The years I was there….. well, I must have started sometime in 1976…… the owner was Jimmy Trenchard, the floor manager was Dave Roux, and the bouncer was only ever known to me as “Smiler”….. lovely fella, never stopped smiling, even when he was chucking guys down the stairwell, but that wasn’t his fault, his face was built that way! The bands I remember were Holy Black and Omega Limited, and there was a disco that took over during the breaks. Characters I can recall, but names are another matter. One fella in particular, in a wheelchair, with long, dark hair, who used to make that wheelchair dance!
Played darts for the boozer’s team from the Round Bar for a while too, and got roped in to the ladies’ soccer team for the pub on one occasion, to take on the police in Bindura…. Used to have photos from that footy match, but a succession of jealous boyfriends took care of that. I hope to be putting all this into proper prose for you in the story….. but there’s more to it….. bikes, and other pubs and clubs…. observations and pick-ups….. and what was behind the black curtain at the entrance to the circular room above Round Bar?????? Do I have your attention???
– Jen Andre
Coq d’Or – ‘Through the Past Darkly…’
There is nothing more disturbing than the sight of a nightclub before opening time… it’s a bit like that magic-less space a cinema becomes when the floodlights are all switched on. The Coq d’Or was like that… kind of clean, and brash and terribly unromantic. The place DID have windows, you know, and the upholstery was of a discernable colour. But lifeless it was, and ghostly quiet… (at whatever time you got in?)
The Coq d’Or complex was on the corner of Kingsway and Baker Avenue. During daylight hours, what you saw from the street was the curved window front of ALKA paints… (Can you believe that this place had quite an extensive range of wallpaper…? I don’t know of anyone who actually used wallpaper in Rhodesia, other than my folks!!!) and above that, the likewise rounded, reflective windows of the Round Bar. There was an entrance there on the Kingsway side – just a door and a stairwell. A second entrance was on Baker Avenue, off a small arcade. This was the main in-way for ‘the clubbers.’ This stairway was wider, carpeted… and poorly lit.
A few steps to the right at the top of the stairs, and you’d be at the entrance to the nightclub. There would be a table there, and someone would relieve you of the cover-charge of the moment, and stamp the inside of your wrist, or the back of your hand with some luminous goo, to prove payment for the rest of the evening (and, if you were lucky and no-one changed the stamp) for the rest of the week. At this table, or never far off, would be the bouncer. Smiler was a tall lad… but then as I am only five-foot-four, most lads I knew were tall! He was blond too, and had a good build… and he never stopped smiling. Even when he was engrossed in chucking some disturber-of-the-peace down the stairs, that smile stayed put. It wasn’t done on purpose. His face was made that way. But I got the feeling that one could never be angry after a run-in with our bouncer. The grin seemed to make being thrown out all so much more pleasant, somehow. I stand to be corrected on this point though, as he never threw me down the stairs!
To the right of the nightclub entrance was the club mascot… a giant, golden cockerel. ( Ominous sign of the future ‘jongwe’ image here!!)
A very troublesome piece of art it was though, that was ‘kidnapped’ on several occasions, finding itself temporary homes in the oddest places – like the RLI barracks, or sometimes in Cranborne. Somehow, though, it always seemed to find its way back home to roost. It would be nice to think that it is nesting safely somewhere today. Hell, that huku deserves a place of honour… and a medal or two!
If you turned left at the top of the stairs, and proceeded (staggered…) through the lounge, you’d find yourself in that circular part of the building, above Alka Paints… this was the Round Bar. The bar itself was built around a pillar in the centre of the room, and set up for serving customers all the way round. So the poor bartenders would shut themselves in and be marooned on their alcoholic island till the end of their shift. The bar counter was not as wide as some, but I heard no complaints that it failed in its duty at propping up elbows, holding beer glasses, or being hard enough to break someone’s jaw on! There were tall stools near the counter, and tables and seating built-in around the periphery, under those tinted windows… and one lone table over near the exit.
At lunchtimes, on Saturdays, I think, a smorgasbord would be served in the lounge… and if memory serves me right, the food was not bad at all. Well, I’m still alive to tell the tale, aren’t I?
The year was 1976. I was nineteen, had a bachelor flat on Second Street, a 1969 Honda CB350 motorcycle, and a job at RTV. This was my first flat, and a new job. I’d been out of the house for about two and a half years, and the nurses’ home at the Andrew Fleming Hospital (give the name here… Blenner Hassett or what!!)… wish I could remember…. (no, actually, I don’t!) had been more stifling than living at home with the folks. It didn’t take me long to find the Round Bar. Hell, they let you in wearing jeans, and that went down well with me. Before long, the barman would have my standard opening drink of Vodka, granadilla and lemonade (yeugh…) ready for me when I walked in.
