Johannesburg is a relatively new city, founded in a big hurry when gold was discovered here in 1886. Jozi has reinvented itself several times during its 130-year history and there isn’t much in the city that can be considered “old”, at least by European or Asian standards.

The Rand Club, Joburg’s first gentlemen’s club, is a notable exception. The Rand Club is old, and proud of it.

rand club outside

The Rand Club, in the center of Joburg at 33 Loveday Street.

Cecil John Rhodes chose the spot for the Rand Club in December 1886 and the club was founded in October 1887. The current building has been standing since 1904. It’s been renovated a few times since then, and was refurbished completely after a fire caused extensive damage in 2005. But from what I understand, the Rand Club still looks pretty much the way it did 110 years ago. The club’s members wouldn’t have it any other way.

going downstairs

The Rand Club’s grand staircase.

statue

Statue of Cecil John Rhodes in the Rand Club foyer. Cool statue but I find his gesture to be a bit…disturbing.

Walking into the Rand Club — which I did for the first time last Thursday evening during the club’s semi-weekly “After Hours” event — is like entering a time warp. Men wear jackets and ladies wear skirts. (There’s a dress code at the Rand Club — no jeans, polo shirts, or sneakers.) Members sip whiskey and call each other “Chap”. There is a smoking lounge. People say the word “cheerio” without a hint of irony. Ladies walking down the stairs are offered the arm of a gentleman.

staircase

 Sebastian, a young member, took me and a few female friends on a tour of  the club. We all took turns holding his arm. 

Speaking of gentlemen and ladies: Until 1993 there were no female members allowed at the Rand Club. Up until the late 1980s, women had to enter the club through a side door and were discouraged from lingering in the foyer. There were no blacks or Jews allowed either. Fortunately, this is one way in which the Rand Club has changed with the times. Members of all races, genders, and ages are now welcome.

There’s a lot of old stuff in the Rand Club. The portraits are old, and the people portrayed in them are old, too. The books are old. The furniture is old (although perfectly maintained). The dead stuff on the walls is old.

books

Old books. I opened one and discovered it was printed in 1840.

vacuum hole

In the olden days, it was apparently a big deal to have a central vacuum cleaning system. Sebastian pointed this out to us during the tour. I felt compelled to photograph it. (The system is no longer in use.)

mustache guy

 Old picture of a slim-waisted, spectacularly mustachiooed man.

ladies sign

This ladies bathroom sign is very old. I dig it.

stuffed fish 1

 This fish is old.

stuffed fish 2

So is this one.

I admit that I didn’t pay close enough attention to Sebastian’s lively and informative recounting of the Rand Club’s history. It’s hard to walk, carry a drink, take photos in low light, and listen at the same time. But I enjoyed myself all the same.

library

Rand Club library: Boys play chess, girl reads. Quaint.

ballot photo

Taking photos of a ballot from the 1994 elections — one of the newer things on the wall at the Rand Club.

And for some sick reason, I really enjoyed taking photos of all the dead stuff.

giraffe

Dead stuff on the walls in the snooker room. I’ve never seen a taxidermied giraffe before.

To me, the Rand Club is a funny place. I can’t take it completely seriously and I don’t see myself applying for membership anytime soon. But I like the fact that the Rand Club exists. It adds to the quirkiness of the city.

steenbok

Poor little steenbok.

I also respect the fact that the club stuck it out and held on to its spot in the Jozi CBD, even during the dark days of the 1980s and 90s when all of Joburg’s wealth fled to the outer suburbs. That couldn’t have been easy. Kudos to you, Rand Club.

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