Cape Town has a vibrant night life. Nonetheless, there aren’t many bars or clubs which are specifically geared for meeting other expatriates (Paulaner Brauhaus and The Dubliner at Kennedy’s are two exceptions listed below). Instead, gathering points for foreigners tend to be in delis and breakfast joints such as Giovanni’s in Green Point and Raith’s in the Garden Centre (see their listings under ‘Specialized Groceries’ in the Food section). Other manners of meeting fellow-foreigners are detailed under ‘Networking’.
That said, you will often encounter expatriates in most of the popular clubs and bars. Highlighted below are a few of the best venues in the major party districts (as well as a few you might want to avoid).
Note that most bars are open from midday, whereas clubs open between 18:00 and 22:00. Live music and DJ’s are often scheduled for 21:00 or 21:30, but only really start playing at 22:00 or later. They’re allowed to stay open till 04:00, but may close earlier, depending on custom. Most clubs have cover charges on weekends – these range from R10 to R50, though they do go higher for special events and festive occasions.
In terms of finding out about up and coming events in Cape Town, there are a few good music and event publications on and off line.
- http://www.whatson.co.za aims to list every event happening in the country, and doesn’t tend to fall too short of its ideal. The site features area, category and date search functions to help you find what you’re looking for.
- Your LMG (Live Music Guide) is a free publication available in most bars or clubs, and can also be viewed online (visit http://www.yourlmg.com/) . It’s a particularly good resource if you’re interested in learning about the local rock and indie scenes.
- The Next 48 Hours is a newspaper-style event guide widely circulated through newsagents and tourism centers. It covers the largest and most prestigious events happening over the weekend, from craft markets, garden shows and art gallery openings to night life and theatre events. You can also view it online at http://www.48hours.co.za.
Bars and Clubs
With the incredible variety of clubs, bars and restaurants on this strip, if there’s nothing here that meets your fancy, you probably won’t enjoy Cape Town very much. Long Street, on your average night, tends to be fully stocked with transient foreigners. This is due to the large number of backpacker-hostels in the area. Of particular note is Carnival Court, a backpacker hostel that doubles as a bar and has two pool tables. With its flexible policy when it comes to drug use, it’s a frequent locus for locals looking to smoke marijuana on the large balcony overlooking the street. It can be a fun place to stop in for a drink, but is really quite dingy, and not the sort of venue in which most expats would spend an evening.
- Carnival Court: Address: 255 Long Street, Call 021 423 9003 or visit http://www.carnivalcourt.co.za
Right next door, however, you’ll find Waiting Room, a relaxed, yet architecturally sophisticated, night club so named as it’s the place people meet before going to parties at nearby night clubs and bars. It frequently hosts local bands and live DJ’s, and can become very crowded. There are three levels, including a rooftop area with views of Table Mountain, and is one of the nicer venues in which to drink and socialize. It connects to Royale Eatery, which specializes in gourmet burgers.
- Waiting Room: Address: 273 Long Street, Cape Town, Call: 021 422 4536
Right across the road is Fiction. While its décor changes daily, this club generally holds to a retro theme, incorporating imagery of classic movies, pulp fiction and video games. It’s where the local artists and creatives gather to listen and dance to Electro and Indie music mixed by some of the best local DJ’s.
- Fiction: Address: 226 Long Street, Visit http://www.fictionbar.com or call 021 424 5709
To one side of Fiction is Marvel, a small club popular with Africans. It plays Hip Hop and RnB, and gets claustrophobically packed most nights, often with the very drunk. In the opposite direction is JoBurg, a medium-size club with a similar playlist and clientele, albeit a little more breathing room. Neither is particularly worth seeking out.
- Marvel: Address: 236 Long Street, Call: 021 426 5880
- JoBurg: Address: 218 Long Street, Visit: http://www.joburgbar.com or call 021 422 0142
Directly across the road is the Dubliner, a classic, Irish-style pub and karaoke bar that is known for attracting quite a few Irish expatriates. It can be great fun or a little grating, depending on your mood. Kennedy’s upstairs is a very upmarket cigar bar with frequent live jazz and blues performances, and is well worth the visit. It also houses an excellent restaurant.