To me, the place was the best pub in the world… it had dartboards! So on the odd occasion that I went in at a quiet time, I’d have a few throws… and another few… and some more… I suppose I must have been improving all the time, though I only ever took to darts when I was a bit bored. Most of my time was spent in quiet appraisal of the talent, and wondering at the weird things women would do to catch men… There was another bunch of people who played quite regularly, and if they were a ‘man’ short, (didn’t you say you were a short woman?) oops! …but then sex has always confused me! I’d be invited to make up the numbers. (And every one of them was wary of a left-handed dart thrower!) This was the birth of “The Boozer’s Team”. Within a few months we were playing league. I only ever outdid myself once, opening and closing a league game with a ‘shanghai’ on nineteens. (I told you I’m a short-ass, never could hit the twenty – except by accident!) That was quite an expensive achievement, as the round of drinks that followed cost about a third of a month’s salary!
Through the darts league, I was introduced to Dave Roux, who was the floor manager at the Coq d’Or at the time. Eventually, I asked him if there was any chance of an evening job… he was keen… and so was Jimmy Trenchard, when the idea was put to him.
On the left of the doorway to the nightclub, there was another flight of stairs… and this staircase led to the Sahara Bar. By far more plush than the Round Bar downstairs, the Sahara was quieter (so I was told, but on the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays that I worked there, the place was packed!) and more intimate… (Thank goodness there were no security cameras to prove that!) The bar itself had one of the longest serving counters I have ever worked… doubling back on itself in an extended ‘U’ shape, with a serving hatch at the ‘open’ end. Truly, the bartenders there were more like glorified waitresses, as all of the orders were filled by staff in the little backroom behind the serving hatch. All the money was dealt with there too. But there was plenty of work for all of us.
This is not to say that it was all work and no play. The quickness of wit, dirty jokes and willingness to give as good as I got, (learned while in the Sahara Bar), have stood me in good stead for the other bartending I have done since… at the Rössing Country Club, Namibia, where I helped out on a few occasions, Crossways Country Inn in Hilton, Natal, and the infamous Notties Pub, at Nottingham Road, in the Natal Midlands. Serving over the Sahara Bar, I learned how to be a psychoanalyst of sorts… there would inevitably be someone sobbing into their brandy and coke. I think this must have been where I lost my patience with the female of the species… some would eventually find their solutions; some would slide down the walls, and be bundled into a Rixi Taxi, and sent off home.
Over the Sahara Bar, one gentleman/soldier (easy to tell, as even in civilian clothing, the lad smacked of the military) caught sight of my sketchbook, which had been stowed on the shelf under the bar, and asked to have a look. No gentle studies of birds or beasts or flowers there, I’m afraid… but some preliminary studies for a series of nudes I was to portray in pencil, poster-size… and a series of exploded diagrams that I had drawn whilst working on my previous bike… a 1956 BMW R50. I was amazed at the lack of interest in the nudes… and even more amazed when the same lad returned the following day, with a handful of papers for me to fill in to join the Women’s Army Corps. So impressed he had been, I was offered the ten weeks’ basic training, and then a one-way ticket to the Salisbury Polytechnic, to start on my apprenticeship as a motorcycle mechanic. Sadly, as I was under the age of consent, my father had to be asked to sign… he would not. Thus began and ended my career as a bike mech.
There was another section to the Coq d’Or complex… one that not many folks knew about. It was rather ‘exclusive’, and basically ran behind closed doors. This was in the circular section directly above the Round Bar. I only worked there once! Well, one look at this little haven, and I realised that plush was hardly the right word to describe the Sahara Bar! This was decadence; pure and unadulterated. I had been led to believe that the temporary post was as a drinks waitress/assistant behind the bar… but it didn’t take long to work out that all the women there were in the same position, as drinks waitresses, and as the evening wore on, more and more men arrived, and fewer and fewer waitresses were available to wait on tables. Though it may be disappointing to the readers (you), it was with great relief that I managed to remain blissfully ‘un-escorted’ that evening. There was absolutely no doubt that money was no object… but I was too young for that.
It was almost certain that the Sahara would be closed an hour or sooner before the Coq D’Or downstairs, so normally, around one am, I could be found in the latter, maybe having a dance or two… sometimes with a lad in a wheelchair (needs a name)….and if I had one for him, I’d let him have it!!! , who was a regular (and boy, could he make that wheelchair dance!), or having a couple of relatively quiet toots in the Round Bar. To my mind, this was the best part of the evening. Quite a good crowd used to hang around till the last. The band would be in fine form by then. Those that I remember revving the place were the Holy Black, Omega Limited, and Leprechaun.
The Coq d’Or in full flight was a magical place. The band stage seemed cramped and rather too small, as was the dance floor, but the lighting was effective. In fact the place had everything required to cater to man’s baser instincts! Not far to walk to the bar… though if one had chosen a table at the back, this was an exercise more taxing than an assault course. Fighting one’s way through a crowd of undulating, writhing bodies with both hands free is difficult enough, but when one has drinks to carry… But those back tables were definitely the place to be. For there would lurk only the men with the most ulterior of motives… the most raging hungers, and the most uncontrollably wandering hands. And with war on the menu every day of the year, they seemed to want to have it all, every moment of their R&R! Some of them got it all too… right then and there – no, not from the writer! All manner of intimacies happened in the dark corners of that nightclub… but whether anyone else on the staff ever noticed (surely they must have?) is disputable. It was not discussed, and seemed to be viewed with an easy tolerance.
