A few months ago, I promised to write periodic posts about Melville guesthouses, restaurants, and shops. I’ve strayed from that commitment — the majority of my posts these days are about the Joburg city centre or more far-flung places outside of town.
So today I’m getting back to my roots. Melville is one of Joburg’s wackiest neighborhoods; it straddles a divide between tree-lined suburbia and urban grittiness. Melville is constantly changing — there are always quirky new places to visit, along with well-loved old standbys.
I’m not a Melville tourist, but I’ve just spent a few days wandering around pretending I am. Here is a recommended itinerary for a one-day visit to the place I call home in Jozi.
9:30 a.m.: Breakfast
If you stay overnight in Melville, odds are you’ll stay in a guest house and breakfast will be included in the cost of your stay. There are dozens of guest houses in Melville, and of course I haven’t stayed in any of them because I live here. But I recently visited Melville Manor, on 2nd Ave. between 6th and 7th Sts., and I can vouch for its tasty breakfast.
Jane is a former restaurateur and “jam fundi” — which means she’s really good at making jam. Breakfast at Melville Manor includes homemade muffins and jam, as well as eggs cooked to order, bacon, and grilled tomatoes. (Most Melville guest houses serve a full English breakfast.) Fill up because you’ll be walking a lot today.
10:30 a.m.: Antique Insanity
I’m not a big antiquer. But time and again, I find myself visiting Ruth’s Antiques on the corner of 4th Ave. and 5th St. The garden outside is an artistically arranged graveyard of antique junk. Inside is room after room of beautiful, but expensive, old furniture mixed with random pieces of bizarreness. You probably won’t buy anything but you can spend a good hour exploring.
Also, there are ducks. If you’re lucky you might spot an exotic feather-legged chicken.
11:30 a.m.: Book-hunting
There are a couple of musty used book shops along 7th St., as well as a nice book store down the road at Bamboo. But the best book-shopping experience in the area is at Die Boekehuis, just outside Melville in Auckland Park. To get to Boekehuis, head back down 5th Ave. to 7th St., turn right, and walk five or six blocks until you see Campus Square Mall on the right. You’ll see a sign for Boekehuis on the left.
Boekehuis was chosen by the International Booksellers Federation as one of the 50 most unique bookshops in the world in 2006. Set in a 100-year-old house, it has a small selection of mostly South African books and a sunny coffee shop serving baked goods from Koliander. After you’ve had a good browse, sit in the garden if weather permits, read the local papers, and enjoy a pot of tea and a scone.
1:00 p.m.: Go Vintage
Walk back up the hill to the 7th St. main drag and visit Reminiscene, just past 1st Ave. on the left. There are lots of unique clothing shops in Melville but this one is my favorite. I think it’s the mannequins. Rosemary, the owner, is legendary — she’s been known to offer champagne to her customers when she’s in the mood. I wasn’t that lucky but I still had fun looking around.
1:30 p.m.: Have a Cupcake
You might still be full from your English breakfast and subsequent snack at Boekhuis. If you’re hungry, grab a pizza from the Ant or a sandwich from the Melville Café, across from Reminiscene. But I recommend that you just continue snacking.
Stop at Rubinella, where you can buy a cupcake and a cappuccino for R20 ($3). Cupcakes are a religion in Washington D.C., and hence my standards are high. But the chocolate-Kahlua cupcake I had at Rubinella was impressive. Rubinella cupcakes are petite so you might need two — a great excuse to try out more than one of the wacky flavors.
Rubinella offers free Wi-Fi (as do most of the coffee shops and restaurants on 7th St.). So take a break, update your Facebook status, and spend some quality time with Yoda, Rubinella’s mascot.
By the way, Rubinella doubles as a florist. After enjoying your cupcake(s), you can purchase a bouquet for Jam Fundi Jane back at the guest house.
2:30 p.m.: A Leather Adventure
Are you into leather fetish wear? No? Either way, stop and have a look at Kinx. I’ve passed this shop at least 100 times and never investigated until yesterday. (I met I.C., the Kinx proprietor, when I was taking photos at Reminscene, which is next door. It was only after chatting with I.C. that I worked up the courage to visit his shop.)
Kinx sells all kinds of interesting garments and apparatuses, which I.C. was happy to show and explain to me in a friendly, informative, and not-at-all creepy way. I learned a great deal in my short time there. The bulk of Kinx’s business is custom-designed leather-wear, which is made locally at a Joburg factory. If you can think it up, I.C. can have it made for you.
3:00 p.m.: Wander
Walk Melville’s side streets. Take pictures of the mosaic doorways and funky garden walls. Admire the twisty jacaranda branches. Take a walk on the Melville Koppies.
View of downtown Joburg from 5th Ave. If you wander around town long enough, you might even spot the mielie lady!
If you plan to be in Melville for another day or two, stop in for a chat and a cup of tea with Maris-Lais at the Melville Visitors Centre. Marie-Lais knows everyone and everything in this town. A large percentage of the places I write about in my blog are places I learned about from her. Tell her a little about yourself and she’ll come up the perfect suggestion for a day in or around Jozi.
When you’re finished wandering, head back to Melville Manor for a nap or a lounge by the pool.
6:00 p.m.: Dine Beneath an Aloe
You may know that my favorite Melville restaurant is the Lucky Bean, at the corner of 7th St. and 5th Ave. But there’s another gem, Picobella, hidden away on 4th Ave., next door to Ruth’s Antiques. Picobella serves Italian-style sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and pastas. Everything I’ve ever ordered there has been delicious. Picobella also has the best terrace in Melville, under one of the prettiest aloe trees. Get there before sunset and enjoy a leisurely dinner.
If you have the energy, finish your evening with a nightcap at one of numerous bars or clubs on 7th St. (Ratz is my personal favorite.) Or just stroll back to the guesthouse, enjoy a good night’s sleep, and dream about breakfast the next day.