Laid-back venues, live music and Cape Town’s gay scene

by vickisleet

There are hundreds of venues to choose from in Cape Town - smart, casual and downright horizontal they’re so laid back, but here are a few of my favourites, each with a distinctive character and crowd

Easygoing places for drinks and good vibes

Asoka (68 Kloof Street, Gardens; +27 21 422 0909; www.asokabar.co.za) has been going for close to a decade now - in the early days it was Café Dharma, then it became Asoka son of Dharma, now it’s plain Asoka and the recipe works. It plays host to a glam crowd who like to play hard. Expect gorgeous leggy gals and metrosexual guys kicking back, slamming shooters and having a good time till the wee hours to the tunes of the Asoka DJs.

At The Waiting Room (273 Long Street; +27 21 422 4536), twentysomething urban hipsters rub shoulders while waiting to be called to their tables at Royale Eatery & Royale Kitchen downstairs (gettit? It’s the ‘waiting room’). It’s dressed to impress in retro fittings and fixtures and is a great chilled place to pop into while on Long Street. Tuesdays feature live electro jazz bands.

One of the newest places to have opened recently is Fat Back Soul (289 Long Street; +27 21 422 4086). It’s being frequented by a skinny jeans and Converse wearing designer-media crowd who love the intimate moody vibe, the cool tunes and the long cocktails they serve with aplomb. I’m a fan of Julep (021 423 4276; www.julep.co.za), the not-so-secret (see the website for a map on how to get there) hole in the wall without an address off Long Street. It’s teeny, it’s great for romantic cocktail (mint juleps of course) infused nights with your partner and there’s an equally cool crowd that hangs out here if you’re feeling social.

And for visitors who want to know where all the cool kids are, pop into & Union (Shop 7, St Stephen’s Church; 110 Bree Street; +27 21 422 2770; www.andunion.com), a beer and charcuterie ‘salon’ where quiet get togethers have a reputation for getting nicely out of hand. They also have interesting indie bands and live acts on a regular basis (pssst…the beer is the best but the prego rolls are insanely good) - it’s the brainchild of the guys behind the cult Vida e Caffé (www.vidaecaffe.com) coffee stores you’ll see dotted around the city - they’re obsessed with the artisan food and drink movement and their latest project is a case in point.

Listen to the music

For live music acts including DJs head for The Assembly (61 Harrington Street, East City; +27 82 856 743; www.theassembly.co.za) in the East City precinct - a bastion of local talent, it’s a place where underground acts are often given a step up and it holds the lift-the-roof-off parties. Mercury Live & Lounge (43 De Villiers Street, Zonnebloem; +27 21 465 210; www.mercuryl.co.za) has been a stalwart on this front for years and it wears its grungy status with pride.

Head for Zula Sound Bar (194 & 188 Long Street, City Centre; +27 21 424 2442; www.zulabar.co.za) for an authentic proudly South African bar-cum-club where up and comings take to the stage alongside local stars of the live underground performing scene (it’s also a favourite with backpackers staying on Long Street).

And for something more mainstream La Med (+27 21 438 5600; www.lamed.co.za) in Camps Bay is a hugely popular summertime sunset destination. Sip cocktails, marvel at the sea view and enjoy live music acts every Sunday - afterwards the DJ does his thing and things can get pretty wild.

Hanover Street GrandWest Casino & Entertainment World (Vanguard Drive, Goodwood; +27 21 505 7777; www.grandwest.co.za) is the place to go for quality live jazz acts and if you’re after something altogether more ‘Africa’, visit Marco’s African Place (15 Rose Street, Bo-Kaap; +27 21 423 5412; www.marcosafricanplace.co.za). Oh, and for people who relish the thought of a thoroughly cultural experience, do head for the City Hall, where Thursday night concerts, care of The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra (www.cpo.org.za) are a highlight.

Cape Town’s gay club and bar scene

Cape Town has a lively gay culture and this is evident in the number of gay clubs and bars in the city. The ‘pink strip’ is along Somerset Road in Green Point and it’s here you’ll find the most popular ‘action’ bar in town, Bronx (22 Somerset Road, Green Point; www.bronx.co.za). Check out the bare torsoed barmen with their impressive six packs and jostle the five deep crowds to get your drink. Nearby Café Manhattan (74 Waterkant Street; +27 21 421 6666; www.manhattan.co.za) has arguably the best and certainly the biggest burgers in town served up in a thoroughly camp environment. A newish burger-only restaurant in the area is Beefcakes (40 Somerset Road, Green Point; +27 21 424 9019; www.beefcakes.co.za) where cabaret acts, sequins and feather boas are the order of the day and the burgers are so good that this is booked out nearly every night of the week. Cruising happens at Beaulah (gay speak for ‘beautiful’) Bar (Cnr Cobern and Somerset Roads, Green Point) while the altogether more hardcore leather bar Bar Code (18 Cobern Road, Green Point) offers a less mainstream experience.

