Three Bars for Great Cocktails in Jozi

by | Jan 4, 2017 | Food and Drink, Johannesburg | 10 comments

I’ve never been a big cocktail drinker. With the exception of an occasional margarita at a Mexican restaurant or gin and tonic on a game drive, you’ll rarely see me sipping liquor. I feel like most cocktails are 80 percent ice, and I find myself finished after five minutes and wishing I’d ordered wine instead.

However, I’ve recently been to three new bar/restaurants in Joburg that transformed my perception of cocktails, inspiring me to write my first-ever cocktail blog post. Here they are:

1) Social Kitchen + Bar

Bartender Thami making cocktails at Social Kitchen + BarThami Gobedi, bartender at Social Kitchen + Bar.

Social Kitchen + Bar is notable for several reasons. First, it’s a restaurant inside Joburg’s largest and best known retail bookstore: Exclusive Books in Hyde Park Mall. Second, Social Kitchen + Bar has one of Joburg’s top chefs, Russell Armstrong, and the food is spectacular. (I haven’t eaten a full meal there yet but I’ve tasted some mind-blowing samples.) Third, the bar takes inspiration from its location and offers a creative menu of literature-inspired cocktails.

Social Kitchen + BarThe Social Kitchen dining room which, unlike all the other restaurants in Hyde Park Mall, has actual windows.

Uncle Tom's Cabin cocktailA cocktail inspired by Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, made with Bulliet bourbon, lemon, orange marmalade, and Angostura bitters. Underneath the cocktail are several other books that inspired drinks on the menu. 

I discovered the Social Bar + Kitchen cocktails during a work assignment, when I went to photograph the drinks for my friend Marie-Lais’ “Other Side of the City” column in the Saturday Citizen newspaper. This turned out to be a most delightful photography assignment, as I sipped cocktails, nibbled delicious food, and laughed a lot while taking photos of the most photogenic drinks I have ever come across.

Bartender Dom de Lorenzo makes cocktailsBartender Dom de Lorenzo crafts a cocktail.

Thami makes a cocktail Thami pours a drink inspired by The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, with Ketel One Vodka, orange juice, and passion fruit.

The Secret Garden cocktailThe Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, was one of my favorite books growing up. The cocktail it inspires includes Tanqueray No. Ten, rose, chamomile, and lemon.

Cocktail at Social Kitchen + BarOne Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey, inspired a cocktail with an actual origami cuckoo.

My only criticism of Social Kitchen + Bar’s literary cocktail menu is that there are no South African or African books included. Apparently that is set to change in 2017 though.

Social Kitchen’s cocktails range in price from R60 ($4.40) to R95 ($7) — not cheap but totally worth it.

2) The Shadowboxer

UPDATE (2019): Sadly the Shadowboxer has closed.

The Shadowboxer is a new restaurant and bar on Greenway Road in Greenside. The Shadowboxer is just up the street from, the bubble tea franchise, and owned by the same people who own Therefore it should come as no surprise that the Shadowboxer serves — you guessed it — BUBBLE TEA COCKTAILS.

Bubble tea cocktail from the ShadowboxerThis is a blueberry tequila sour with blueberry popping pearls. If you don’t know what popping pearls are, well…They’re difficult to explain. You need to find a bubble tea shop and try them out, or just go straight to the Shadowboxer for the alcoholic version.

I imagine there are probably other places in the world that have merged the idea of bubble tea into alcoholic cocktails before, but definitely not in Joburg. I find the idea quite revolutionary.

Strawberry bubble tea drinkAnother Shadowboxer cocktail with strawberry juice, mint, and strawberry popping pearls.

The Shadowboxer’s menu is varied, offering Asian-inspired dishes as well as pizzas, burgers, and flatbreads. I tried the spicy pulled pork steamed bao buns and found them pretty good, although not as awe-inspiring as the hand-cut chips (fries) with delectable dipping sauce that came on the side. I’m keen to try the burgers next time. The Shadowboxer also serves a nice selection of wine, beer, sangria, craft iced tea (yes, that’s a thing now), and non-alcoholic bubble tea drinks.

