There’s a cocktail revolution happening in Joburg. New cocktail bars seem to be opening on a monthly basis in this town.
By “cocktail bar”, I do not mean a smokey pickup joint with a disco ball serving florescent cosmos made by a bartender with slicked-back hair and a shiny shirt. (For some reason this was my cocktail bar stereotype until recently.)
I’m talking about classy, cool, thoughtfully designed establishments run by people who are as much artists and chefs as they are bartenders. There’s not a shiny shirt to be found, and the cocktails these bartenders concoct are not of the two-for-one variety. Each drink is a carefully crafted work of art meant to be savoured slowly, like a French meal. Don’t expect to order more than one or two.
So, in a continuation of my long-running Jozi Top Fives series, here are my five classy Jozi cocktail bar picks.
Mix is inside Mesh, which is a fancy members-only club during the day but open to the public on evenings and weekends. Confusing, I know, but don’t let this put you off. Mix is a stunningly beautiful bar — filled with light and a perfect view of the Rosebank sunset — with equally beautiful drinks. The bar has a great outdoor seating area.
Devin Cross, Mix’s manager and creative genius, invited me for a tasting of the Mix autumn drinks menu. I tried them all, which means I now remember very little of what Devin told us about what goes into each cocktail.
I do remember Devin is working toward a 100% seasonal menu, in which every drink is made only with ingredients that grow naturally during that particular time of year. I also remember that every drink is delicious.
At least I have some photos and I know the names of the things I drank.
In between the two cocktails above was another cocktail that tasted like birthday cake (just more sophisticated) and a non-alcoholic cocktail made with kombucha.
Mix is at 21 Keyes Avenue, Rosebank, on the 2nd floor of the Trumpet building.
I’ve blogged about Mootee before and I think it’s my favorite, mainly because it’s in Melville and I can walk there.
I also love Mootee because it’s totally unique — it stands apart from any other bar I’ve ever been to. Mootee’s cocktails are inspired by South African muthi, or traditional medicine, and each drink has a sort of mystical quality.
The original Mootee menu described each cocktail not by its contents, but rather by the feelings/emotions it invokes. I suspect some customers were resistant to that idea, as the newest Mootee menu does list each drink’s ingredients. But the sense of mysticism remains.
Mottee is a beautiful space — especially the outdoor seating area — and the service is particularly good. Mootee also has an excellent African-inspired food menu.
Mootee is at 78a 4th Avenue, Melville.
Tonic is a gin bar in Linden. (Gin, especially South African craft gin, is wildly popular right now, which is great because it’s my favorite type of liquor.) There is no better place than Tonic to down a good G&T.
Tonic has a huge selection of gin and every cocktail I’ve ordered there has been both visually beautiful and bursting with flavor. The adjoining restaurant and wine bar, Tanen, is under the same ownership and serves tasty Middle-Eastern-style tapas. Tonic is on the nicest street in Linden, one of my favorite suburbs.
Basically I love everything about Tonic and that’s all I have to say about that.
Tonic is at 32 7th Street, Linden.
4) The Little Fox
Probably the newest and least known of these five bars, the Little Fox is hidden around the corner from Urbanologi in the downtown 1 Fox Precinct. Walk past Urbanologi on your left, turn left down the alleyway — the Mad Giant Brewery will be on your left — and the Little Fox is a few steps down on the right.
The Little Fox is, conveniently, directly next door to the Ginologist gin distillery, and hence serves mostly gin cocktails made with locally produced gin.
There are a few cocktails made with whiskey and rum, a small selection of wine, and you can order beer and pizza from Mad Giant.
As with several of these bars, spending an evening at the Little Fox makes you feel like you’re in on a super cool secret. Which is great but I feel compelled to tell you about it because I want the Little Fox to flourish.
The Little Fox is at 1 Fox Street, Johannesburg. If you can’t find it, walk to Urbanologi and ask someone.
5) Sin + Tax
Sin + Tax , despite being open the longest, is the most secret Jozi bar on this list. (I’m never sure how to say it out loud. Sin and Tax? Sin plus Tax? Syntax? Someone tell me please.) It’s on Bolton Road, in an alley behind Coalition Pizza, accessible through an unmarked door. The doorman might ask you for the password but just tell him you don’t know and he’ll let you in anyway.
Inside, Sin + Tax is dark and mysterious and all about the drinks.
Sin + Tax is at 2 Bolton Road, Rosebank. If you can’t find it, ask.
Do you see a trend here? Much like the underground American speakeasies of the 1920s, these cocktail bars often require a bit of effort to find. I guess there’s something about that quest — like the bar is playing hard-to-get — that makes the first taste of a beautiful cocktail all the more rewarding.
I hope you find all five.