KarenGuide Blog

Amazing adventures, real life reviews and inspiration all in this perfect guide built by local bloggers

Karen, beloved Karen, populated by trees, wild animals and a ton of inebriated expats. Hey! You know all those bored housewives gotta do something. Petite, innocuous, on the edge of town, Karen is packed full of bars and restaurants, some well known and some a local secret. So where are the best bars in Karen?

In the last year quite a few have shut down (The Purdy Arms, Marula, Mercantile and J’s v.1) but only to be replaced by some pretty cool new ones. Now, whilst no amount of grief counseling will ever replace the loss felt by the disappearance of Purdy’s, there are some decent places to eat, drink, dance and generally act nothing at all like a responsible 43 year old.

To prove it I took this withered old lady body on a pub-crawl a few weeks ago and hit the best bars in Karen.

Kengeles, Karen's latest sports bar

Kengeles Karen (there's also one in Westlands) is tucked down a dirt track off Marula Lane. A hidden local secret that’s thumping and pumping most nights of the week. Enter via an awesome pallet wood tunnel lit with neon lights and towering plants. You burst into a bustling bar, where the 80’s lighting and pallet wood theme continues, giving it a cosy log cabin feel. The lengthy fully stocked bar overlooks a large covered seating area, and a huge TV perfect for sporting events. Funky artworks dot the pub, little thoughtful touches; lights made from old spirit bottles, a truly impressive display of Jagermeister, random items collected over the years adorn ceilings and walls.

The bar serves cocktails, beer and wine. The bar/starter menu is decent pub grub; battered prawns, yummy samosas and excellent ribs. We didn’t stay for supper – watch this space for a food review.

Sundowners at J’s Rooftop Bar,

Karen J’s Rooftop bar has been reincarnated, reinvented and revamped. It’s moved from its former place on Karen Road to glitzy premises on the top of the Landmark Building. A bar and restaurant with a view over the green trees and traffic jams of Karen. It has a spacious modern deck that is perfect for sundowners and an elegant refined interior with leather seats and immaculate Afro / European vibe. A long bar is made for sitting and supping whilst listening to late night DJ’s and watching the hip crowd strut their stuff. It doesn’t feel like Karen, it feels like a city bar but without the driving and hassle. This is a good thing. I’ll fight anyone that says Karen isn’t the best place to live in town… but even I feel claustrophobic at times.

I haven’t eaten at J’s yet, and the reviews I’ve heard on food are mixed, but I can guarantee that the specially crafted cocktails are amazing, possibly the best in town.

The best food in town at The Talisman Restaurant

We aren’t animals, so we decided to eat. The best, and some might say the only place, to go on a Friday & Saturday night is The Talisman. This Nairobi institution has some of the best food in town. I love this place, simply love it, but I’m not alone. Packed with tourists by day and locals by night. The food and service are unbeatable in Karen. Their regular menu features things like Pork belly (out of this world, marbled with fat, rather than great globby blobs of it), fillet steaks with butternut mash, 5 spiced tuna, an amazing Eiffel Tower of a burger, and proper fish and chips. It has a large vegetarian menu: ginger teriyaki tofu, halloumi & vegetable fritter, raw pad thai with grilled tofu and lots more. A sushi menu with all the usual favourites (try the coconut tempura prawns) and specials which change weekly. The last time I went to the Talisman I had the most amazing risotto of my life. It was artichoke and king prawn, filled with all the flavours of the sea, the perfect consistency and texture. I've since had a dream about it, it was that good.

It’s impossible to visit Talisman without the consumption of a Dawa – that ingenious cocktail of vodka, lime and sugar. Tali’s pulled one out the bag last time with the offer of a spiced rum Dawa. I’m unsure if it were that or the shots that led to the midnight singing and being the last people to prop up the bar.

Head to the Talisman on the first Friday of the month for Mustang Tali and you will find half of Karen busting moves on the dance floor until the wee early hours.

Que Pasa bar and restaurant in Karen

Que Pasa is one of Karen's hidden gems, definitely a winner on the best bars in Karen, list. It’s so hidden that for over a year I thought it was just a place that sold pizza and spit roast chicken. Tucked away in Karen crossroads shops, the unremarkable entrance opens into a cavernous space that’s a hotpot of fun and dancing. Now I’m going to hold my hands up and admit that by the time I got there it was past midnight and eating was the last thing on my mind, and so I'm not going to do a food review here, but it was fabulous. Tables and chairs opposite the bar are pushed aside to make a dance floor, cosy nooks upstairs are perfect for quieter moments. The place was uproariously alive; a melee of outrageous dancing and pant-wetting laughing. Yep, it’s a fun place. It’s the place for drinks and dancing and late night capers. And it was also the place that I called it a night.

Food-wise, I know the pizzas are good and friends vouch for the rest of the food. Let me know your thoughts if you have eaten there.

Alternative best bars in Karen

Tamambo Karen Blixen

I love Tamambo but I don’t know anyone that goes here. It is situated in an old colonial building next to ‘posh’ restaurant, Tamarind. A a lovely location in beautifully maintained gardens. There is often a band playing inside on weekends. The outside opens up onto a covered area with relaxed seating and ambient lighting. People smoke hookahs and drink Dawa’s (this is where they were invented). It’s a laid back place that is too often overlooked.

Hemmingways cocktail terrace and bar

For a cocktail with a view, you could do worse than head to Hemmingway's. This 5* restaurant feels more Bahamas than Nairobi with its plantation-style architecture, gushing fountains and manicured gardens. I love to head up to the balcony on the first floor and drink wine and cocktails in elegant surroundings. A balm at the end of the day, a million miles away from the rumble and tumble of my kids.

Planet Picnic

Planet Picnic has its fans, I am not one of them but that doesn't mean you shouldn’t try it, because really it’s pleasant enough. My main issue is its location within a business park. I’m reluctant to get my groove on in front of a bank of offices, and it’s a nightmare to bring kids here as there is no place for them to run and play. I haven’t been here at night. People tell me it has a great vibe. Leafy surroundings, clean rustic feel with wooden tables, apparently the food is good. I’m probably being mean. Go and try it out and let me know…

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Nadine Murphy is an Effusive, enthusiastic, lifelong traveller and sometimes vagabond. She is a mother of 3 who spends her days writing about life in Kenya and searching for the perfect beach, book and glass of red.

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