Interview: Kantie Patel, owner of the oldest nightclub in Cape Town

23 April 2021

Interview: Kantie Patel, owner of the oldest nightclub in Cape Town

The Showmax Original Cape Flats neo-noir murder mystery, Skemerdans (landing on 28 April 2021), is set at the Oasis jazz club, the centre of a power struggle between two brothers, a scorned widow and an organised crime syndicate. It was filmed largely at the iconic Club Galaxy in Athlone, for three weeks in October during the 2020 lockdown.

Galaxy is the longest-running club in Cape Town, opened on 14 December 1978 by Shibba Jeram-Patel, his son Kantie Patel says.

“We owned the property for which, unfortunately at the time, there was little demand for office or retail space, and so a large portion of the ground floor was unoccupied for 10 months. We started with alterations and renovating at the beginning of January in 1978 with the emphasis on a dinner, dine and dance venue,” says Patel.

“The movie Saturday Night Fever hit our screens in the same year, around May 1978, which was an international hit and prompted us to spend a bit more on the dance floor – lighting, sound, etc.”

The club opened with the capacity for 200 patrons. “We had no experience regarding the management of a nightclub and restaurant. In fact, our first manager was Andre Dumas, whose initial job was only to guide us in setting up the restaurant,” recalls Patel.  

“Galaxy popularity was instant with more emphasis on disco dancing and the a la carte menu soon changed to a fast food type of menu. The 80s were indeed an exciting time when we began introducing live entertainment on Thursday nights, and the very popular Saturday afternoon jazz. It was also challenging when political struggle was at its peak, with the state of emergency.

“The range of artists varied from Dr Victor, Walk this Way, Danny K to Hugh Masekela, Letta Mbuli, Micasa – the list is endless.”

Skemerdans co-director and writer Amy Jephta is uniquely connected to the club. In the late 70s and 80s, her father was a member of a band called Hot Property. “They used to play at the jazz and pop clubs, a Friday, Saturday and Sunday night gig, like the guys on our show,” she says.

“Later in life, I have memories of coming to watch the jazz there, at West End. My brother, Benjamin Jephta, is a jazz musician – he’s actually doing the music for the show – and he had his training ground with these iconic musicians on the West End stage.”

The venue was hired for weddings, fundraising and quite a few political rallies on Sundays, which were linked via video to the Cine 400 cinema upstairs, says Patel.

Skemerdans is a Showmax OriginalSkemerdans is a Showmax OriginalSkemerdans is a Showmax Original

In August 2020, Patel received a call from Chanel Muller from Nagvlug films wanting to hire the Galaxy for a film shoot.

“Not much was discussed other than it’s about a family that owned a nightclub,” he says. “They made some minor changes, but none of our staff were involved.”

Galaxy has been closed since March 2020 due to Covid restrictions and lockdown, at which point its capacity had increased to 1 200 from the initial 200. Permanent closure has never been an option, says Patel, although downscaling in terms of numbers is currently being considered.

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Born Into Fame, coming soon