cocktails are dangerous, and that they sneak up on you, or don't have enough alcohol in them.
Two, maybe Nairobians drink more wine nowadays than they do cocktails – even though I don't think that has always been the case. Our wine culture has developed much further within the last decade, I think, that it ever did before then, in terms of availability, knowledge and pricing. The proof is in the pudding, what with all of the wine shops popping up all over the place. It wouldn't be a reach to say that now.
Another reason might be that Kenyans prefer to drink 'purer' liquors – straight up spirits, whiskies and beers – as opposed to diluted sweetness that if imbalanced just tastes like juice, or something a lot less appealing with a lot more bite. It's easier to go to a counter and ask for a beer, which is dependent on the mixing qualities at a brewery, and is almost an exact science, than order something that entirely depends on the skill of the man shaking the mixes behind the bar. As we know, that varies.
Therefore, my Happy Hour go-to tends to be Artcaffe, any branch, really, but mostly the ones in Westlands – at The Oval and Westgate. I like the ambience there, and it's relatively close to where I normally operate. Of course, the parking fees irk me – I did once pay more than my drink in parking at the Oval – because I don't think you should pay for parking when you're going into somewhere to spend more money. I admit, I used to deliberately avoid malls that charge parking. Unfortunately, now it is inevitable that you will have to – even T-Mall has fallen to the parking scourge.
But I digress. Artcaffe has a nice range of drinks, and they listen to complaints, if you have them, concerning the alcohol level. And I have faith in their bartending.
I remember interviewing Joan Samia before she won an intercontinental bartending award, and they do indeed win these awards frequently for their bartending and their coffee as well. I have learnt not to take this for granted, considering that this is apparently a skill that not many Nairobi bars pay attention to.
That being said, not every cocktail is a winner. If you like sweetness, the Passion Caipiroska is probably up your alley – it doesn't pack too much of a punch, and you'll be able to happily walk out of Artcaffe without being too impaired. The runner up to the sweet drinks for me would be their Berry Cosmopolitan – just by the name alone, you know what you're getting into.
If you like a little bit more sharpness, the Bacardi Mojito could work well for you, or the Chin Chin. Yes, it's Johnny Walker Red (no judgement, truly), but by your second one, you should probably hand over the keys. If you're that strange breed of people who like your cocktails to attack you, I would recommend the Smokey Negroni or the Remy Old Fashioned, because that's as close as you're getting to the alcohol itself without drinking it neat.
Happy Hour at Artcaffe is cocktails at half price, as opposed to buy one get one free, which works for me as I can switch up the cocktails I am having instead of having to have two of the same thing. I can't wait for them to open a few more branches closer to where I am so that I don't have to go across town for a quick fix...
Wondering where to get the 411 on what's happening in and around Nairobi's foodie scene? There's a lot of places you could go, but here's where we want you to be – getting the dish on the dish. Get it? We knew you would.