The Rand Club, Reinvented

I last blogged about the Rand Club — one of the oldest, most historic, most colonial buildings in Joburg, founded by Cecil John Rhodes — more than six years ago.

Outside the Rand Club in downtown Johannesburg
Outside the Rand Club on Loveday Street in downtown Johannesburg.

I just reread that post — titled The Rand Club: It’s Old — and (as with many of my old blog posts) felt a little ashamed of it. Although it’s informative and historically accurate, I was subtly making fun of my visit to the Rand Club that night. I implied the club was stodgy and uptight and said I’d probably never consider becoming a member myself.

Last week I went past the Rand Club to deliver a copy of my book to one of its members. What I initially intended to be a 10-minute stop turned into an entire afternoon; I literally could not bring myself to leave. I realized a lot has changed at this place over the past six years and it’s definitely time for a new blog post.

Rand Club foyer
The Rand Club foyer.

The Rand Club is still old and it always will be. (I won’t repeat the whole checkered history here — see my previous post for that.) But it’s also changing with the times. And after a brief closure in 2015/2016, when no one was sure if or when it would open again, the club is now very much alive and looks like it will remain so for the foreseeable future.

The Rand Club Today

Here are a few things that have changed at the Rand Club over the past couple of years:

1. Fresh paint

The Rand Club is a stunning building, inside and out, and it’s always been impressive to look at. But in recent years the club’s management has been particularly focused on interior design, choosing just the right wallpapers and furnishings and colors of paint. Every room looks beautiful and fresh while also maintaining a sense of history. It’s a joy to walk around and take photos, especially during the day (which I’d never done before).

First floor of the Rand Club with portrait of Nelson Mandela
The first floor of the club. The large portrait across the way is of Nelson Mandela, who was a club member after his release from prison.
First floor of the Rand Club
View of the first floor from the opposite side.
Ballroom in the Rand Club
An ornate corner in the ballroom.
Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II in the Rand Club
A portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, the first woman to walk through the entrance and up the Rand Club’s front stairs. (Previously women had to enter through a side door.)
Even the basement snooker room, which I remember looking (and smelling) decidedly musty in the past, has a fresh new feel now.

2. James Findlay

in 2018 James Findlay of James Findlay Collectible Books and Antique Maps opened a shop in the basement of the Rand Club. James’ shop is magical and delightful, filled with quirky old posters and maps and magazines and books. Its existence in the club makes the whole place feel more vibrant.

James Findlay Collectible Books and Antique Maps in the Rand Club
James and his assistant Malyssa in the shop.

James’ shop has a stage and plenty of seating space, and he has started to host various events and talks there. (I’m actually hoping to do one myself in the near future so look out for details on that.) The shop is also a great place to just hang out and browse and chat with James and Malyssa about Joburg and South Africa and and the world.

If you’re lucky, James might even give you a tour of the members-only spaces in in the club.

James Findlay in the library at the Rand Club.
James gave me a great tour of all the rooms in the Rand Club, including the library, which I hadn’t been in since that first visit in 2013. It’s such a beautiful place.
Rand Club library
Another look at the library.

3. The bar

The Rand Club’s beautiful bar/dining area is now open to the public, Tuesdays through Saturdays from noon to 8:00 p.m. This is a game-changer. Unlike the previous 100 years, when you had to go with a member or visit on a special (i.e. rare) open day/evening, now anyone who wants to check out the Rand Club can stop in for lunch or a drink whenever they please.

Bar in the Rand Club
The Rand Club bar, reputed to be the longest bar in Africa.
Stained glass windows in the Rand Club bar
Pretty stained glass windows in the bar.

I ordered a very reasonably priced butternut feta wrap for lunch when I was there last week. It was delicious. The club also offers a sumptuous high tea but that must be booked in advance.

On top of all this, to me the Rand Club simply feels more laid-back and welcoming than it has in the past. There’s still a dress code — technically you can’t go there wearing jeans or t-shirts or sneakers — but it seems to be far less stringently enforced than it used to be.

