“A 21st century club. An extraordinary venue,” this is the slogan on the club’s website and it couldn’t be more true.

The Rand Club – The oldest private member’s club in Johannesburg was founded in 1887. It’s amongst one of the oldest in South Africa, (The Cape Town Club was created in 1878), and has so much to tell.

In December 1886, after a day of business, Cecil John Rhodes suggested to Dr Hans Sauer that they should walk around the new town layout and choose a spot for a club.

After walking for some time, legend has it that Rhodes suddenly stopped and said “This corner will do for the club.”. And so the club was born with shares of 10 pounds purchased by each person wishing to become a member.

The Rand Club architecture
The Rand Club architecture (Image by GirlInBlueJeans)

First gentleman’s club

This swanky, historical social institution was where the first gentleman’s club was built and is without a doubt one of the city’s finest heritage venues. Over time, three club houses have existed here. The second was erected in 1890 and the third and current club house occupied in December 1904.

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There have been numerous momentous occasions over the years, from the Jameson Raid where committee members where arrested, to the Royal visit in April 1947, and sadly the fire that caused catastrophic damage in June 2005. Restoration began in 2006.

Although gentleman’s clubs are hardly as popular today as they were in their hey-day, the tradition lives on. Now some of the country’s most exclusive clubs are country clubs where membership remains strictly by invitation only along with high annual membership fees.

What is a gentleman’s club?

A gentleman’s club was originally set up by men from Britain’s upper classes in the 18th century and succeeding centuries.

The standard style of a club was to include a formal dining room, a bar, a library, a billiards room and one or more parlours for reading, gaming, socialising and smoking of cigars. Private places that were designed to allow men to gather over stiff drinks and create friendships with other men, at a stage these clubs were regarded as a central part of elite’s mens’ lives.

The Rand Club library
The Rand Club library
(Image by GirlInBlueJeans)

Visiting the club in 2021

Waltzing in the front door one gets a whiff of the aristocratic flavour, a reminder of dark smoky cigar lounges cluttered with velvety couches. But then a second glance makes one realise how fresh the historic old gem feels. With a fresh coat of paint and some modern touches one feels the glamour and energy.

The exquisite antique lift is in its original form, installed in 1904 and up until the fire in June 2005 it still operated manually. The motor has now been changed. Being in an old elevator creates an immediate connection to the past, just imagine all of the people who have been up and down in that elevator over the centuries.

The magnificent embellishments and wood panelling add to the uplifting experience in a literal sense. While indispensable in modern buildings, I still opt for climbing the grand staircase.

The imposing staircase is one of the impressive features in the club

Exclusive elegance as it beckons one to climb up to the next level.

The red plush carpet embraces the glorious flight and the mahogany path upon which one lays ones hand .

This is a delightful ancient feast for the eyes as one’s feet make a contribution to the hundreds before you. Looking upwards, the eye-catching dome is a focus point, it was made of stained glass but also destroyed by the fire.

Later restored complete with new designs it showed structural defects in its leaded glass. A new initiative now sees a bright silk screen image done by David Tlale. The plan is for this image to change annually.

The Rand Club accommodation
The Rand Club accommodation (Image by GirlInBlueJeans)

Welcome to the 21st century

While modernising the club (love the wallpaper that flows throughout the restaurant), some rules still honour tradition with phones and tablets banned in the clubs upstairs communal areas.

The purpose is to network and communicate with people on a personal level. Sitting at the 31-metre long teak bar which is reputedly the longest in Southern Africa, is like taking a trip to yesteryear. Sipping on an African beer, one can just imagine if the walls could tell stories.

Women were not admitted until 1993, having been inside on numerous occasions I have never felt unwelcome. Dress code has relaxed over the years to allow for welcoming of new members, it is more accessible and in an ideal location with the Reya Vaya bus stop just outside.

Life size portraits of Nelson Mandela and Rhodes adorn the walls on the second floor

The magnificent library had its foundations laid during the construction of the second clubhouse. Walking into the library is a WOW moment, any book lover will be in their element.

As work continues on the building, it can only get better. Now offering accommodation for members and non-members I couldn’t imagine waking up in a better part of Johannesburg listening to the daily hustle in the streets below.

This opulent, timeless South African icon is open to everyone and welcomes each person warmly.

www.randclub.co.za

 

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