Second in my Roadhouses of Gauteng series.  Browse all of my roadhouse posts or view a map of the roadhouses I’ve visited.

In my first roadhouse post, I mentioned I’d been meaning to do a roadhouse series for years but never got around to it. One of the reasons it took so long is because documenting roadhouses — at least in the way I want to document them — is not easy to do alone. I needed to find a roadhouse partner.

Roadhouses — South Africa’s version of the mid-20th-century, fast-food drive-in — tend to be far from central Joburg, mostly in towns on the East Rand. Roadhouses also tend to have fantastic neon signs and are best photographed in the evening, when driving to the East Rand (or other far-flung locations) is not very convenient.

Roadhouse sign at night
The Fireplace Roadhouse sign in all its glory. The neon flames flicker like an actual fire.

If you live in Joburg you’ll understand why driving 40 minutes from Melville to the East Rand — sometimes on dark, isolated roads, to eat greasy fast food while sitting in the car — is not everyone’s idea of a fun Saturday night out. Even I didn’t want to do it by myself.

I realize I had been subconsciously waiting for the right person to come along before embarking on this adventure. And a few months ago, that person finally appeared: Thorsten of Dagwood sandwich fame.

Thosten in the car at the Fireplace Roadhouse
Thorsten is always down for a roadhouse meal.

Last Tuesday one of my readers tagged me in an Instagram post from the Fireplace Roadhouse, which has locations in Boksburg and Brakpan. Not only does the Fireplace have one of the oldest and best neon signs at its Boksburg location, but it also shows drive-in movies.

Fireplace Roadhouse sign
The Fireplace in Boksburg.

The Instagram post informed me that on Saturday night, the night before Valentine’s Day, the Fireplace would be showing Dirty Dancing. There would be Valentine’s Day specials on the menu.

I showed the post to Thorsten. There was no question what we’d be doing on Saturday night.

Dinner at the Fireplace Roadhouse

The Fireplace was founded in 1958 by Sylvia Kongos, who also founded the Casbah Roadhouse chain mentioned in my previous post. (I need to conduct more research on Sylvia Kongos — mother to singer John Kongos and grandmother to the Kongos rock band — and her Gauteng roadhouse legacy. Expect that story in a future post.)

In 1981, Manuel “Manny” Neto bought the Fireplace from Sylvia. The Neto family continues to run the chain today.

Fireplace Roadhouse
The Fireplace Roadhouse.

The Fireplace has everything I could ever want in a roadhouse: Old-school design, beautiful signage, a huge menu, delicious (cheap) food, and great service. On top of all that, we were treated to a dramatic post-thunderstorm sky and spectacular sunset as Patrick Swayze twirled Jennifer Gray across the big screen.

Here are some more pictures.

Cars at the roadhouse
Dramatic sky above the roadhouse.
Fireplace Roadhouse
The Fireplace also has a sit-down restaurant (on the right).
Millicent, waitress at the roadhouse
Millicent, our wonderful waitress who called us “My Lovies”, delivers Thorsten’s double-thick chocolate milkshake. It was freaking delicious.
Another shot of Millicent just because we liked her so much.
Staff at Fireplace Boksburg
The rest of the Fireplace staff.
Dagwood from the Fireplace
I had the Dagwood Valentine’s special: A Dagwood (a bacon, egg, and cheeseburger on toast) with chips and an ice cream cone for R81 ($5.60).
Ice cream from the Fireplace
Curry and rice with banana
Thorsten had South African curry and rice, an Afrikaans/Cape Malay specialty that is often garnished with banana slices, shredded coconut, and chutney. This one had just the banana but was still very tasty.
Drive-in movie at the Fireplace
Dirty Dancing begins. We couldn’t hear it very well because you’re supposed to play the movie through your car radio and my stereo speakers are broken. Luckily sound is not totally essential to follow the plot of Dirty Dancing.
Triple Question Mark neon sign
Apparently the Fireplace was called “the Triple Question Mark” at some point in the distant past — hence this awesome old sign. I still need to get to the bottom of that part of the story.
Boksburg sunset
Dramatic Boksburg sunset.
Neon sign at the Fireplace Roadhouse
I was in neon-sign heaven once the sun went down.

I wish Boksburg was a little closer to Melville, and I wish Boksburg would fix its broken streetlights and repaint the lines on the road so we could have driven home without fearing for our lives. Otherwise this was a totally perfect evening. I couldn’t have asked for a better Valentine’s date.

As I learned the hard way with the Casbah, you never know when classic roadhouses like these will disappear. So don’t procrastinate, like I did. Go now.

The Fireplace at night

Expect more roadhouse reviews in the near future.

The Fireplace Roadhouse is at 85 Main Reef Road, Boksburg. (The Brakpan location, at 13 Nossob Street, has the same menu and movie lineup but it’s newer and doesn’t have the same old-school design.) Call 011-917-6876 for more information.

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