In the 80s and 90s, Rockey Street, and a big part of Yeoville, was an escape for those who wanted an alternative to the apartheid lifestyle. A grey area developed where people of different races and backgrounds could mix with one another. Today that same grey area exists. This section of Yeoville has become known as a place of vice where anything and everything goes. This is the experience of an outsider coming to Rockey Street, accompanied by a character named “Mr Jookx”.
The balcony of the Rasta nightclub Tandoor gives you a bird’s-eye view of Rockey Street. At 6pm, the road is bustling and Jookx is talking business at a jewellery shop across the road. The smell of marijuana is getting stronger, and the guys hanging out upstairs decide to roll a joint.
Tevin looks around nervously while he rolls the joint but Jookx, back from his dealings at the shop, reassures him. “Don’t worry my man, the cops don’t worry here. Yeoville is for party animals.”
This is Rockey Street in Yeoville, where smoking marijuana and other vices are openly practised without much care.
During the day, the street is filled with people shopping for food, buying clothes or visiting one of the salons for a new hairstyle. People go about their business with each other – business that may go on into the night.
“The smell of marijuana is getting stronger.”
In Yeoville the money never sleeps and night time is not much different from the day – this is the time for the night owls to do business.
In the street, which is packed with parked cars and piles of fresh rubbish stacked on top of old rubbish, people conduct business like washing cars, trade, as well as various other legal and illegal transactions.
Rico “Jookx” Myer is a DJ at Club 28, an establishment next door to Tandoor. He also runs a music studio from Club 28. Jookx says the studio is a team of people who work together, helping one another to record a track.
Once the location of struggle icon Joe Slovo’s childhood home, Tandoor is now a Rastafarian bar and club. Established in the early ’80s, Tandoor started as a restaurant specialising in authentic Indian tandoori cuisine. The restaurant then developed into a venue known for its live performances and themed nights.
Today, the restaurant is long gone. Tandoor still has some live performances but the bar is more known for its marijuana smoke and recorded reggae music. Walking into Tandoor is like walking into a dungeon. You enter a dark tunnel with trees painted on the walls. Halfway through the tunnel, the smell of marijuana hits your chest like a blast of wind.
Right next door, at Club 28, the nightclub has a completely different atmosphere from the reggae club.
Its walls are covered with light blue-and-white striped wallpaper. The floor has white tiles. There are tables and chairs for the people just stopping by for a drink to sit at. There are white couches for the people who want to chill for the night.
The DJ has his own stage in the corner. The dance floor surrounds it and, according to Jookx, on a full night there isn’t room to stand. There is equipment on the stage such as speakers and microphones for live performances. The club’s entrance fee varies depending on what name is performing there.
Security is not a problem at Club 28: “We got six of the biggest niggas here, so no one will ever take chances,” Jookx says.
The owner of the club, a man known simply as Boss Godfrey, is himself a big man with tree-trunk arms, boulder hands and a broad muscular wall of a chest. Jookx doesn’t only run the music and entertainment, his hustle includes parking as well: “You can even call me and say: ‘Mr. Jookx, I’m on my way’, then we’ll make sure you have a parking space in front of the club.”
You can have parking set aside for you, but don’t act like that makes you a VIP. That’s a recipe for trouble, according to Jookx.
“You see, we don’t like bullies. You must not come here and expect to be the top dog. Like I said to you before, Yeoville is a hustler’s spot, you must respect the other man’s hustle,” Jookx says.
The busiest days for the clubs in Yeoville are on Sundays and Mondays. These are unusual days for a nightclub, but Jookx explains that partying on a Monday is a Yeoville tradition.
“On Sunday we have shows here in the club [Club 28] and the people just continue the party from Saturday. On Mondays people need to unwind after a long day [back] at work. Tuesdays this place is dead so it is closed only on a Tuesday.”
Yeoville accommodates every sort of partier and thrill seeker. If you want to take a seat and relax while drinking a beer and smoking a splif, then Club 28 and Tandoor are the places to go to. However, there are also other establishments that cater for those who just want a place to drink without any frills.
