“Everyone has come to love The Winston and call it “home”. It’s a place full of stories and everyone has one. Anyone who has ever ventured down Clark Road for a beer, anyone who has ever gone to old Burn in Umbilo, even for one night – basically everyone I grew up with – will tell you theirs. It’s about the music, every musician that’s ever played here, every bad ass biker, every tattoo, every mosh pit scar and friendship made here,” says Matthew Scott Olivier.
Together with his brother, Luke, Matt took over one of Durban’s most infamous – and famous – icons three years ago.
It certainly has qualities that money can’t buy, a vibe to which one could never put a price – yet, it is also ironically a good business that has outlasted almost every other pub or club in the city.
“It’s always been around. It was a biker bar back in the 90s. When we took it over, we opened it up to multiple genres from hip hop to death metal. We’ve even had shadow puppetry here. Unit 11 and Burn had just closed down, so we had a bit of a monopoly but it’s been our responsibility to open it up to all genres,” he says.
After returning from Italy in 2010, Matt decided to start school discos in Kokstad. He was also working as a waiter in Durban. He’d bought up all the sound equipment when Unit 11 closed down and either rented it out or used it to throw parties at the Willowvale Hotel.
One Sunday, he was sitting with Belinda Baney, the former owner of the Winston. She admitted that she was looking to pass the pub on to someone.
“I said if she was ever thinking of selling it, she should give me a call. A week later she did – and three years later, here we are. We took it over in one week. We got the keys on a Friday and opened on a Monday and it’s been rocking ever since,” says Matt.
For him, it was about being in the right place at the right time – and being able to exploit a gap in the market.
He believes he has always been an entrepreneur at heart. “I come from a family of entrepreneurs, my grandparents owned Joyner Brothers in Kokstad which did well, but I learnt a lot from the successes and failures of their business.”
He studied Technical Drawing and Electronics at George Campbell Technical School and Sound Engineering at Damelin. This had a built in small business course.
He has also played in bands his whole life and cut his teeth in the hospitality industry.
“I went from renting venues to owning the sound. The next step was owning the bar. I was lucky because I worked for Gelero for so long that I became a manager. Then it became New York and I was promoted to operations manager, so I was basically running the two restaurants. I dealt with everything from top to bottom.”
At the time, the most popular venues were 80s and Tiger Tiger. “But the Winston only needs 50 people to keep it rocking. We’re lucky enough to have enough people every night. It’s all working out the way it should have.”
Being in Durban’s “university district” on the corner of Clark and Umbilo Road, The Winston is certainly well placed for business. It brings in between 500 and 800 people per week – not just Morningside locals and party goers from Toti to Umhlanga but also folk from Johannesburg and Cape Town and even internationals.
“Just last month, we got a call from the Director of the Cannes Festival. A South African and Argentinian director teamed up to do a short film. They filmed here for the day here at the pub. Two weeks before that we had Vice UK here with the second most famous rapper in the UK, Scratcher. They were here doing a documentary with Madala Kunene and another artist called Mmusi, from up the north coast who is now living in Belgium. We had a huge crew here.
“Two weeks after we had the Thrasher Skate Magazine team here and two American bands played at the pub. That’s the biggest skate magazine in the world. We’ve had cool stuff happening here. Come Back Kid also played here,” says Matt.
Former owner and rock n roll veteran, Belinda Baney, adds: “We’ve been in Time Out Magazine as one of the only alternative haunts in Africa. Before the Winston, we had Faces and Rose Garden and many different venues but they all closed down,”
Baney is currently writing a book about the pub that is probably Durban’s oldest live music venue. She’s including some of its more hard core times of sex drugs and rock and roll.
But she also laid the foundation that made it a successful business.
She owned the Winston for 20 years, turning it into an alternative institution. It was not so much a hunt for bar flies and cool dudes wishing to rendezvous with their friends as much as it was a place that saw many bands and people come of age as the metal head and punk scene grew in Durban.
Her ways of dealing with bad behaviour during the nineties and her declaration that “we do not tolerate any untowardness, pretentiousness or bullshit” became something of an urban legend.
“A lot of the lads grew up at the Winston. Many got a thrashing from me if they misbehaved and this is what made the Winston a lot like a family. The pub is respected by all the locals and now they boast of the days they got a thrashing from me,” she remembers.
Most local Durban bands played their first ever gigs at the pub. “Steve Jones from Sibling Rivalry was only 12 when he performed his first show with Matthew Wilson, and I was blown away. Sibling Rivalry was possibly one of the most successful and hard working bands that came out of Durban. And now they have all grown up and still gig together. They are now Matt Vend and the Tender Ten,” she says.
Baney took over the pub during the nineties. “My brother and I drove past the place and he said, ‘B, The Winston says To Let’… and I said ‘Ja, that sounds really cool’. When we went to the club to have a look, it was a hole but we were still hugely excited. It had been closed since we used to go there. At one stage, it was called BB’s Buzz Bar and, before that, it was The West Side Inn. Then Brian Hoption scooped it and called it the Winston Pub.”
Winston Churchill didn’t actually frequent the pub as some believe. It took his name because all the woodwork was from a ship that brought him to South Africa – and because he was also famous for drinking.
She enjoyed pulling in the new age punks and alternative people as well as welcoming a group of bikers that still cruised down to the club and did their thing. On a Tuesday night, bands from Cape Town and Jo’burg played.
“I’ve always been a rock and roll woman and that’s what I did. I was also a mother figure to the musos and bands while being a mom to my son and daughter who started Iron Fist together. Before the Winston, I was a housewife and I was also in retail. But my marriage fell apart. I was also a pantyhose model, so in many of the Cameo adds, the legs were mine!”
The Winston’s career has certainly been as colourful as her own. It has even hosted a wedding. “It is an institution and when Matt gets old like me he will leave it to someone who can take it further,” she smiles.
Matt is happy to continue from where she left off. “We’re doing it right. The fact that we’re getting international recognition makes it even better. As a business, it has grown. The majority of our locals come in at 1am in the morning. Much of our income is made from people coming in to The Winston after going to other parties. Last year in July, the Top Billing Crew came in for their after party.”
So, where is he going from here? “I just want it to fuel the Durban scene, I hope the rock and roll aura around the pub just explodes. Durban, I think, could be the raddest city in the world if we play our cards right.”
Matt would like to open up another club in Umhlanga, hoping to see more youngsters begin playing in bands and performing at the likes of the Winston.
“Hopefully someone will come and invest in a recording studio and we can invest in the massive talent we have here. The Winston is really a showcase for all local music and that’s what I’d like to do around Durban. We’re even considering setting up a small radio station operating from the pub.”