As the drums crash, the guitars jangle and the saxophones wail, a pack of attractive women wearing revealing evening dresses scream, clap and rush onto the dance floor. When the song begins in earnest, the nightclub in Johannesburg’s smart Rosebank suburb begins to heave with the bounce of scores of gyrating bodies.
It’s party time again at Katzy’s, one of the swankiest venues in South Africa and the haunt of celebrities, politicians and some of the richest businessmen on the continent. “They arrive here in their Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Ferraris,” laughs club manager Brett Mulder. “And with the most beautiful women you’ll ever see.”
Katzy’s itself is pleasing on the eye. Soft light glimmers on the brick, timber and leather that decorate its interior.
“We’re not one of these novelty places…. We’re not one of these places that has been designed by an interior decorator, that looks like you want to take a photograph before you sit down,” says Saul Mervis, one of Katzy’s owners. “We rely on the good old basics – it’s great whiskeys, it’s great cigars and great music.”
Born in Chicago
Mervis and his partners got the idea for Katzy’s a few years ago, when on a business trip to the United States. “We saw something in Chicago that we really liked, and we took a few elements of that – it was a live music venue in Chicago – and we recreated Katzy’s based on that type of look and feel,” he explains.
In fact, Mervis is referring to one of the world’s most famous piano bars – Chicago’s Jilly's, once owned by Frank Sinatra.
Mervis says his music club wasn’t designed as such but was conceived as an “addendum” to an adjoining grill house. But the entertainment soon became so popular that he was “forced” to establish the club as a separate venue.
“Katzy’s became a little business on its own, attracting people that were lovers of fine alcohol – we stock about 180 different kinds of whiskeys, about 60 different types of cognacs; we’ve got different grappas, etcetera, not to mention the live music being a draw card.”
From laidback to rock ‘n roll
Over the years, Katzy’s has become known as one of Africa’s chicest and best live music venues, providing a platform to some of the continent’s – and especially Southern Africa’s – greatest bands.
“Katzy’s is now a dedicated live music destination. We have bands five nights a week,” Mervis announces proudly. “On a Tuesday and a Wednesday we have very laidback, loungey (sic) type of jazz stuff. Wednesday is more your rat pack, Michael Buble type of music.”
On the nightclub’s most popular evenings, from Thursday to Saturday, Katzy’s features three of South Africa’s leading party bands – Atmosferic, Denim and Dr. Victor and The Rasta Rebels. “Their music ranges from contemporary, laidback right through to get-on-your-feet-and-rock-and-roll type of music,” says Mervis.
Atmosferic is fronted by lead vocalist Wendy Allen Twyford and excellent bass guitarist and upright bass master Graeme Currie. Katzy’s website describes Twyford’s style as “sultry and funky,” her voice as “honeyed,” while Currie is said to be a “musical wizard.”
The duo’s jazzy groove is supplemented by drumming that’s almost Latin in feel. Atmosferic performs original songs and also interprets old jazz standards.
Beach bashes and international festivals
Another of Katzy’s resident bands, Denim, has been thrilling audiences across Southern Africa and abroad in recent years. In 2005, the group toured Great Britain, playing numerous clubs and festivals, including London’s famous Notting Hill Carnival. That same year, Denim played a New Year’s Eve bash on a beach in Dubai. The event was hosted by one of the world’s top hotels.
Denim recently completed the most extensive tour ever undertaken by a South African band, performing 125 shows in less than six weeks in their homeland and throughout the region. In 2007, the act had a number one hit in South Africa with their single, “Can’t take my eyes off you.”
But it’s undoubtedly Dr. Victor and The Rasta Rebels, with a never-say-stop party spirit and irrepressible vibe, that remains Katzy’s most popular act.
Mervis says, “For more than 15 years, Dr. Victor has created an uplifting sound that’s earned him a wonderful reputation as a singer, guitarist, pianist, songwriter and producer. He has many devoted fans all over the world and we’re privileged to have him and his group here at Katzy’s.”
Patrons are the ‘beauty’ of the club
The venue has not sacrificed exclusivity on the altar of popularity.
“To protect the level of patron inside the venue, we do charge a cover charge of 100 rand [about $14] per person,” Mervis says. The entry fee is expensive in South African terms. It ensures that Katzy’s clients are an affluent, albeit diverse, mix of people, mostly from South Africa but also from all over the world…all wanting to experience the club’s great music.
“Your casual diner at the grill house moving across after dinner for a nightcap, through to all of the air crews that stay in the area coming to have a party, all the way up to your top CEOs of companies that are quite comfortable in sitting in quite an exclusive and luxurious environment, sipping on their cognacs and smoking their cigars,” Mervis says.
He describes the patrons as the “beauty” of his club.
One of world’s best bars
Like other entertainment venues in South Africa, Katzy’s experienced a “boom” when the country hosted the football World Cup in June and July. Thousands of foreign soccer fans descended on the club to “party up a storm,” as Mervis puts it. But, unlike some South African establishments, the club did not use the Cup as an excuse to radically increase prices in order to reap massive profits.
“We didn’t change our prices at all, in fact,” says Mervis. “To do so would have been very unfair to our loyal local patrons, who are, after all, our bread and butter.”
With this attitude, it’s perhaps not surprising that the respected international entertainment website, worldsbestbars.com, has described Katzy’s as one of the best places on the planet to enjoy a drink and a party. Mervis is modest about the accolade.
“Everything’s relative (in the entertainment industry) – maybe it’s just by luck that the person (from worldsbestbars.com) who came that evening really enjoyed it,” he says.
But many of Katzy’s dedicated fans would agree that luck has little to do with the constant praise lavished upon the nightclub.