Joe Cools Retrospective – Part 1

What follows is an amalgam of some terrific (and terrifying nights) had at Joes Cool’s, a nightclub in Durban. For the sake of decency, names have been changed. More of this is true than I care to admit.


Summer. Durban. 2009. It has been one hell of a decade. Global warming is something only people who don’t bathe take seriously. The world is stuck in the afterglow of Obama’s election victory. Facebook only knew what you were doing some of the time. Pitbull and frozen yogurt parlors were somehow everywhere. Jeff Bezos was yet to find the final infinity stone.

Durban is in the middle of its yearly menopause cycle. The consequence being its heat is matched only by the soupy consistency of the air. This is most prevalent at night by the sea, where the cooling effect of the ocean liquifies the ambient oxygen into a cartilaginous vapor.

It is Sunday night my dudes, and the students are ready to party.

Everything else is closed except for one club. One sainted guardian stands vigil over the ocean – Joe Cools.

Joe’s. That is what the kids call it. Two stories of open planned possibility await you once you spend the hour long purgatory in the que to get in. Sitting atop a Steers Takeaway and several homeless people, it lords over the Durban promenade; the flickering of the house lights guiding revelers to its front door as moths to a groovy flame.

I am twenty and so is everyone else. We are in shorts and vests and skirts and flesh. We are all trying our best to have as much of our bodies poke out at the world as possible. Some may see this as egregious. Others see it as practical. The fact is, we are all there to dance, liquify as much of our urinary systems as possible, and maybe… just maybe… find love.

I am at last standing in front of the massive black-clad bouncer. He towers over me, the mortal pilgrim I am at the gates of his loud and odd smelling temple.

“Lift your arms.”

I do so.

“Spread your legs.”

I do so too, bit wide for comfort.

“Is this your first time?”

“Only with you.”

The disinterested cash girl stamps my arm. I ask her to stamp it several times. I can already feel my body forming a protective layer of sweat and hormonal discharge. Whatever she puts on my arm to mark my entrance will likely have to be touched up in half an hour. Behind me are my friends. They are each as beautiful as they last. Gorgeous girls, handsome men and me. I am aware of the sweat percolating on the small of my back as I walk into the blast furnace of the night club. However, there is a silver lining to this heat: a Foam Party

Tonight is one of Joe’s well known foam parties. The dancefloor is immersed in a meter and a half’s worth of dishwashing liquid bubbles. So many bubbles. Our first stop is the bar where we indulge in the special of the evening: cane and cream soda: The Cane Train. This involves the combining of cane spirits and any number of carbonated drinks. In this case, the special of the night is a double shot of cane with a mix of your choice. The price? R10 per glass and common decency, interest to be paid at a later date.

A paragraph dedicated to the description of cane spirits: despite being outlawed in many more sensible countries, cane is an… ahem… Mainstay of the South African drinking culture. It is not enough that the Russians had invented a white spirit that causes involuntary pregnancy, the South Africans had to make something that attacks your eyesight as well. Cane is the go-to drink for students who like their mixers sweet, with only the slightest insidious flavor of sin. Traditionally, cane is served one of two ways: going in or coming out. What accompanies it on both journeys’ is anyone’s guess. Cane is one of few drinks where it is acceptable to have it handed to you in either a jug or bucket. As a serving size for alcohol, that ought to be warning enough. However, it does not stop most stories which end with, “and then I shat between two petrol pumps” to begin with, “One night my mates and I were drinking cane.”

So, we lined up at the bar, five deep, and began the process of ordering round after round of cheap and petulant booze. The M.O. was simple, get drunk enough to dance. When that was achieved, drink more so that being rejected by women was painless. The girls in our group were already having a whale of a time having drinks bought for them by bigger, older men. We were having a whale of a time watching said bigger, older men learn they just lost out on a round of drinks.

The group reached a consensus that it was time to start dancing. The DJ had shifted his routine from deep house to whatever collaboration between Will.I.Am/Gwen Stefani/Pitbull/Katy Perry/La Roux/Flo Rida/Dizzee Rascal/Fedde Le Grand had going on at the time. I am not sure about the lyrics but I am certain the following words featured:

  1. Work it
  2. Tonight
  3. Sheeyah
  4. (unintelligible Spanish)
  5. Girls (any variation on this theme)
  6. Yeah
  7. Okay
  8. Washout (I may have misunderstood this last one)

This meant one thing: it was time to enter the hallowed foam dance floor. At last, my body which had assumed the aspect of a catfish pretending not to be uncomfortable on dry land, was going to be given an excuse for looking so moist.

To be continued…

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