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.
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.
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).
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’ 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.
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.
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.