Highgate hijinks headache

New era for landmark hotel gives neighbours sleepless nights

Partygoers had a great time at the Highgate Hotel a few weeks ago.
Partygoers had a great time at the Highgate Hotel a few weeks ago.
Image: Facebook / Highgate

An East London landmark, the Highgate Hotel, has undergone a revamp – but the new owners have raised the ire of their neighbours with a number of weekend music events.

According to residents, loud music emanating from open-air concerts in the hotel carpark on some weekends, and the unruly crowds spilling out of them, have disturbed the peace.

The Highgate Hotel is marked in history as the scene of a terror attack in which five people were killed on May 1 1993, when unknown men fired automatic weapons and tossed a grenade into the hotel. While there is still a memorial plaque commemorating the event and those who died, the new owners have spent millions upgrading the hotel.

However, not all these changes are appreciated.

Neighbour Clodine van Heerden and some other Highgate residents complain that the events hosted by the hotel are chaotic, with foundation-shaking music keeping them awake well into the early hours.

The noise level, with specific reference to the music, was so loud at one point after 1am that the walls of our home shook and the windows vibrated.

“The noise level, with specific reference to the music, was so loud at one point after 1am that the walls of our home shook and the windows vibrated,” said Van Heerden, referring to a recent event featuring DJ Euphonik which was held in the open air of the carpark.

DJ Myburgh, co-owner of the Highgate, and Phillip Louwrens, the establishment’s event coordinator, insisted they were doing as much as they could to accommodate surrounding residents, going so far as to offer complainants a complimentary night at a bed and breakfast to escape the noise.

Louwrens told the Daily Dispatch they’d had BCM at their events with a decibel reader to ensure they remained below the limit of 80dB.

“We are doing everything we can to completely comply with regulations,” he emphasised.

Van Heerden said that possibly the worst aspect of the music event was the belligerence of revellers outside of the establishment.

In an e-mail sent to the Daily Dispatch she said loud music from parked cars, drag-racing up and down the street and public urination were all common fare.

Both Myburgh and Louwrens acknowledged that this was a problem, albeit one out of their control. They both said it was the most frequent complaint they had received but that at the end of the day it was an SAPS issue, as what happened outside the venue was not their responsibility.

“We still went to the effort, and spent extra money, to have more security outside to ensure the cars are taken care of and that people aren’t playing music too loud,” said Louwrens.

He explained that the complaints had only started coming in after the Euphonik show, with about 800 revellers, about two weeks ago. Their first big event at the establishment was a learning experience which they would use for planning future events, he added.

This occasion was the only one to be held in the parking lot due to the number of people attending and usually events were hosted on the lapa.

“We’ve gone to a lot of trouble to keep up with BCM’s regulations and to accommodate people but we have to have these functions – they are necessary, we can’t make a living just from people staying here and drinking at the bar,” said Myburgh.

Van Heerden said she did not want the Highgate Hotel to close down but she hoped that a compromise could be found.

She suggested that the venue host their events indoors and invest in soundproofing.

BCM spokesman Samkelo Ngwenya said: “Firstly, the city is reviewing its bylaws based on some of the challenges we face when it comes to entertainment and events and establishments.

“Issues of noise levels, operating hours, licence conditions etc [are all under review].

“The advert calling on community public participation is in today’s [Monday’s] paper.

"Secondly, the issue of enforcement is critical, because while we are not the ones that award the licence, we have an obligation to assist the SAPS and [Liquor] Board in the adherence of licences including the motivation towards their revoking if needs be.

“Highgate is no exception, this is why we are setting up a Municipal Court towards enforcing these with a fully fledged city police force.

“I think business people as well need to be realistic and reasonable by respecting the communities in which they operate because in most times these are domestic issues that can be settled sensibly where there’s mutual understanding.”