- The Dubliner: Address: Ground Floor, 251 Long Street, Call 021 424 1212
- Kennedy’s: Address: First Floor, 251 Long Street, Call 021 4241212 or visit http://www.kennedys.co.za
Moving down the road (in the direction of the harbor) you’ll find a dozen more bars and clubs. Zula, the afro-themed live music lounge, is good for sundowner cocktails and the occasional gig. Chrome (just up Pepper Street) is a large club mirrored on virtually every surface, and is very fashionable amongst underage teenagers with fake ID’s. Long Street’s branch of stones, the franchised pool bar, has about ten wonky pool tables and plays the same music every night.
- Zula Bar: Address: 194 Long Street, Call 021 424 2442 or visit http://www.zulabar.co.za
- Chrome: Address: 6 Pepper Street, Call 083 700 6078 or visit http://www.chromect.com
- Stones Pool Bar: 166 Long Street, Call 021 424 0418 or visit http://www.stones.co.za
Further down yet is Neighborhood, the last bar on the Long Street strip, and one of the better ones. It features marvelous décor to a classical, quasi-Victorian theme, along with a very large wraparound balcony and sit-down restaurant (the kitchen’s open till 23:30). The bartenders also make rather good cocktails, made even more attractive by their two-for-one happy hour specials.
- Neighborhood: 169 Long Street, Cape Town, Tel: 021 424 7260
The Bang Bang Club is a big, chic venue owned by some of Cape Town’s top commercial house DJs. It features excellent sound and lighting throughout its three bar areas, and has a large VIP room ideal for special occasions.
- Bang Bang Club: Address: 70 Loop Street, CBD, Visit http://www.thebangbangclub.co.za or call Samantha on 082 397 1555 to book. Alternatively, e-mail Samantha@thebangbangclub.co.za.
FTV Bar, a trendy, upmarket cocktail bar and nightclub, is part of the fashion channel’s worldwide chain of clubs, and is particularly popular for its Wednesday commercial R&B nights. It holds to a smart casual dress code (requiring that men wear collared shirts and formal leather shoes).
- FTV Bar: Address: 114 Hout Street, Corner of Buitengracht, CBD, Visit http://www.ftv.co.za or call 021 426 6000.
On the other side of City Bowl is Assembly, a very large club that appeals primarily to the young, alternative and punk markets, but the décor and design of the place has taken a turn for the better of late, and the club remains one of the most popular in the city. It’s known for bringing international acts on the Electro and Dance music scene to Cape Town, and time on its turntables is hotly contested by local DJ’s.
- The Assembly: Address: 61 Harrington Street, CBD, Visit http://www.theassembly.co.za or call 021 465 7286
Chevelle is an extremely upmarket concept bar that sees a lot of traffic from Cape Town’s celebrity elite. It’s laid out over three levels, which includes four bars and a double volume dance floor, along with an outdoor olive garden sitting area, making it the largest club around in terms of floor space, as well as the most extravagantly ornamented. It’s expensive, and keeps to a smart casual dress code.
- Chevelle: Address: 84 Harrington Street, CBD, Visit http://www.chevelle.co.za or call 021 461 8701
Three streets up you’ll find Mercury and The Shack, the one a night club, the other a pool bar. Mercury mostly hosts live music and DJ’s, tends to be crowded and filthy (your shoes will literally stick to the floors), and is popular with college students and high school kids.
The Shack is a pool bar, with five bars arrayed over two levels, including a large outdoor area. It’s a fun, unpretentious place to enjoy a drink and a play a few racks.
- Mercury: Address: 43 Devilliers Road (Just off Roeland; turn left at the Engen gas station) Zonnebloem, CBD, Visit http://www.mercuryl.co.za or call 021 465 7286
- The Shack: Address: 45 Devilliers Road, Call: 021 461 5892
While this much-storied party zone has come down a little bit with the demise of mega-club Opium, it remains the heart of gay culture in Cape Town, and has a few popular mainstream bars for the otherwise inclined.
