By Leigh Raymond, Ross Alford and Siphosethu Stuurman
Rhodes’ students are well known for being enthusiastically involved with the night life of Grahamstown. So, for the past few weeks, Activate has been investigating four of the traditional party places – the Rat and Parrot, Friar Tuck’s, Equilibrium and the Old Gaol. Each establishment has been rated with regard to safety and control.
These criteria have been set out by an official from the Grahamstown fire department, and include the safety of the stairs, location and number of emergency exits and availability of fire extinguishers. Before any business license is issued, the establishment must undergo inspections from the fire department, the health department and the engineering department. The safety inspection is only done once, unless there are any complaints, and we encourage any student with a safety related issue to inform the fire department.
The safety rating includes a score for ventilation, out of three, a score for physical safety, again out of three, and existence of emergency procedures and equipment out of four. Control is rated on a maximum score of five for bouncers, and five for overcrowding.
The Rat and Parrot – 15/20
Physical safety: 2/3
Emergency procedures: 4/4
The Rat & Parrot is probably Grahamstown’s best known bar and attracts customers of all ages. During the crowded nights the Rat can fit close to five hundred people.
Dion Malan, one of the two Rat & Parrot managers assured Activate that the Rat is “perfectly safe”. One fire escape leads outside to the beer garden and another from the balcony to the street outside. However, when an Activate writer went to check in the afternoon, the door to this fire escape was locked. The Rat & Parrot has no formal fire escape routine, therefore if you are caught in such a situation be aware of the nearest exit and calmly walk out. There is apparently a First Aid kit in the establishment’s back room, but this was never brought out for inspection.
The bar pays Hi-tech security for their services and has a 24 hour ambulance on stand-by for any major incidents. The bouncers are employed by The Control, a privately owned business. One bouncer is brought in on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays whilst a second is introduced on the nights when it is expected to be more crowded such as on St Patrick’s day or during O-Week. Their jobs are not only to prevent any rowdy behaviour but to stop alcohol from leaving the premises. However, there are no attempt to quell the frequently overcrowded bar areas.
A number of strategically placed cameras around the upstairs and downstairs bars help with the prevention of crime which has, as a result, decreased over the years. The Rat is ventilated by a large air conditioning system downstairs by the bathrooms. The many windows and doors spread out upstairs and downstairs provide patrons with more ventilation.
The Rat is a fairly safe establishment with many fire escapes and extinguishers. There are eight fire extinguishers around the establishment, one behind the upstairs and downstairs bars, as well as in the Mouse & Budgie bar. The kitchen and both stock rooms at the back are also equipped.
However on the larger nights when the bar is known to hit full capacity, the stairs at times can be hazardous, and a constant effort is made to stop people from stair diving which could result in serious injury.
Physical safety: 2/3
Emergency procedures: 2/4
Equilibrium, better known as EQ, has had a fair amount of complaints about its bouncers and that has put the bouncer’s job in the spotlight. The bouncers are there to “influx control at the door and to uphold the right of admission for us” says Taschia Sixole, EQ manager. The club uses two bouncers on weekends. The bouncers are hired from The Control that trains them to enforce rules that govern the night clubs and to break up fights.
However Joseph Mutasa* says he was kicked out by the bouncers at EQ when he tried to stop his friend from fighting. “They never asked me anything they just kicked me out”, he says. Sixole says that anyone they kick out at EQ deserves to be, as “a lot of people push the limit even with me being there”.
Brett Williams* was also thrown out by the bouncers and when he asked for his helmet which he had left inside the bouncer threw it in his face. Williams claims that this was a racist incident. However, the EQ management stated that they do not discriminate against anyone. If anyone experiences discrimination of any form they can inform the manager or take the case up with the owner.
EQ can hold 300 to 400 people per night, and only when management decides the club is full is the door closed. According to Sixole, EQ has an alternative exit door but this door is not easily visible. In cases of extreme emergencies the management contacts the Grahamstown emergency services.
The club does have a first aid kit, so if you cut yourself while shaking your booty on the dance floor you can simply ask for help from the staff. The club is well-ventilated, and an air conditioner is situated in the corner of the dance floor. The club is rarely overcrowded and the dance floor is large enough to accommodate everyone.
Management is planning to revamp EQ into a more cosmopolitan club, and are planning on playing a more balanced set of music. Promotions like the Pigs’ Night are part of the revamping strategy and hopefully in no time we will see more white folks jamming at EQ.