The Shadowboxer’s cocktails range in price from R35 ($2.50 — what a deal!) to R58 ($4.25).

Sin & Taxes (working name – may change)

UPDATE (2019): The correct name of this bar is Sin + Tax.

Sin & Taxes, which just opened in December 2016 and may be renamed, is a speak-easy: a “secret” bar modeled on the underground drinking holes of Prohibition-era America. It’s a little pretentious but I have to admit, it’s a cool gimmick. Pretentiousness works sometimes.

Inside Sin & TaxesInside secret Sin & Taxes. It’s very dark, as any self-respecting speak-easy should be.

Sin & Taxes is located in the brand-new, ultra-trendy Bolton Road complex in Rosebank, but the only way to get in is to enter Coalition (which serves delicious Neapolitan-style pizza and deserves a post of its own), walk through to the back passage past the bathrooms, and knock on the unmarked metal door. The door slides open and you find yourself in the bar.

Renowned mixologist Julian Short conceived Sin & Taxes, and watching him mix cocktails is a sight to behold.

Julian Short mixes a cocktailJulian mixes my cocktail, the No. 9.

The Sin & Taxes cocktail menu (there are only cocktails for now) is two-fold, with one page of “House Classics” and one page of specialty cocktails focused on a certain topic. The current specialty menu is a travel menu, inspired by Julian’s own travels to different countries around the world.

I chose the No. 9 cocktail from the travel menu, a Mexican-inspired drink: “Blanco Tequila + Joven Mescal + Smoked Pomegranate Shrub + Caramelized Lime Juice + Coriander Leaf”.

No. 9 cocktail from Sin & TaxesThe No. 9, which comes with a tiny clothes pin attaching an authentic Mexican postage stamp. I loved the fruity, smokey flavor of the drink.

Joburg cocktail from Sin & TaxesMy friend Fiver’s selection: the “Joburg Cocktail” from the House Classics menu. “South African Gin + Caperatif + Orange Bitters + Naartjie Tincture”. (Naartjie is the South African word for tangerine.) 

Sin & Taxes’ cocktails are expensive by South African standards. My drink cost R93 ($6.80) and the most expensive drink on the menu is R122 ($8.90), which is the price of a decent dinner at most restaurants. But these drinks are works of art, meant to be consumed slowly. It took me more than half an hour to finish mine; I had to savour every sip.

So go forth, drink, and be merry. And call an Uber when it’s time to go home.


  1. Jannik

    God, I miss Joburg. I need to go back. Soon.

    • 2summers

      Yes 🙂

  2. autumnashbough

    Boba tea! Wow, I’ve never tried blueberry ones. They look awesome. As do the windows at the Social Kitchen.

    Your posts are antithetical to dieting.

    • 2summers

      This is true. It’s a bit of a problem.

  3. Mr Bunny Chow

    The Afrikaans name naartjie is also used in South African English. It came originally from the Tamil word nartei, meaning citrus. The word has been used in South Africa since 1790, but the first recorded use in written English is by Lawrence Green in Tavern of the Seas, 1947.

    useless trivia held within my mind and lifted from wikipedia for the sake of accuracy, they are also often called Satsuma (a province in Japan) and Mandarin hinting at their chinese and japanese origin.

    • 2summers

      Wow, that’s fascinating! Thank you.

  4. Eva Melusine Thieme

    Love it! The very first picture is my favorite – the colors work so well. I too am not a big cocktail person but have to admit that my mouth is now watering. And to combine them with books, especially the classics, is such an awesome combination.

    • 2summers

      I know, I’m glad that cocktails are coming into style because they actually taste good for a change. All the drinks in this post were excellent.

  5. simeenwhisgarySimeen

    Hey 2SUMMERS,
    Do you know is there anyway to book a table at “sin and taxes” or do we just rock up and hope for the best?

    Thanks for an awesome post

    • 2summers

      Hi there, I imagine you can book a table. I would give them a call…According to Eat Out, their number is 0109004987. I see this is actually the number for Coaltion Pizza, but I imagine either place could help you.


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