By Sarah Kahn
Photography by Dook
It’s hard to imagine why anyone would ever avoid any part of Cape Town, a city that seems to show off around every corner, as cloud-draped Table Mountain eases down to the ocean by way of hilly avenues lined with colorful Victorian, Cape Dutch, art deco, and Georgian houses. The mix is beguiling—a photogenic harmony of nature and urban life. And yet, despite its undeniable visual appeal, Cape Town’s Central Business District (CBD)
was in danger of devolving into a concrete wasteland until not too long ago, virtually abandoned after 5 pm, when offices closed and workers fled to the suburbs.
“The area was slowly dying,” Michael Pownall, general manager of the Taj Cape Town hotel
, says matter-of-factly. Thanks in part to efforts such as Taj’s 2010 foray into the neighborhood with the ambitious restoration of the grand South African Reserve Bank building, Cape Town’s heart beats again. Four years on, you’d never guess that the CBD was recovering from a brush with social irrelevance. “There’s an energetic vibe both day and night,” says Virtuoso advisor Susan Cauthen, “and the ever-expanding dining options range from Indonesian to French, Dutch, German, and more.”
You can easily explore the CBD in a lazy afternoon. Historic sites back up to fashionable new restaurants, shops, bars, and galleries, mostly clustered along the Bree, Long, and Loop Street arteries. The crypt below Saint George’s Cathedral
—where Archbishop Desmond Tutu once led services—has been converted to a posh jazz lounge; the gracious mid-seventeenth-century Company’s Garden sits a stone’s throw from Long Street’s raucous bars. History buffs, shoppers, nightclubbers, and gourmets strike gold in this revitalized swath. As creative locals strive to reinvent Cape Town during its year as World Design Capital, they need look no further than the CBD for inspiration.
Taj Cape Town
By far the CBD’s top address, this 176-room property directly opposite Saint George’s Cathedral
and Company’s Garden is within walking distance of the district’s finest shops and restaurants. Its signature Bombay Brasserie
restaurant, one of the hottest reservations in town, serves refined Indian fare beneath glittering chandeliers.
This sleek store on Loop Street showcases housewares by contemporary South African designers: Laurie Wiid’s industrial-chic decanters and wine glasses made from cork, quirky polyurethane salad servers in neon colors by Snapp, and Bamboo Revolution’s wildly popular watches crafted from—what else?—bamboo. 65 Loop Street; 27-21/426-5094.
Entering Clarke’s transports you to 1956 – the store feels completely unchanged since its opening. In fact, it relocated from its original space a block away just last year, beautifully re-creating its charm in a warren of densely packed bookshelves lining creaky floorboards. Retire to the upper floor’s faded art deco chairs with a hard-to-find tome on African history—there are thousands of rare texts to choose from. 199 Long Street; 27-21/423-5739.
A recent addition to Long Street’s nightlife that’s hard to miss: The two-story Victorian facade has been painted a bright, rather garish yellow. Upstairs, you’ll find 20 craft brews on tap and 99 bottles from which to choose, ranging from Swedish ciders to Czech lagers. Grab a seat at a banquette beneath a “chandelier” fashioned from clusters of beer bottles, or head out to the balcony framed by filigreed iron railings to be part of the festive street vibe. 223 Long Street; 27-21/424-3370
This petite gallery has a big reputation for spotlighting rising South African painters and sculptors. Monthly exhibitions feature solo shows from Richard Smith, Olaf Bisschoff, Sibusiso Duma, and other up-and-comers. 67 Loop Street; 27-21/424-9985
The House of Machines
At this new one-stop hangout geared toward guys, order a toasted bacon and Brie sandwich for lunch and browse the Thom T-shirts and skin care in the men’s boutique in the back – all while your motorcycle gets souped up in the speed shop. Afterward, linger over a malt whiskey at the bar. Note: You don’t have to own a bike to love it. 84 Shortmarket Street; 27-21/426-1400
Bolognese chef Luca Di Pasquale describes his casual Italian eatery as a “creative space for the artists of Cape Town” – but anyone, artist or otherwise, can drop by for jazz night and sample his fresh tagliatelle or bruschetta salvo with house-made Sicilian sausage and mushrooms. 15 Bree Street; 27-21/418-7655
Aproned waitstaff serve refined pub grub at this popular haunt. Favorites include the hake goujons, prawn curry, and a behemoth burger topped with tomato chutney and caramelized onions. 199 Bree Street; 27-21/422-4084
The names of designer Chloe Townsend’s accessories collection hint at the quirkiness of her wares: Queendom of Banana features supple leather totes, clutches, and purses with brightly colored patterns inspired by a trip to Kenya, while the focal point of South American-influenced Colorida is an extravagant multicolored leather headpiece. Townsend’s wizardry with leather has earned her a loyal following among the city’s style-conscious set. 229 Bree Street; 27-21/424-8127
Orphanage Cocktail Emporium
One of the most glamorous entrants to Cape Town’s bar scene goes by one of its most unusual names. Playing off its location on the corner of Orphan Street, the Prohibition-style lounge plies its stylish patrons with cocktails inspired by notable literary foundlings, such as Mrs. Havisham’s Daughter (Hennessy, Calvados, Grand Marnier, cardamom, and lapsang souchong tea). 227 Bree Street; 27-21/424-2004
No matter what time of day, this festive restaurant teems with Capetonians tucking into authentic Spanish dishes such as octopus salad, ham or prawn croquettes, and seafood paella, courtesy of a pair of Sevillian chefs. Inside, patrons feast beneath the watchful gaze of a gilded bull presiding over the dining room; on warm summer days, diners spill out to the sidewalk. 107 Bree Street; 27-21/426-0330.
South African Market
This new airy, loftlike space presents a wellchosen selection of South African designers across various mediums. In the skylit shop, you’ll find the likes of plush mohair blankets by Hinterveld, Xandre Kriel’s sculptural furniture design, Papillon Belle’s jewelry inlaid with colorful butterfly wings, and hand-dyed silk and cotton dresses by Nicola West. 107 Bree Street; 27-79/808-0641
Originally appeared in Virtuoso Life magazine, May 2014.
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