Except for the bouncers and the hard to find emergency exit EQ is a safe spot to chill at. There are no stairs so chances of you tripping are slim, and for your own sake don’t piss off the bouncers.
Friar Tuck’s: 11/20
Physical safety: 2/3
Emergency procedures: 2/4
Characteristically the final destination of Rhodes University’s students’ evenings, Friar Tuck’s is known for its vibrant party atmosphere and its crowded dance floor.
Wayne Muller, Friars’ manager, is very cautious about his customers, especially when it gets crowded. “Guys must be aware of the people around them”, he says. According to Muller, the club’s capacity is six hundred and seven hundred people when the old pool bar area is open. A fully stocked First Aid Kit is stored just above the downstairs bar. The kit contains items like splints, disinfectant and burn treatments.
The fire escape is in the kitchen. It leads to a back door that takes one into a small parking space where a gate is found. There is the main entrance and the pool bar entrance as well. “Due to the restricted area we have in the building we can’t expand the fire escapes” says Muller. Activate was informed that should the lights go out, emergency lights upstairs and downstairs will come on. Fire extinguishers can be found upstairs, in the kitchen and in the Pool bar.
Above the main dance floor there is a large extractor fan. There are two of these fans, one upstairs and one downstairs. Muller assures Activate that two more are on the way – only when there are very few people is the club cool.
Muller employs ten bouncers himself, who are all trained in first aid. There seems to be a consensus of concern among students with regard to the bouncer’s aggression towards Friar’s patrons. Muller however assures Activate that the bouncers’ job is to look after the party seekers, and says that “The only time [the bouncers] are allowed to throw a punch is in self-defence”. On a normal night three bouncers work, and on the more crowded nights an extra bouncer is asked to assist. Their job is to control the movement of people outside Friar’s, and prevent overcrowding inside. If an inebriated person is found doing something wrong, Muller explains that there is a four step procedure the bouncer has to follow before escorting the person outside. Bouncers have to warn the culprit twice, and if they continue to pursue the behaviour the bouncer can either escort them out or issue another warning. If the person carries on the threats or behaviour then he/she is escorted outside the establishment. However, many students have reported that the bouncers often ignore this procedure, and move straight to having them removed from the establishment.
The stairs leading to the upstairs bar are also patrolled by bouncers who prevent crowding on the stairs. However, there are still many who perform unexpected gymnastics when tripping over someone who has stopped to talk to their mates.
The Old Gaol: 11/20
Physical safety: 1/3
Emergency procedures: 2/4
As all frequenters of the Old Gaol know, the place is a rustic landmark for the convening of alternative rockers, indie kids, emo kids, the African Drum Soc, and everyone and everything in between.
The Gaol has a large open area, so claustrophobia is rarely an issue, and there is plenty of oxygen for everyone. But everyone also knows about those rickety and uneven old stairs going up to the reception/bar, and the platforms which frequently present themselves as obstacles to those slightly less sober than necessary. Because the Old Gaol is a heritage site, no renovations can be done to the building, even to increase safety and security.
The barmen have open access to the first aid kit behind the bar. They all know where it is and it is well-stocked. The only major safety hazard being the platforms – there have been a few account of people falling off and hurting themselves, but the platforms are not high enough to cause any real damage, and there is always a member of management, or a barman walking around to check things on a busy night.
A fire-extinguisher can be found behind the bar, according to the barmen. There is no specific procedure for evacuating the place should there be a fire, but employees do reckon that they would try to gain some calm and move everyone out.
There are two fire exits, the most accessible being that main entrance. The other is around the back of the building, most easily accessed by the backpackers and ‘boarders’ who stay in the back section. Both doors are easily accessible when the door to the rooms is open. On the occasions where crowd control is needed, the doors are closed to stop more people coming in, but no one could tell us exactly what kind of capacity is safe for such events.
Being that the Old Gaol is also a backpacker’s rest stop, the number of people can increase at any given time. For this reason, the Old Gaol is open all day, but the patrons of the club side are sometimes kicked out for being too rowdy too late when there are guests staying. Despite this, there are no official bouncers at the Old Gaol, with barmen and glass-collectors often taking on the duties and controlling the crowd. Frequently, if the Gaol is visited in the afternoons (aside from the cracking walls and uneven floors being even more intimidating), there are very few, if any, employees around.