Starting on the CBD side of Green Point in Somerset Road you’ll find a branch of Cubana, the popular cigar lounge and cocktail café franchise, situated next the Harley Davidson store. Cubana serves decent food and cocktails, plays a mix of Latin and pop music, is fairly priced and can be a fun place to begin an evening. It’s open from eight in the morning, so it’s also a place to enjoy a few drinks when most bars are yet to open.
- Cubana: Address: Ground floor, De Waterkant Centre, 9 Somerset Road, Green Point, Visit http://www.cubana.co.za or call 021 421 1799
Bronx is Cape Town’s longest-lived gay bar. It’s a small, compact club that plays high energy dance music alongside stereotypical eighties hits (“At first I was afraid, I was petrified…”). Bartenders are (for the most part) young, muscular men, who work topless.
Right next door is Beulah bar, a club aimed at gay and lesbian customers. Beulah plays commercial dance music, serves decent cocktails, and is popular as an interim club to drink and dance at.
A short way down Napier street is Crew, a newly established gay club decidedly more upmarket than Bronx. It features a laser-lit, mirrored dance floor and a large, comfortable sitting area. The bartenders also make excellent cocktails, and are attired in imitation of the Bronx fashion: fit, and shirt-free.
- Bronx Action Bar: Address: 22 Somerset Road, Green Point, Visit http://www.bronx.co.za.
- Beulah Bar: Address: 30 Somerset Road (Corner of Coburn), Green Point, Visit http://www.beaulahbar.co.za or call 021 421 6798.
- Crew Bar: 28 Napier Street, Green Point.
A short drive along Main Road in the direction of Sea Point will put you outside Buena Vista Social Café, a Cuban themed establishment that, aside from its excellent restaurant, is a great place for cocktails and dancing on weekends. The club hosts salsa classes on Sundays, and is a fun, social place to learn or practice your dance technique.
- Buena Vista Social Cafe: Address: 1st Floor, Exhibition Building, 81 Main Road, Green Point, Visit http://www.buenavista.co.za or call 021 433 0611
The V&A Waterfront
Paulaner Brauhaus is a large, rustic restaurant designed to a German-beer-garden theme. It serves excellent home-brewed beer and hosts regular live music performances, and is a locus for German expatriates who gather there to drink, socialize and enjoy Paulaner’s traditional freshly baked pretzels.
- Paulaner Brauhaus: Address: Shops 18 and19, Clock Tower Precinct, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Visit http://www.paulaner.co.za or call 021 418 9999.
Camps Bay and Clifton
By day, Camps Bay beach front is frequently congested as sunbathers pack themselves cheek-by-jowl on the sand and dusk does little to thin the crowds. There are numerous restaurants-cum-bars along this stretch, but because Camps Bay is a residential area, only one club has managed to get past zoning regulations.
Ignite is a large, double-volume night club with a smart casual dress code. Its bar crew serve good cocktails, while the enormous, gazebo-sheltered balcony makes for an ideally luxurious setting in which to enjoy the sight of the sun setting over the ocean (the club opens at 17:00). Ignite plays house, dance and commercial music, and sees regular performances from Cape Town’s top radio DJ’s.
- Ignite: Address: 2nd Level, The Promenade, Victoria Road, Camps Bay, Call 021 438 7717
With its trendy, beach-house décor and a playlist mingling dance and house music, the relatively petit Café Caprice always seems to attract the most tanned, wealthy, celebrity-riddled crowd of any venue in the city. It’s also known as the heart of Capetonian nightlife on a Sunday, when you’ll often find it still packed at 2am.
- Cafe Caprice: Address: 37 Victoria Road (Corner of Van Kamp), Camps Bay, Visit http://www.cafecaprice.co.za or call 021 438 8315
Dizzy’s restaurant is a late night eatery that makes seafood, burgers, pasta and some pretty good pizza. The kitchen stays open according to demand, often until the wee hours of the morning. Adjoining is the ever-popular Dizzy’s pub and cigar lounge, a small bar-cum-club that hosts DJ’s, local cover bands, and regular karaoke evenings. This is a fun place to go on the odd weeknight when there’s nothing happening in the CBD.
