HE’S colourful, refuses to let age slow him down and owns the hottest tavern in New Brighton, where he is an institution.
Chief Ngqoko’s Place, in a little cul-de-sac, has defied the odds and attracts some of the biggest names in entertainment.
Owner Zonwabele Solwandle’s tavern – which will host DJs Glen Lewis and Fistaz this weekend – is the hangout spot for anyone, from lawyers to politicians, some of whom make their way to New Brighton from Summerstrand to be seen in Port Elizabeth’s new “it” party place.
Solwandle, known as “Chief” to friends and patrons, said though there was nothing special about his tavern, it had somehow become a place where people hung out before they went clubbing.
“This place is hot and happening. When we started out, we had some problems with criminal elements, which we sorted out.
“Now we attract good people – very good people,” a snappily dressed Solwandle said of his clientele yesterday.
The small tavern has 14 CCTV cameras that keep track of customers at all times.
The New Brighton man, who only admits to being in his 50s, said popular DJs, including Christos, wanted to play at Chief Ngqoko’s because it was one of the most talked about places on Facebook.
“If anything happens here, good or bad, it starts trending on Facebook, with people tagging each other and me.”
Solwandle, who loves to socialise, has always been interested in entertainment.
“Growing up in New Brighton, we used to have beauty pageants. People would come over to my little shack, which was in Aggrey Road at the time.
“People from Johannesburg and Cape Town would squeeze into my tiny room because, to them, if they didn’t hang out at Ngqoko’s, then they have not really been to New Brighton.”
The father of 18 – four of whom are with his wife, Princess – enjoys hosting, so he decided to make it a daily activity.
“I’m a certified people’s person and my place reflects that. It is a great place for people of all ages [within legal limits] to mix. People like Loyiso Tsotsobe, who used to be a resident DJ here [hang out at the tavern].
“We also had ministers from the Presidency last week, who just came to chill. It’s that kind of place.”
The flamboyant tavern owner, who just completed a cocktail bar addition to his place, believes in socialising with patrons and getting to know regulars.
“I’m not the boss that sits in the background. If you are looking for me when the tavern is hopping, you’ll probably find me deep in the dance floor competing with the young ones.”
He said running his business kept him fit and young, “that’s why I don’t look my age”.
The tavern, which has a VIP room for distinguished patrons, sports tailor-made tables with stainless steel ice holders and storage cupboards for bags.
“But you’ll find the VIPs want to be out here socialising and dancing with the people instead of [being] closed off,” he revealed.
The outspoken man said he does not sell quart-sized beers at his place because they “attract the wrong element”.
Solwandle, who drives a flaming red Audi, said good neighbourly relations enabled him to operate without hassles.
“They are amazing [neighbours]. I hang banners for events on their gates, play music till all hours of the morning and they just support me.
“If for some reason I’m closed over a weekend, they would be the first to ask if anything is wrong since they did not hear any music.”
Solwandle said he kept his relationship with neighbours strong by ensuring the area in which he operates was constantly clean. Also, he kept a close watch on patrons, ensuring they were not unruly.
“For a rhanga [cul-de-sac] with a tavern, it’s always spotless. The cleaners start clearing up at 6am in winter and 5am in summer, so by the time my neighbours wake up, there is no evidence of revelry.”
Solwandle said the tavern was open seven days a week.
“And we always close at the time specified on our licence,” he said.
“Then people just sit and hang outside till the sun rises sometimes.”