The four-storey Princess Hotel on Tom Mboya Street is older than independent Kenya. Its bar has equally had a chequered history.
It was a place for Nairobi’s who’s who back in the day when racial discrimination dictated where you hanged out.
The Princess Hotel was for the well-heeled Africans like politicians and white-collar jobbers. Many famous love affairs were forged here.
It was here that the late politician and gender activist Wambui Otieno met her first husband, Akoko Mboya, a lawyer after she was released from detention in Lamu Island Prison.
Akoko was in the company of SM Otieno that January 1961, the year SM returned from his law studies in India’s Bombay University as part of Oginga Odinga’s Eastern Bloc student ‘airlifts’, which countered Tom Mboya- and Julius Gikonyo Kiano-fronted American Airlifts.
As fate would have it, a friendship between SM and Wambui had struck when her dad, Tirus Waiyaki, was SM’s supervisor at the High Court in the 1950s and was rekindled at the Princess Hotel – where Wambui Otieno became a manager and part owner.
Wambui – one of the less than five couples invited for uhuru day celebrations with the Shakespeare-quoting SM on December 12, 1963 – later gained national limelight during the bitter legal battle for the body of her deceased husband SM Otieno who died of a heart attack in December 1986.
Their love had blossomed at The Princess Hotel. Retired President Mwai Kibaki learnt he had been appointed Kanu’s organising secretary while swilling cold Whitecaps at The Princess Hotel in 1960, after returning from a teaching stint at Uganda’s Makerere University at the invitation of Jaramogi Odinga.
Kibaki took Lucy Muthoni, an Alliance Girls’ High School alumni, trained teacher and college principal, to The Princess Hotel in a Volkswagen Beetle two years before marrying Kenya’s third First Lady in 1962!
Kibaki was then 29 years old, and the mother of Jimmy, Judy, Tony and David Kagai Kibaki, was 20.
Mama Lucy died in April 2016.
Besides the Princess, the only other trendy joint east of Uhuru Highway for classy Africans was the Ambassadeur Hotel along Moi Avenue in Nairobi, where the likes of future presidents Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Milton Obote of Uganda slept while attending political conferences in 1960s Nairobi.