Cool new breed of entrepreneurs bringing fresh energy to Cape Town, writes Rachel Olding of Sydney Morning Herald
Tradition and history are beautiful things but if you’re looking for the emerging buzz of a foreign city, look for the young.
In Cape Town, like so many international cities, they’re increasingly clad in plaid shirts, plugged into the hottest global trends and leading a hipster revival mixing the best of different eras and cultures with their own Capetonian touch.
This seaside city of 3.8 million has always been a little different to the rest of South Africa. While Johannesburg is business-driven and bustling, Cape Town is so liberal and laid-back that locals joke even the traffic lights take longer to change.
University students and bohemian musicians mix on Long Street; gay couples and swanky interior designers in the De Waterkant area. The city’s ageing Dutch colonial buildings and fresh sea air often lead to accusations it is more European than African.
“That’s why we’ve got the baboons,” says tour guide Rhys Bradshaw. “To remind you.”
The food at Yours Truly. Photo: Rachel Olding
Young entrepreneurs are bringing new energy and home-grown creativity to pockets of the city, making for a fun expedition to seek out hidden micro-breweries and vintage stores among the tourist spots of Cradle Mountain, Robben Island and the waterfront precinct.
In-between ramshackle art shops and cafes on the city’s relaxed main thoroughfare, Long Street, there are boutique hotels like the Grand Daddy – part nightclub, part London’s Savoy Hotel (38 Long Street) with a trailer park rooftop bar – and hip new restaurants like Royale Eatery (273 Long Street) which does 50 different gourmet burgers and Jim Beam milkshakes.
Daniel Holland’s vine-covered coffee shop Yours Truly (175 Long Street) serves up a spectacular coffee from Deluxe (25 Church Street), a micro-brewery and minimalist coffee shop around the corner run by Carl Wessel and Judd Francis who source African beans and brew it into a darn fine flat white – Aussies rejoice.
Concept store Loading Bay
“In the last two years there’s been a tonne of new spaces open up,” Holland says. “I think people are just becoming a little bit more conscious of their lifestyle and are showing some initiative and doing things for themselves. It’s the whole mindset of being conscious buyers and we’re very in tune with that in Cape Town.”
The most exciting hubs, however, are found off the Long Street tourist radar in surrounding blocks and further afield in suburbs that are only just dipping their toes into gentrification.
A run-down biscuit factory in a dodgy part of town (“best to put your camera away,” Bradshaw warns) is fast becoming a go-to spot for creatives. The Old Biscuit Mill (375 Albert Road, Woodstock) is home to day and night markets, creative workshops, designer stores, farm stalls, restaurants and one-off exhibitions and events.
It’s just five kilometres west of the city centre but relatively out of the way – even more reason to go searching for hidden street art and trendy young footpath dwellers.
In the blocks around Long Street, there are gems popping up every week. Walk 10 minutes south-west to Kloof Street, a grittier strip full of locals cruising for everything from vintage skateboards to organic bacon and egg rolls.
When Dario Lette, 37, opened his contemporary lifestyle store A Store is Good (34 Kloof Street) on this street nine years ago, it was “quite dodgy and run down, to say the least. It’s slowly becoming a hub for locals,” he says. “There’s a great energy at the moment, it feels very up and coming. “Lette curates an intriguing collection of men’s clothing and homely pieces that may include minimalist T-shirts from local designers Mingo Lamberti and Simon Deporres one month, Pharrell Williams vinyls and Banksy art books the next.
A few doors down, skaters flood street-style store Supremebeing and young women hit up Wardrobe for vintage finds or its sister store, The Lot for a lairy mix of studded crop tops and Lomography cameras.
In an innocuous laneway off Kloof Street, Andy Fenner, 31, has been riding the recent wave of gastronomy in Cape Town with his trend-setting butchery, Frankie Fenner Meat Merchants 8 Kloof Street. If there’s one thing South Africans love, it’s their meat – big fillets, brisket, huge chunks of game meat, ham hocks, nose-to-tail, everything. Fenner’s store may look like something out of New York’s Meatpacking District but the former food critic, who moved from Johannesburg to Cape Town 10 years ago, sells only locally reared, free-range, ethically sourced fare like karoo lamb and beef from neighbouring farming town, Stellenbosch.
A tiny bar in the corner does coffee (they’re on to Deluxe too) and snacks like bacon croissants and a pie of the day. “The food scene is blowing up in Cape Town at the moment,” Fenner says. “I think one or two guys started pushing the boundaries and then others followed suit. In Jo’burg, people don’t take risks but Capetonians are pretty discerning. They’re ready to try new things which has allowed a lot more smaller, artisan, bespoke outfits to flourish.”
A few blocks north-west, bars and eateries are dotted around Bree Street and Buitengracht Street, eventually merging into the Bo-Kaap, a traditional Cape Maley settlement of houses painted in bright block colours.
Brewers &Union, 110 Bree Street serves up boutique German beers with huge, hearty meals and I Love My Laundry, 14 Bree Street is a head-scratching triple-threat: trendy cafe and wine shop out the front, laundromat and tailor out the back, vintage clothing, jewellery and local art market on the side. The red brick building has bolts of bright colour and a table the length of the main room, perfect for settling in with a coffee and cake. All while you wait for your gear to be washed and folded. The concept, borrowed from San Francisco by owner Clayton Howard, seems to work.
Close by, Loading Bay, 30 Hudson Street, De Waterkant is another multi-purpose concept store – a Scandinavian-inspired clothing shop attached to a fresh, airy coffee shop with whitewashed tiled walls and bikes hanging from the rafters.
It’s ideas like these making this offbeat city go round.
The writer travelled courtesy of South Africa Tourism.