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THE GRANDE OLD RAND CLUB

Rand Club is a Johannesburg institution, built in the days when prospectors rushed to the town to find their fortune and navigated the 25 pubs that were the cornerstone of the dusty street settlement.

Naturally those well healed needed some space from the pub crawlers and Cecil John Rhodes managed to acquire some land and the rest is history. It has the longest bar in the Southern-Hemisphere with flower box size sandpits which are actually ashtrays. Clearly untouched by a woman’s hand. This is a mining town hangout at its finest.

The bar opens up to the Cigar Room. An array of fine Reserve Whiskeys are presented along with some fine cigars. Decide not to indulge in alcohol and tobacco. The tour must continue. A quick pass by the stained glass windows that lead into and out of the bar, reflecting the Zodiac. All except for two. Virgo and Gemini. Remember, no women were ever allowed in the club.

Time to go upstairs – up the main staircase that screams wealthy gold prospectors of the White Water Rand. The ancient elevator oozes character at the top of the stairs. One more floor to get to the top floor and into the room of Rand Club founder, Cecil John Rhodes. Find out quickly that some member walked in one weekend and removed an entire collection of Mark Twain books and now all books are chipped. Guess the wild Witwatersrand is still alive and well. Nothing’s changed.

In June 2005, the place caught fire and many irreplaceable items went down in flames and history thanks to a hot cigar ash that went unnoticed after a members evening of merriment. Time to move down the corridor, back down the stairs and onwards to the library. The only lady to ever have been allowed into Rand Club prior to 1993 is Queen Elizabeth, when she was still a princess. No women were ever allowed into Rand Club unless accompanying a man on a special occasion of sorts.

The library is impressive. Marinated in history. The bottom most bookshelves, empty, for those members who wish to retire from lunch with a glass of cognac or espresso and wish to put their feet up whilst indulging in a book of choice. No one may be disturbed by anyone…ever.

Enough of the books. Time to see the armory. A space reserved for those wishing to exchange their gold for cash, and those not in agreement could face being shot. Charming. Guns in the display cabinets the size of Giraffe legs are all that is left from bad times gone by. Hardly an ideal setting for a lunch or dinner. Time to move on.

Another lavish door opens into an even more eccentric room, set in white and turquoise. Time to visit the basement. Down to a place where Rand Club ghosts probably spend their free time. The self-proclaimed Rand Club “Man Cave” consists of billiard tables and an extensive collection of stuffed animals including a Giraffe – head and neck – from a members lodge. Wondering if any animals are left at this lodge.

Here the zeitgeist of yesteryear is captured as those wishing to breakaway from searching for gold would go hunting, smoke cigars, drink expensive spirits and hang out with other men. Rand Club is a time capsule, capturing days gone by when the dusty streets of Johannesburg, the prospectors town, needed a sanctuary for those with means.

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