Another prominent hang-out spot for the residents of Yeoville is The Green House, situated on Raymond Street. From the outside the place looks like a storybook mansion. An old man is sitting by the entrance, glaring at us as we walk in. He stands up and asks: “What do you want?” After some more questioning, it’s obvious this is a Nigerian spot and, if you are not Nigerian, you can be very unwelcome until you earn the patron’s trust.
Entering the big yellowwood door without the proper authorisation is not permitted. If you do make the mistake of trying to enter this door, the hulk guarding it will tell you to leave.
“This place is sus [suspect].”
Inside, The Green House looks like a house without much furniture. Single chairs and stools are scattered around the place, but there are not a lot of tables. The bar is barricaded with iron bars with the bartender behind it.
Tevin leans over and whispers under his breath: “This place is sus [suspect].”
There is a man on the left braaing meat for the customers. On the left are people standing, sitting, drinking and talking. The atmosphere makes it feel less like a nightclub and more of a house party. Except that a house party might have more frills.
Music is playing from a phantom jukebox. There are no facilities for live music or performances. No stage, no mics and no mixers.
Downstairs is even more bare bones. As you walk down the steps, you are immediately met by crates of empty beer bottles. The place is dark and seems more sinister compared to the other clubs. There are also two pool tables there, as well as a bar. The phantom jukebox is found, playing music selected by the highest bidder.
The patrons are in high spirits, one man even saying that he could genuinely drink at The Green House the whole day. Asked whether he had a job he answered: “No, why do I need one?”
In a corner of the darkened space downstairs, a man stands looking like a silent observer, giving off a suspicious vibe. He watches patrons approach the pool table and demands a fee for them to play. He isn’t a staff member, it’s just a small-scale shakedown. Hustlers like this man are common in The Green House. In fact they are common all over Yeoville.
At night the suburb becomes a place where every vice can be fulfilled. If you want to get high, the drug merchants are stationed on the streets and in the clubs; it’s up to the customer to decide whose product is of good quality. If you’re looking for companionship, brothels or “guest houses” are scattered all over Yeoville within walking distance of your nightclub of choice.
More traditional trading avenues are also open in Rockey Street at night. On the road where you park your car, the parking attendants are more than willing to wash it for an extra tip. The supermarket also stays open some nights to accommodate the club hoppers who get hungry while partying.
The differences between Tandoor, Club 28 and The Green House aren’t just in the décor, layout and atmosphere. The way they do business also differs. While Tandoor and Club 28 both sell spirits and dumpies, The Green House primarily sells quarts of beer. This is because it is known as a “smokkel” house, a place with the sole purpose of selling booze to drink, and only drink. To sell quarts also means that if the cops come asking for a liquor licence, the patrons can claim they just came to sit at the establishment with their own drinks. The Green House can claim that it’s only providing a venue for people to drink and not the substance itself.
According to one shebeen owner, the maths is simple for quarts: he makes more money from quarts because people are buying in bulk.
“If I sell one six pack of [beer], that will get me R36. But if I sell three draughts of the same beer I get R45. That is more or less the same amount of beer, but I’m making more profit on the draughts,” he says.
The pervading outlaw spirit has been a part of Yeoville for years. In the 1980s, it was the place to find an alternative lifestyle and escape the apartheid way of living. People of different races, cultures and backgrounds converged on Yeoville for its night life as it was a sort of grey area when it came to the apartheid laws.
Different people mixed with one another. You could sit and have drinks with famous jazz singers and popular political figures of the time. It was a place where controversial ideas were discussed and heard. Yeoville had an outlaw atmosphere that drew people to it.
Today the bars and clubs of the ’80s and ’90s are gone, replaced by new bars and clubs and the latest reincarnations of Tandoor, Club 28, Jozi City and Times Square, but that same spirit can still be found there.
It is like Jookx says: “Back in the day you had white cops doing favours for white business owners, today it is black cops doing favours for black business owners.”
The roles have reversed but the overall idea still remains. The phrase “the more things change, the more they stay the same” resonates here. The story is the same, the characters just change.
FEATURED IMAGE: This is the entrance of the Rasta club Tandoor. This Rockey Street hotspot was established in the 80s but started out as a tandoori chicken restaurant. Photo: Luke Matthews
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