Now and again, on nights when the BSAP (local constabulary) was not in attendance, one would catch a whiff of ‘herbal’ smoke… but this didn’t happen often. I reckon a goodly percentage of troopies enjoyed the stuff. Never heard of anyone ever going to jail for it at the time though…
It has to be said that the lads in the RLI used the Coq d’Or extensively… it was their R&R camp! Woe betide those from INTAF, or worse still, Gwebi agricultural college, who wandered in on one of their party nights. They didn’t stand a chance. Every bar/club has to have its share of fighting, and this was no exception. Most notable would have to be the (frequent) set-to’s between the BSAP and Two Commando. Believe me, the Round Bar had broken windows aplenty from those nights. But it was only one floor down to the pavement!!
(Small comfort it was in knowing that it was only one floor down to the pavement when it was your turn to go!)
In general, the public used to view the lads in the forces as demi-gods… and the lads (troopies), understandably used this to their great advantage. There were bars that would serve drinks to ALL serving members, despite their age. I’m certain that television and radio campaigns enhanced this greatly, urging Joe Public to “Wave to a troopie”, and “Give a troopie a ride”… Probably the greatest liberty adopted by these young men derived from the expectancy in the public that they were rendered vulnerable, having seen and done unspeakable things “out in the bush”. From this circumstance, the best pick-up line of the time came into being. How many Rhodie girls didn’t hear “I’m going back into the bush tomorrow/next week/after R&R… please sweetheart, I might die!” Oh, and didn’t our hearts go out to the devils too – in full measure! Lucky sods! Try that one today, and they’d be looked at askance! But who DIDN’T go to a club to score? Yes, you’re right, only the people who went there to work! Ha ha!
From my recollection, the Coq d’Or didn’t run a “ grab-a-granny” night on Wednesdays, as a few other places did… these were quite popular with the girls, as they didn’t have to pay entrance fees. On one rare evening off, I remember sitting in the garden at the Park Lane Hotel, with a couple of South African bikers, watching the evening progress. Of course, the Park Lane had a smart casual dress code in force, and denims and leathers were not acceptable. Still, the beer (thank goodness taste had at last come into play!) was as cold for the garden customers, and endless plates of chips were available. I don’t recall many women leaving the place alone, though most had arrived that way… but then, it might have been the beer? (The arrival of my good taste had by this time prompted me to sell the Honda – which was seizing three times a year and costing a small fortune in oil – and go back to my beloved BMWs… this time it was a 1964 R60)
But I digress… I have to say that as an employee of a nightclub/bar, it is easy to find that one night is very much like another, and so it must have been, for the months passed. However, there are some memories that haven’t been lost. (Expand on this theme – times, names, faces, characters… how many times you stepped over a sleeping ‘body’ at the floor of the stairs when you went in to work at 10am – how many guys went over the railings and down into the foyers on an average day / nite…) Oh please don’t remind me about the bodies on the stairs!!!……. Names, faces, characters??? Hahaha….. it is with the greatest of pleasure that I shall leave those drunken remembrances to the names, faces and characters that had the pleasure!
I do recall on one occasion the ambulance brigade having to be called out in force, after some nameless soldier thought it might be really cool to sneak into the ladies’ loos and doctor the toilet paper with buffalo bean… Damned near caused a riot! For those who don’t know, buffalo bean comes from a plant that grows wild in the bush, and had been accidentally encountered by many an unhappy troopie caught with his pants down! The fibres from this plant apparently have the same effect as itching powder… only a whole heap worse. And the only cure I ever heard of is said to come from the mud around that plant’s roots – scarce in the loo that evening! (S0… tell us about the poor victims with the ‘terminal itch’…) Once again, best remembered by those who gave birth to the most frenetic night of dance the club had ever seen!
Probably the best-remembered event during the time that I worked that bar was the Boozers’ Team Grand Darts/Football Tournament in Bindura. We travelled up there in a bus – not one of the wonderful ultra-modern tour buses, but a diesel-run wreck that chugged along… Well, with darts and football teams, (ladies and men), supporters and our resident cameraman, we filled half the bus – the other half was filled with crates of beer! And due to the heat, the excitement, and the slowness of the chugging bus (well those are my excuses, and I am sticking to them… ) we were ‘well oiled’ on arrival. So well oiled, it seems, that the writer has no idea which came first, the darts, or the football… but what a time was had by all! Strangely enough, the most vivid memory of the whole affair was the ‘de-bagging’ of the opposition’s goalie during the ladies’ football match… engineered by out own goalie, Max, and several of the supporters. (Well, I was a very impressionable young lady at the time!) Need I say that the match was in the bag from that point on?
But all good things had to come to an end, and the interest in the club scene waned in direct proportion to the increase in the number of motorcycle-related functions I attended. Eventually I became a total hood, left RTV, and started working in Century House East, just a spit and a holler from my beloved Round Bar… I took to entertaining the troops at the White Rhino Pub, (where?) where else, but at Cranborne Barracks….. and sitting on the wall at the Gremlin, watching the drag-racing…
To steal a quote from Clem Tholet… “What a time it was…”