In October 2020, on the night I met Thorsten, he told me about a restaurant/bar he likes to go to called Archie’s. I had never heard of Archie’s and asked its whereabouts. “It’s in Fordsburg,” Thorsten told me. I was immediately intrigued.
A historically Indian neighborhood, where many businesses are owned by Muslim entrepreneurs, Fordsburg is Joburg’s top street food destination. But it’s not a place where one expects to find a bar. I’ve eaten at many restaurants in Fordsburg; almost all are halal and I’d never encountered one that sells alcohol, at least not in an obvious way. Archie’s was a place I wanted to investigate. Thorsten promised to take me — once the covid situation improved, of course.
Fast-forward nearly a year to this past weekend. I can’t say the covid situation has really improved much since October 2020, at least not to the point that I or anyone else would like. But I wanted Thorsten to take me to Archie’s, dammit. So we went.
A quick digression on Archie’s address, which is 22 Lovers Walk. I looked up “Lovers Walk” in my treasured Johannesburg Street Names reference book and found the following entry:
LOVERS WALK, Fordsburg. This was ‘originally a broad avenue of shady blue-gums and associated with young love and sylvan dalliance,’ according to F. E. Hatfield in The Star, 9 May 1936 (p. 24). On Thompkins’ Plan (dated September 1890) the road skirts a plantation. In the past this (or Lovers Lane) was a commonly used poetic name for a leafy lane when walking was perhaps more frequently indulged in than it is today.Johannesburg Street Names, Anna H. Smith, 1971
Lovers Walk is currently quite industrial and doesn’t have many blue gums left. The street doesn’t really evoke the same poetic feelings that it apparently evoked at the turn of the 20th century. But I love this history anyway. I think the street name lends Archie’s an extra element of charm.
Archie’s was everything I imagined and hoped a Fordsburg dive bar* would be: Dimly lit, slightly smokey, with quirky and colorful decor. The staff and customers were friendly and the beer was cheap.
A Fordsburg Lunch at Archie’s
Thorsten and I had a chat with Archie himself, who was born and raised in Fordsburg. His family stayed in the area despite the forced removals and demolition of neighboring Fietas in the 1960s and 70s. But after the removals Archie had to commute to school in the Indian township of Lenasia, more than 30 kilometers away. Archie worked in the clothing business before opening the pub 25 years ago.
Eventually our lunch arrived: Two bowls of fragrant mutton curry with salad, rice, and roti, prepared by Archie’s wife, Veena.
The curry was delicious and we ate it all. I can’t wait to return to Archie’s. The end.
* Based on a couple of comments I’ve received on this post, I’ve deduced the term “dive bar” may not be well known in South Africa. I googled it and found a great description on Wikipedia. Here’s an excerpt:
A dive bar is typically a small, unglamorous, eclectic, old-style bar with inexpensive drinks and may feature dim lighting, shabby or dated decor, neon beer signs, packaged beer sales, cash-only service, and a local clientele. That being said, the precise definition of a dive bar is something on which people rarely agree, and is the subject of spirited debates. The term dive was first used in the press in the U.S. in 1880s to describe disreputable places that were often in basements into which one “dives below”…Once considered a derogatory term, dive bar is now a coveted badge of honor bestowed by aficionados looking for authenticity in such establishments.Wikipedia
Archie’s Pub & Grill, at the corner of Lovers Walk and Fountain Road, is open daily until 10 p.m. Call 011-838-6752.