And yes, women and non-whites have been allowed as members of the Rand Club since the 1990s. But unlike previous times I’d visited, the club actually feels diverse now. There was a rainbow-colored crowd eating lunch on the day I went. And while I was there I bumped into Alicia Thompson, a woman of color, who is the deputy chairperson of the club. (Read more about Alicia in this Citizen News article.)

I should have taken a photo of Alicia on the beautiful staircase — where women were previously not allowed to walk — but I guess I got too excited when she told me she is a fan of my blog and bought a copy of my book on the spot. Sorry Alicia! Next time.

The Rand Club is at 33 Loveday Street, Johannesburg. Stay abreast of the club’s upcoming events on its Facebook page. Or better yet just go for lunch tomorrow.

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18 Comments

  • Reply Eva Melusine Thieme June 19, 2019 at 6:10 pm

    Awesome. I was also one to ridicule the Rand Club – so nice to see that they’ve made such big changes, especially regarding diversity. I remember how prickly they were about the criticism back then, but you know what, I think it helped – made them change for the better!

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2019 at 6:12 pm

      Hahaha. I remember your post well!

    • Reply Henri June 20, 2019 at 10:29 am

      That face lift was long overdue. I remember that we one has to be dressed like Classic men or Queen Elisabeth to be granted access.

      • Reply 2summers June 20, 2019 at 10:40 am

        Hahaha 😂

  • Reply AutumnAshbough June 19, 2019 at 6:25 pm

    It does look much brighter and cheerier than the old post. Is the ballroom really carpeted, though?

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2019 at 6:35 pm

      Hmm, yes and now that you mention it there are no wooden floors in the Rand Club. There was a big fire there in 2005…I wonder if that has something to do with it?

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2019 at 6:51 pm

      Oh wait, I take it back. The floors in the bar are partially wood.

  • Reply Hilary June 19, 2019 at 8:47 pm

    We got married at the RC in 2000. It was so gorgeous. Had the ceremony on the grand staircase, signed the register in the library and the reception in the ballroom. My only regret is that we didn’t have a very imaginative photographer and our photos could have been so much better.

    • Reply 2summers June 19, 2019 at 9:01 pm

      Let me know if you ever want to renew your vows 🙂

      • Reply hilaryjgreen June 20, 2019 at 7:47 pm

        Well it is our 20 year anniversary next year 🙂

        • Reply 2summers June 20, 2019 at 9:44 pm

          You know where to find me!

  • Reply Monica Roberts June 20, 2019 at 7:14 am

    I remember being invited to lunch here in the 90’s soon after it opened it’s doors to women. I was the only woman there in that day. The only bathroom available to women was not much more than a broom closet with a loo in it. It sounds like things have changed.

    • Reply 2summers June 20, 2019 at 7:15 am

      Wow! That’s so interesting. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reply Chris Van June 20, 2019 at 7:43 am

    I visited the Club about six months ago and have now become a member, both to support the cultural preservation and to enjoy the facilities and potentially the amazing international reciprocity. Great place to have business meetings in a magnificent environment. Lunch delicious and well priced. Looking forward to honing my snooker skills. We note that the honors board dates back to 1921. If you see my 1971 cream Mercedes or 1931 Model A Ford parked outside please do find me and say hello. Chris Van.

    • Reply 2summers June 20, 2019 at 7:52 am

      Hi Chris, good for you! Yes, another friend was telling me about the reciprocity — that seems like an amazing benefit.

  • Reply Lucienne June 20, 2019 at 1:25 pm

    I visited the Rand club for a fund raising event in 2010. I was amazed to find such a gem in the middle of the city. I’ve always wanted to go back so I am thrilled to hear they have opened their doors to the public for lunch.

    • Reply 2summers June 20, 2019 at 1:30 pm

      Yay! I hope you enjoy it.

  • Reply Kal June 27, 2019 at 7:51 am

    The interior reminds me of the rooms in Versailles palace 😍

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