The Rand Club: It’s Old.

UPDATE: The Rand Club is closed for renovation, as of early 2016. It is unclear when the club will reopen.

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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12 Comments

  • Reply Timmee April 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

    Lovely photos

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2013 at 11:46 am

      Thanks. I was just thinking that this is one of my ugliest set of blog pics ever.

  • Reply Sebastian Czartoryski-Chatov April 25, 2013 at 3:12 pm

    Rhodes is actually saying: “It is I, it is I who has all the gold!” 😉

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2013 at 5:51 pm

      Haha. It does look that way. Thanks for the tour Sebastian!

  • Reply Derek Smith April 25, 2013 at 5:09 pm

    I had dinner last night at The Butchers Grill in Sandton (Across from the Mandela Statue) staring at another stuffed Giraffe…..quite eerie to see the remains of one of these beautiful creatures staring at you while chowing on a great piece of rare fillet

    • Reply 2summers April 25, 2013 at 5:50 pm

      Yeah, I know what you mean Derek. It’s just not an animal that lends itself to being stuffed.

  • Reply elegsabiff April 25, 2013 at 7:58 pm

    Females were allowed to have dinner there, as the guests of members, on certain nights – for some reason I have Tuesdays stuck in my extremely erratic memory. I’ve certainly had dinner there with my father, along with the guy I’d just got engaged to, so they could meet, and that would have been 1982 or earlier. I had 2 voddies in the bar for courage and don’t remember much else of the place so I enjoyed your photos. It used to be SO snobbish and stuffy, glad it survived the meltdown of the city centre.

  • Reply amelie88 April 26, 2013 at 6:24 am

    It’s the African version of an old timey country club! Or some old time gentleman’s club? (Not what the word “gentleman’s club” has come to mean today!) It looks like the set of a 19th century movie!

  • Reply Richard Lambert August 2, 2015 at 3:44 am

    Not sure why it should be ironic for people to use words like “chap” and “cheerio” if that is how they speak in South Africa? Not everybody speaks American English!

    • Reply 2summers August 2, 2015 at 8:46 am

      I’ve been living in South Africa for five years and I’ve never heard a single South African use the word ‘cheerio’. Except at the Rand Club.

  • Reply Rob April 20, 2016 at 12:39 pm

    Eish I hated this place the only time that I went there, invited by one of the members. I’ll never go there again.

    You say “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.”

    Well for sure the rules may have changed. But as you also say “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.” Yes the ambience hasn’t changed. It’s still a hangover from apartheid, demonstrating how it supported White privilege.

    Try to imagine being Black and walking into this place. You’re surrounded by emblems, knickknacks and writings that all emphasise how Whites once ruled over you. It’s like a Jew walking into a Nazi museum.

    I’ve walked past it a couple of times in the last month and it looked like it has closed down. Good riddance was my reaction. But, sadly, your link to the Facebook page suggests that it is still alive and kicking.

    • Reply 2summers April 20, 2016 at 4:34 pm

      Hi Rob, thanks for the comment. I particularly appreciate it because I’ve written blog posts about so many places and I often forget to go back and update them when things change. I’ve just made a few edits to the Rand Club post.

      I totally hear you, and I definitely find the Rand Club odd and uncomfortable for many of the reasons you’ve mentioned in your comment. I’m certainly not interested in being a member there but nonetheless, I find it to be an interesting place.

      The Rand Club is indeed closed currently, although it may or may not be for good. Apparently it is undergoing some renovations and might eventually reopen as a boutique hotel. But no one seems to know for sure, including people I’ve talked to who are members of the club.

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