Perched above Nandos on Kampala Road in the middle of town is Mateos, one of Kampala’s better known bars. It is a buzzing, loud and busy place, partly because of its easy accessibility, being located in the middle of town, making a favourite hangout to wait out the worst of the evening traffic.
On a good Saturday, the limited bar space will be teeming with young adults, most enjoying their drink as they follow live soccer games on large screens.
But the women especially come to Mateos to sip cocktails, made by one of Kampala’s best barmen. If you are a cocktail connoisseur, you are best advised to show up on cocktail nights — Thursdays and Saturdays — although Saturday is a mixed crowd of beer drinkers and cocktail lovers.
Here, you will meet 23-year old Raymond Cliff Yiga, by far one of Kampala’s favourite mixers of cocktails. He is quick and purposeful; his every movement is to fetch something, take an order or serve a waiting customer.
He rarely speaks. Behind the rectangular bar, he darts between fridges, bottles of spirits and wine, and an assortment of fruit — watermelon, pineapples, oranges, apples, mangoes, with which he blends the cocktails.
The style with which Raymond carries himself around the bar makes bar tending an art. Having been at it since 2007, and being schooled in the upmarket hotels and bars of Johannesburg, South Africa, he does it with a little more oomph than your typical slow, meticulous Kampala bartender.
“I’ve been doing this for five years now; there was a time I made different cocktails for 500 guests. That taught me something. This job requires speed. The customer wants his drink quickly and as ordered,” he says, as he places a Blue Margarita before a waiting customer.
The customer, who refuses to tell me her name, describes the Blue Margarita as “electric”; it is a mix of tequila, blue curacao and lime juice served either on the rocks or neat, with salt on the glass rim.
“Most of my customers like their cocktails on the rocks. It makes the drink crisp and it is ideal for the usually hot Kampala weather in the evenings,” Raymond says.
The cocktail master, who also worked at the cosy country club, the White Horse Inn — one of Uganda’s oldest hotel institutions some 420km southwest of the capital — swings into action again.
“I’m now making a Margarita, which is not the blue variation; it’s one of the favourites here. I mix two shots of tequila, sugar syrup and one shot of lime.”
So, why do the ladies like their cocktails?
“Some say it’s all about the variety that they get in the mixture. They wouldn’t get that in a Guinness; but from a bartender point of view, women don’t always want to be seen drinking what everyone else is drinking, which is a beer.”
You have a choice of a variety of cocktails at Mateos, but the most often served are Long Island single and double. This also happens to be among the favourites along with Blue Nile, Beverly Hills, Mojito, and Blue Juliano.
The non-alcoholic cocktails on offer are Sex on the Beach and Mateos Fruity—a speciality of the joint that falls in the category of virgin cocktails, made from ingredients like watermelon, pineapple, a bit of cucumber, mango and apple.
Pay for class
The price of the cocktail relates to its deliciousness and class element; for example, the Long Island single goes for Ush20,000 ($7.54), while the double costs Ush40,000 ($15).
But there is a woman who says she frequents Mateos because “they do Beverly Hills like no other around town.” And for this, she parts with Ush30,000 ($11.3).
For a Margarita, one parts with Ush20,000 ($7.54) while Blue Nile and Blue Juliano both cost Ush15,000 ($5.6). But because the girls want to be different, classy or trendy, they are prepared to dig deeper into their purses.
The often loud music may be a turn off, but many Kampalans seem to like their watering holes noisy.
Besides the music and cocktails, there is another attraction in hanging out at Mateos; if you want a bite, you can go downstairs to fast food joint Nandos and grab a snack — chicken, pizza, sausage. And in case the Kampala weather switches to its other unpredictable mood and suddenly rains, a cup of coffee or tea is handy to keep one warm, still from the nearby Nandos.
In short, a reveller will go to Mateos and sip their favourite cocktail, but they can also catch a snack, and dance to the music, all in the same building.
Outside of gins and spirits, sold in shots for anything between Ush4,000 ($1.5) and Ush8,000 ($3) beer at Nandos goes for Ush4,500 ($1.6) and the soft drinks, each Ush2,000 ($0.7).