- Dizzy’s: Address: 41 The Drive, Camps Bay, Cape Town, Visit http://www.dizzys.co.za or call 021 438 2686
La Med is a bar and restaurant with a large deck overlooking the football fields between Glen Beach and Clifton 4th. It serves cocktails and a variety of seafood, as well as gourmet burgers and pizzas. It’s popular for sundowners, and often long after sundown, as it frequently plays host to top radio DJ’s and local musical acts, attracting massive crowds to its bars and dancefloors.
- La Med: Address: Glen Country Club, Victoria road, Clifton, Visit http://www.lamed.co.za/ or call 021 438 5600
Observatory really doesn’t have anything to speak of if you’re hoping for a glamorous night on the town. True to the bohemian image of the area, clubs are usually informal, cheap, and often grunge-level filthy.
The bulk of the clubs in Obz are arrayed over Lower Main Road, where you’ll find a very large branch of Stones with around 15 pool tables. Just across the intersection with Station Road is Barmooda, a mediocre little night club with a relaxed atmosphere, suitable for a stopover drink if you’re at a loose end (it opens at 21:00).
Next door is the biggest club in the area, Roots, a Rastafarian-themed club most popular on its weekly psytrance nights (every Wednesday). It has three bars, all built from island-style raw wood and thatch, and a large, sand-floored outdoor sitting area, and can be great for a night of (slightly dingy) revelry or laid back fun. It is more of a student hangout than anything, though, so if you don’t fit into the under 30 bracket, you might want to think again. The typical cover charge on Wednesdays is R10.
- Barmooda: Address: Corner of Lower Main and Station, Observatory, Visit http://www.barmooda.co.za or call 021 447 6752.
- Roots: 96 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Visit http://www.rootsclub.co.za or call 021 448 7656.
Gandalfs is about half a kilometer down Main, and is the local rock and Goth haunt, with an interior cheaply painted to look like the inside of a castle. Their gig venue, R.O.A.R., hosts rock bands (usually metal), while DJ’s downstairs cater to more mainstream musical tastes with a mix of classic and commercial hits. They’re known for extremely cheap drink specials, so be aware that Friday and Saturday nights can get a little rowdy.
- Gandalfs: Address: 299 Lower Main Road, Observatory, Visit: http://www.gandalfs.co.za
Cape Town’s secondary business centre has a few clubs that are particularly popular with the local studentry. Most of them have strict ID policies –People in their late twenties without ID are often turned away, so be sure to have yours on hand to avoid disappointment (drivers license cards are also accepted).
Foremost amongst Claremont’s night spots is Tiger Tiger, a very large, fairly upmarket club with four bars arranged in a circular format around a central dance floor. Tiger plays commercial dance, pop and RnB hits, and draws big crowds on Tuesdays (student night), when it offers great drink specials. This is at the expense of a large cover fee (between R50 and R100) and a dress code that calls for collared shirts and leather shoes. If you can get your name on the guest list, do so, as busy nights see late arrivals standing in Tiger’s queues for hours at a time.
- Tiger Tiger: Address: Upper Ground Level, Stadium on Main, 103 Main Rd, Claremont, Visit http://www.tigertiger.co.za or call 021 683 2220
Situated just next door is Tin Roof, a nigh-on equally popular club without the cover charges or dress requirements. It plays commercial hits, and features a very long bar that makes getting a bartender’s attention less challenging than most of Cape Town’s clubs. Its dance floors are usually great fun, but the venue has been known to attract large groups of local teenage rugby players and bodybuilders, which can result in a somewhat tense atmosphere, punctuated by the odd fight.
- Tin Roof: Address: Corner of Main Stegmann Roads (Opposite Steers), Claremon, Call 021 674 6888.
The area also features a branch of the franchised pool bar Stones, with the usual Stones blend of commercial music with terrible pool tables. Right across the road is the original branch of Cubana. It has a large outdoor area with couches and umbrellas, good for enjoying cocktails and a hookah pipe on a summer evening.