Kilindini Bar – An Icon of Old Mombasa About To Disappear!

Kilindini Bar

Mr Alexio Caeteno De Souza founded the Kilindini Bar in 1908. He came from Goa to Mombasa by Dhow in 1898 and initially joined Smith, Mackenzie and Company as a shipping clerk before buying the Grocery cum Bar from Costa Bir and Sons in 1908. The bar was located on Sharibhai Street in the Ndia Kuu area, which was later re-named Mwakilingo Street. The area surrounding the bar then was bushy and frequented by wild animals and the story goes that during the World War in 1914 the family were evacuated to Mazeras for a couple of days before they could return to the area.

Due to the then prevailing racial restrictions, the bar was patronized exclusively by the elite white colonial class and private sector clients as Asians and Africans were barred from visiting the bar. Mr A C De Souza was once fined the equivalent of KShs 4000/- for serving an African.

The lack of a local brewery meant that the beers were the ones imported from South Africa (the Union Castle) and other brands from Europe and Japan. A beer cost 75 cents and was sold on credit resulting in many clients defaulting on their debts. The bar was one of the first customers of the East African Breweries when it opened in Mombasa. It is interesting to note that the secretary to the branch manager of the Mombasa Brewery was Sylvia De Souza, the daughter of A C De Souza.

Customers arrived by rickshaw or trolley which ran a few hundred yards from the bar on the way to the port.  A C De Souza ran the bar until 1918 when his two sons John and Ambrose took over the business. In 1940 Ambrose registered the business as a sole proprietorship assisted by his wife Catherine and his five daughters until his death in 1989 when his daughter Grace took over the running of the business. Catherine passed away in 2013 after a long battle with cancer. Today the business is managed by her daughter, Maura De Souza Abranches and her husband, Clarence Abranches, who relocated to Mombasa in 2019 having lived in Nairobi for 35 years. In between 2013-2019 the business was run by their loving and dedicated staff while Maura made a trip every now and then to Mombasa to oversee the operations.

Maura ABranches and her husband Clairance ABranches

About the Bar

Located today near the Railway Terminus the Bar is 112 years old and is sadly going to be demolished due the planned construction of the Likoni Bridge. A notice to vacate has been issued.

In 2008, there were plans to hold a street festival to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the bar and start an initiative to preserve the building for posterity. Corporates like the East African Breweries, Coca-Cola, the National Museums of Kenya and the Media had shown interest and support. Sadly, the bash fell through due to bureaucracy within the Government. Perhaps the Ministry for Culture and Sports through Hon. Najib Balala should intervene in the matter.

The bar also offered a popular car service before the advent of the Muthotho laws. One of the drawbacks of the bar, however, is that it has never offered any food – this has resulted in clients bringing in the most mouthwatering and deliciously smelling dishes from popular food outlets in Mombasa. Prior to the eviction notice, the bar owner was even thinking of expanding it but sadly, that is not to be.

The bar had closed down temporarily due to the Corona Virus but retains its vitality and magic. Photos of the various brands of beer since 1928 adorn the walls. Old cigarette posters, bottle models of whiskeys, wines and beer take their revered place on the shelves of the bar. Antique furniture comprising of old counters and stools made of teak still exist having escaped the wrath of termites over the years. Among its memorabilia is a poster of an advert from Castle Beer of South Africa in 1927. An old pendulum clock from 1910, still hanging on the wall, is lovingly cleaned, and time corrected daily. Antique fans even now swirl from the ceiling around the ‘Oval Table’ where clients enjoy their drinks.

Today the bar is patronized by South Asians, Africans and Europeans who bring their unique tastes to the space. As the evening and the night wears on the patrons are entertained to Swahili taarab, classic and Bollywood tunes adding to the enjoyment of their favorite aperitif. The singsong completes the historical atmosphere of this hundred-year-old establishment. The crooners will try to outdo Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong in their own style and tunes!

The Portuguese Ambassador to Kenya Ms.Luisa Fragaso and Portuguse consulate to Maputo visited Kilindini Bar on 442019

The bar has over the years been patronized by politicians and personalities like the late Ronald Ngala and Ernest Hemingway. Occasionally former colonial oldies, tourists and even a prince from the Middle East have visited the bar and partaken of its legacy. Hotel owners, professional hunters, a shipping executive, a retired military commander or even a hummer-owning executive have made an appearance at this historical bar. The old civil servants and traders will partake of their favourite snacks on the outside tables and foreign and local journalists and diplomats have made the bar their ‘HQ’ over the years. In 2014 an evangelical church group with its deafening preaching took over a nearby building; but soon made its peace with the neighbourhood and now preaches to its faithful in quiet peace and harmony.

The bar lives on in the memories of people who have worked there. Francis Kilatya who retired in 2018 remembers how he used to narrate the history of the bar to tipsy customers. He recalls how 54 years ago he started serving drinks when the late Grace who died in 2013 wore ribbons in bunny braids! Between Grace and himself, they developed a clientele, which soon turned into regulars at the establishment. He remembered all his clients by name and even maintained a straight face when some of the clients got drunk and found themselves in embarrassing positions. He always appreciated all tips however small with immense gratitude. He never argued with clients even in the most pressing circumstances and treated all of them with immense respect; often staying well beyond the normal working hours in order to tend to the needs of his customers. His simple and soft-spoken demeanor earned him the respect of even his most garrulous clients. For new comers Francis would show them a framed feature on the bar by Francis Raymond who was the Coast Chief Bureau of the Nation Newspapers. During his tenure, he exhibited an extraordinary amount of discipline, dignity and moral standing which can only be compared to bar tenders from British pubs.

Over the years, the Bar has succumbed to the taste of modernity by introducing a television for its football fans but this era is ending as the construction of the Kshs eight billion Likoni Bridge breaks ground in 2021. Another icon of old Mombasa is sadly about to disappear!