Welcome to Week 28 of my #Gauteng52 challenge, for which I will visit and blog about a new place in Gauteng Province every week for 52 straight weeks. This week I visit the Bapsfontein Hotel.
This may surprise those who know only the current, city-girl version of me. But I am no stranger to honky-tonk.
I’m American and I grew up more or less in the country, listening to my dad play Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Kenny Rogers, and Johnny Cash on the car stereo as he drove me to softball practice in his pickup truck.
So when I started spotting pictures on Facebook of the Bapsfontein Hotel — a country-western bar about an hour northeast of Joburg with the greatest neon sign I’ve ever seen — I knew I had to go.
The Story of the Bapsfontein Hotel
I can’t dig up much history about Bapsfontein or the Bapsfontein Hotel. Everything I know was gleaned from snatched conversations with the new owners (yelled over the noise of the music) on the day I was there.
Bapsfontein is a tiny town — too far from Joburg to be a city suburb, too close to be properly rural — and the hotel was built sometime in the 1950s. Back then there was an actual hotel, as well as a bar, a dance hall, and a bottle store (the South African term for liquor store). There was even an amusement park across the road, as the story goes. The Bapsfontein Hotel was an Afrikaans hangout and hundreds of people went there for country music and dancing every weekend.
[For the non-South-Africans among you, I should mention that country music is a thing here. In fact country music is popular in many African countries I’ve visited. It’s not unusual to hear Dolly Parton blaring from car radios in Swaziland.]
I’m not sure exactly when, but the Bapsfontein Hotel’s popularity began to wane over the years and the place eventually closed. An informal settlement sprouted up in the area after apartheid ended.
The land changed hands a few times and at some point in recent years the landowners evicted the residents of the informal settlement.
Within the last year, local entrepreneurs Edoan Kotze and Amanda van Gintel took over the Bapsfontein Hotel, which is now informally called the Stuck in the Dust Pub. Amanda and Edoan have big plans for the place; they’ve fixed up the bar and are in the process of revamping the dance hall. Amanda has added a wedding boutique and venue, and already has weddings booked. Best of all, there’s live music every Sunday.
Journey to Bapsfontein
Marie-Lais and I showed up in Bapsfontein on a Sunday afternoon (it happened to be Father’s Day), unsure of what to expect. We found a small but lively crowd of all ages, eating and drinking (especially drinking), chatting mostly in Afrikaans, and dancing up a storm.
The first act was a woman named Judith Kea, performing a mix of modern pop and country covers and eliciting enthusiastic dance moves from the young girls in the audience. After Judith was South African singer Billy Beeby, clad in cowboy boots and a big black cowboy hat, belting out country tunes in a smokey baritone.
If you’re looking for something totally unique and different to do on a Sunday afternoon, head out to Bapsfontein. There’s a basic pub grub menu and I think you can also bring your own food to braai (barbecue). Bring your dancing shoes too.
The Bapsfontein Hotel is at 10 Wolmerans Street, Bapsfontein. Call +27-76-555-9644 and check the Facebook page for an events lineup.