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.