More expert advice on Cape Town

For suggestions on where to stay in Cape Town, see my Cape Town Hotels – Award winning expert hotel reviews, from cheap to luxury hotels in Cape Town page.

Read my overview on Cape Town nightlife.

 

 

vickisleet

I am a freelance lifestyle journalist and editor, and write for the likes of Time Out Cape Town, Eat Out, Eat In, Food & Travel UK and British Airways Horizons amongst others.

I also edit a blog www.iwantthat.co.za that regularly features exciting places to see in Cape Town. I have been writing for a living for the past ten years, prior to which I was involved in the food industry.

I’m a born and bred Capetonian and though I’ve lived and worked overseas and have travelled to many different cities, there is certainly no place like Cape Town AKA the Mother City – a place I like to call ‘the Mama of all Cities’. And when you see the plethora of breathtaking beaches, taste the new world wines, dine at the world class restaurants and bed down in some of the top notch hotels, I’m certain you’ll agree.

In recent years, Cape Town’s become a design and shopping hub too, so once you’ve sipped some local wines, scraped your plate clean, dusted the beach sand off your feet and popped up to the top of Table Mountain –spend some time at some of the city’s contemporary art galleries and interesting independent craft and design shops and see if you can find the perfect memento of your Cape Town trip. I thank my lucky stars daily that my work involves seeing, tasting and testing in the city’s shops, restaurants and hotels – and I love sharing my discoveries.

My Cape Town

Where I always grab a coffee/tea/hot chocolate: While the Vida é Caffe dark hot chocolate really does it for me (and if I drank coffee I’d probably join the ranks of regulars who’re hooked) I’m a Melissa’s The Food Shop hot chocolate gal through and through. They’re a milky confection of melted chocolate-hazelnut paste and the perfect accompaniment for a me-time magazine-filled morning.

Books for inspiration: Quivertree Publishing’s Hot Afro is a visual feast of many a South African (many of them Capetonian) home and offers eye candy and insight into local style.

Where to be seen this summer: Built for the FIFA World Cup held in 2010, the three-kilometre long fan mile takes people from the central business district to the magnificent Cape Town Stadium and its park-like surrounds - from here it’s a short stroll to the six-kilometre long Sea Point Promenade, where locals and visitors alike take in the sparkling Atlantic views, indulge in ice creams, join impromptu soccer games on the lawns or eye out the 'Walking the Road' statues installation currently based here.

The most breathtaking view: Unless the weather’s terrible or you have a really good excuse, going up to the top of Table Mountain is a must. Take the easy route up and down via the cable car or if you’re fit, the Platteklip Gorge hike will take around two hours - either way the views of the city and the Cape Peninsula are spellbinding.

My favourite stroll:  On the Atlantic Seaboard side, the Sea Point Promenade with its blue rinse grannies walking their dogs, bronzed adonises sweating up a storm on their daily jogs and mums pushing their charges in their buggies, there's never a dull moment and did I mention the beautiful sea views on this kilometres-long stretch? On the other side of the mountain is the Muizenberg-St James catwalk - a shortish catwalk with breathtaking views of False Bay. if i'm in the city for a meeting - if I have time, a leisurely stroll through The Company's Garden always has a restorative effect.

Best spot for some peace and quiet: I love Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with its neverending rolling lawns, mountain vistas and sights of the city is one of the city's most well loved gems. Take a blanket and a book and spend an afternoon snoozing under a tree.

City soundtrack: do yourself a favour, pop into any music store and buy a copy of a Freshly Ground CD - their Afro fusion sound is uplifting, heartwarming and a true indication of our beautiful rainbow nation. You'd do well to buy a copy of the latest Goldfish CD too - you'll love the electro jazz that's taking these talents all over the world.

Shopaholics beware: If protecting your plastic from bargains, one-off finds and must-have buys is a priority, don’t even think about venturing to Long and Kloof Streets. The two interconnecting arteries wind through the city virtually up to the mountain - on Long you’ll find edgy clothing boutiques, designer sneaker stores and pavement cafés teeming with well-heeled twenty and thirtysomethings (try out Royale Eatery & Royale Kitchen for the best burgers in town and some great people watching). Stroll up Kloof Street and stop in at smart lifestyle boutiques like O.live, Nap and Lim and make sure you take a look at Heartworks for cutting edge crafts by local talents.

Don't leave without: visiting the top of Table Mountain, you'll kick yourself if you don't. Trying dried meat biltong or a sweet and syrupy koeksister (a doughnut type delicacy), braving our chilly Atlantic waters and having fish and chips at Hout Bay harbour. Gifts? When I travel overseas I always take an animal or two made by a local craftsmen out of recycled plastic and they never fail to illicit a charmed response.