Nabbing the large, industrial-style building at the crossroads of Braamfontein and the hip northern suburbs of Johannesburg, around the corner from the buzzing 44 Stanley Avenue precinct, was quite a coup for well-known Johannesburg-based designer Rahim Rawjee. I had this thought a few years ago, sipping champagne in his meticulously gold-leafed-by-hand showroom overlooking city’s northwest.
Rawjee’s label, Row-G, creates bespoke suits and shirts for those people who love to see immaculate quality clothing hanging in their wardrobes — one of them is former US president Barack Obama. A tour of Rawjee’s impressive suit-making factory, where figure-hugging garments are constructed by hand in the finest materials by the finest tailors, had preceded the afternoon bubbles and, as the sun added its own golden tinge to the room, Rawjee shared some of his plans for the building.
In the time since, the building has become the Quince Street Lofts as well as his home — a double-volume apartment with a made-for-parties living space that has seen many a late night, spur-of-the-moment dance party, and lazy Sunday morning breakfast. But none of the plans he shared with me involved turning the ample place, with its amazing warren of rooms of all shapes and sizes, into a private members’ club where people from all over the world can come to meet, relax, eat, and have a massage, a drink, and a cigar.
But then, at a friend’s wedding, Rawjee met Ronald Ndoro, a London-based serial entrepreneur named in the 2016 Power List as one of the UK’s 40 under 40 to watch. Ndoro has done it all. He’s worked in law, journalism, business, nightlife, and even dipped his toes in the digital waters of the dotcom boom. He started his career with the Financial Times, had a stint following his legal aspirations with a top law firm, has built up a resume of startups, and event-management companies and has even launched the Needle App — an event networking tool, so his entrepreneurial pedigree is immaculate. He also brought the world’s longest-running show, Crazy Horse, to London.
One of Ndoro’s great successes is the private members’ club he opened a few years ago in Covent Garden, London, called Library. The idea was to create a special place, a kind of home away from home, for London’s eclectic literary and design set, who could use the space as a place to network and to enjoy a range of cultural events from talks, book readings, and seminars to live music, art shows, and installations. Ndoro opened Library in 2014, after he’d already won rave reviews for another private club, Apartment 58, which he opened in London in 2011.
After their first meeting at the wedding, Ndoro visited Rawjee in his Milpark building when he was passing through Johannesburg. In his years of business and social experience, Ndoro has worked with several global luxury brands, musicians, artists, and celebrities, providing many of them with an elegant setting for their work and play peregrinations. In Rawjee’s building, Ndoro recognised the potential for private-club greatness, and the two talented creatives put their heads together to visualise what will become an oasis of luxurious service, invigorating socialising, and original style in QSL SA, a private members’ club in the culturally rich heart of Johannesburg.
“I walked into this phenomenal space,” Ndoro says. “And I thought, ‘there’s nothing like this in this massive, variegated city’.”
Ndoro admits that he was looking for a venue in New York to open his next private members’ club — he’s opening one in Antigua at the end of the year — when he came upon Rawjee’s unusual space. “This space just blew me away and I knew I had to put New York on hold to open up QSL SA with Rahim,” he says.
“The primary idea is to create a hub — a social space where people can escape in the city, for people who have great passion for what they do. It needs to be a place where you can do exactly what you want to do — meet clients, work, have a massage, lie by the pool, sleep, have a meal, a drink with friends, meet people from all over Africa and the world.”
It’s not going to be elitist. instead, it’s a place to collaborate and connect, with a backdrop of very glamorous surroundings
The club will have 32 bedrooms and three fine-dining restaurants, one of which will be converted from Rawjee’s gold-plated showroom. “We want it to feel like a major metropolitan metropolis with a melting pot of people — as if you were in Paris, New York, or London, but with a distinctly African flavour,” Ndoro says. “But we also want to attract like-minded people: creatives who are bright and brave, and want to come together to discuss, debate, and devise ways of making Africa even greater.”
Ndoro and Rawjee want the space to have lots of different layers. Chef Daniel Gamiche will create the menus at QSL SA’s three restaurants. “The brasserie-style restaurant will serve easy food with a hint of British flavour — all made with local ingredients; there will be a fine-dining restaurant serving elegant, colourful, fresh food, perfect for entertaining member’s guests or clients; and an African-fusion restaurant which will interpret the flavours of Africa in interesting ways,” Gamiche says. “Members can choose where to eat depending on their mood.”
Petitta has already started visiting some of the organic farms in the area to source the best ingredients for his menus. “We want to provide the opportunity for our members to have easy, bar-style food, through to elegant fine-dining, all under the same roof,” he says. “And the whiskey/cognac/cigar bar will be the perfect place to round off the evening.”
Traditionally, members-only clubs have had an air of exclusion and snobbery; they’ve been viewed as stuffy places where overweight, past middle-age men submerge themselves in communal arrogance as they sink into leather armchairs and their own narrow views of the world. Neither Ndoro nor Rawjee see their club as anything like this. “It’s not going to be elitist,” Ndoro says. “Instead, it’s a place to collaborate and connect, with a backdrop of very glamorous surroundings. Even the location has been very purposeful — at the foothills of the cultural heart of downtown and the gateway to the northern suburbs — it’s east, west, north and south of the city.”
One of the club’s main functions will be networking. “The whole idea of separatism in the world is so antiquated,” Rawjee says. “We want QSL to participate in the growth and creativity of all our members.”
Founder memberships are R10 000 a year (which will go up), and for that members get access to facilities (including a spa and a gym) in the more than 3000m² building, as well as all the benefits from reciprocal clubs around the world in London, Singapore, and São Paulo, to name a few.
The club will also offer daily and weekly cultural events for members, with curated content from talks to art exhibitions, book-club events, fashion shows, and parties with top DJs and live music. “From Monday to Wednesday we’ll concentrate on more cerebral stuff — books, art, poetry; on Thursday we’ll theme events around networking, and the weekends will be more party oriented,” Ndoro says. The club will also organise free entry to partner events around Joburg, for instance, the polo.
“This is a safe haven for our members, but it’s also a very exciting place,” Rawjee says. “I think of it like this: if the Four Seasons, Starbucks and The Slow Lounge had a baby, this would be it — a place to revel in luxury, relax, work, eat, and connect.”