Jazz. I smile to myself as I head towards Plus 233, the newly opened jazz lounge. I imagine plush sofas, brightly colored throw pillows and soothing-to-the-bone jazz being played by men, whose faraway smiles make you wonder why you never took up an instrument. I can already hear the unmistakable, imposing yet deeply appealing sound of the sax.
I arrive to see that the venue looks much more like a spot than the sophisticated lounge I was expecting. I take in the nondescript, small building, surrounding bushy grassland and the glaring absence of lights and try not to be too disappointed.
Inside, the place is buzzing with activity and there are many people milling about. The large verandah is packed full of people sitting at large tables, sipping drinks, chatting, laughing, or just staring into space. I can immediately tell that this is a popular place for pre-midnight ‘hanging’. Must be the sax, I think, smiling again as I head to the bar.
The bartenders are overwhelmed and look slightly flustered as they juggle the multiple orders. While I wait, I look around. Mounted above the steps is the skeletal frame of a Christmas tree, flanked by tiredly blinking lights. Surely, this should come down soon. Off to the right is a cloud of smoke, rising unattractively into the air. I smell the spicy chicken. A kebab stand.
Suddenly, I’m aware of the music. Jazz! But this sound does not match my imaginings. I look closely at the band… Faraway envy-provoking smiles on their faces, check. Laid back, but trendy fashion characteristic of brass band members, check. But what’s missing? Wait, no sax??
The bar is less busy. I get cranberry juice—the only juice they have. The service, though slightly impatient and disorganized, is quick and in no time, I am grasping an immensely large lime-garnished glass of tangy cranberry. Gasp, no tiny umbrella?
I venture inside to find a place to sit. The music is loud! No luck on sitting so I stand in the corner and take in my surroundings. The décor is sophisticated. I love the giant wooden bass in the corner painted a dark mauve to match the walls and furniture. The shadowy blue lights and the dark walls give the room a tasteful, yet cozy air. But what’s that? A leaky air conditioner? And some lady, laughing to her friend, oblivious, as her weave gathers the water from the AC, making sure that the floor stays dry.
The music is too loud and I’m hungry so I head back outside. It is difficult to find a waiter but when I finally do, he’s friendly. There’s no menu so he rattles off the food options. Seven items. I order the kebabs, a plate of rice and chicken and a hot dog. I show him to my obscure corner just off the verandah where I can perch on the steps. I half-hoped that he would feel bad for me and show me an alternative perch, some chair I may have missed in my many scans, but no, he just nods and hurries off.
While I wait, I decide to ask some people what they like about this place.
“It’s the only musical place in town,” she says, “and on Fridays, everyone comes here to hear Offie Kudjoe sing. She’s the main attraction.”
“It’s about the people,” he chips in, “There’s no debauchery. It’s a grown and sophisticated crowd, like minds who can come here after work to relax, unwind.”
“My favorite thing about this place is the view of the Ring Road. There’s something calming about passively watching life pass by, much like sitting in one of the cafes along the Champs Elysees.”
I glance around again. It wasn’t about the bad parking, the absent sax, the leaky air conditioner or the disorganized service. It was about the ambience— relaxed, open, unpretentious; the freedom to walk from one cluster of people to another, greeting, laughing, chatting, debating or just nodding together along with the sweet-as-honey tones of Offie’s voice.
Back at my corner, my food arrives. The hot dog is delicious, and the plate of rice and chicken is generous. The rice, plain, is fragrant and fluffy and accompanied with freshly ground green and red pepper. The chicken pieces are juicy and well spiced, but the kebabs must have been prepared by a different person because they are dry and salted as though as an afterthought.
A nice lady sees me struggling to eat, balancing my plate on my lap and and she offers me a seat at her table. I gratefully accept and settle down to enjoy Offie croon “Killing Me Softly.”
As I walk back to the car, I wonder if I will call again at Plus 233. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that I had fun but I was certainly in the minority (see: fellow who compares the Ring Road to the Champs Elysees) and I have to admit that it is refreshing to be able to socialize at night without having to contend with walls of smoke and groping hands. Perhaps I will give it another go. Apparently, there are different shows on other nights. I must find out when my friend the sax will make an appearance.