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The Rand Club, Reinvented

I last blogged about the Rand Club — one of the oldest, most historic, most colonial buildings in Joburg, founded by Cecil John Rhodes — more than six years ago. I just reread that post — titled The Rand Club: It’s Old — and (as with many of my old blog posts) felt a little ashamed of it. Although it’s informative and historically accurate, I was subtly making fun of my visit to the Rand Club that night. I implied the club was stodgy and uptight and said I’d probably never consider becoming a member myself. Last week I went past the Rand Club to deliver a copy of my book to one of its members. What I initially intended to be a 10-minute stop turned into an entire afternoon; I literally could not bring myself to leave. I realized a lot has changed at this place over the past six years and it’s definitely time for a new blog post. The Rand Club is still old and it always will be. (I won’t repeat the whole checkered history here — see my previous post for that.) But it’s also changing with the times. And after a brief closure in […]

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Ba-Pita: A New (Old) Restaurant in Melville

Ba-Pita opened at the end of last year in Melville, at the top of 7th Street where the old Golf Tea Room used to be. A few weeks after it opened, a great article on Ba-Pita’s interesting origin story appeared on New Frame. I shared the article on my Facebook page and it got so much traffic that it somehow felt redundant to write a post of my own. Now that a few months have passed, I can’t let another day go by before getting Ba-Pita onto my blog. I went there for lunch again today — the food tastes so damn good and the vibe of the restaurant is so damn nice. So here’s an abridged version. (Read the New Frame article above for more detail.) To cut a 30-year-long story short: Ba-Pita opened in 1986 in Yeoville, which — as I’ve been told — had a similar kind of hippy-ish/hipster-ish vibe to what Melville has today. The Middle-Eastern-style restaurant became a legendary eating and drinking hangout for Yeoville’s bohemians. Times changed, the city changed, and Ba-Pita closed its Yeoville doors in the late 1990s. In 2018, the eatery re-opened in Melville under the same ownership. Lunch at Ba-Pita […]

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Inside Mandela House, a museum on Vilakazi Street in Soweto

A Visit to Mandela House on Vilakazi Street

Sometimes in my quest to discover all of Joburg’s hidden places, I miss out on the un-hidden ones. Such is the case with Mandela House, the Mandela family’s former home on Vilakazi Street in Soweto. It’s probably one of the top five tourist sites in Johannesburg and not only had I never blogged about the house before this, I’d never even visited. Nelson Mandela and his family lived on Vilakazi Street between the 1940s and the 1990s. The house is now a museum run by the Soweto Heritage Trust. It’s a small, one-story red brick house and there’s nothing particularly remarkable about it, other than the fancy fence around the property and the many photos and plaques covering the walls inside. Vilakazi Street is hugely popular with foreign tourists and student groups and it’s always choked with buses and souvenir salesmen. I’d also heard (although I can’t actually remember from who) that the house isn’t all that interesting. I guess that’s why I didn’t go for so long. But I finally wandered in earlier this month and realized I’d been completely wrong. The beauty of this house lies in its simplicity and I think it’s a stunning tourist destination. I […]

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Walking across the Melville Koppies during the monthly cross-koppie hike

Five Great Jozi Walks to Prepare for MTN Walk the Talk with 702

If you live in Joburg, you’ve heard of Walk the Talk — in fact you’ve probably walked it. But here’s a quick description for everyone else: MTN Walk the Talk with 702 (that’s the official name but I’ll call it Walk the Talk for short) is an annual Joburg tradition in which 50,000 (!) people get up early on the fourth Sunday morning in July and walk around Joburg. The main purpose of the walk is to bring people together, but participants can also work as teams to raise money for charitable causes. (Read more here.) This year will be the 18th annual Walk the Talk. Normally the Walk the Talk distance options are 5 kilometers, 8 kilometers, and 15 kilometers. But South Africa is celebrating 25 years of democracy in 2019 (the country held its first democratic elections in 1994, marking the end of apartheid), and in honor of that anniversary Walk the Talk is also hosting a 25-kilometer walk. I’ve never done Walk the Talk before I’m pretty sure I’ve never walked 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) at one time. But I’m doing it. Why walk 8 kilometers when you can walk 25, right? Right. So I guess I […]

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Fussy Vegan restaurant in Blairgowrie

The Hidden Vegan Restaurant in a Blairgowrie Petrol Station

I’m not a vegetarian and definitely not a vegan. While I totally recognize the benefits of a plant-based diet, both for myself and the planet, I love the occasional burger just a little too much to make that leap. (Don’t even get me started on cheese.) That said, I do limit my meat consumption at home and I often order vegetarian dishes in restaurants. And I empathize with the plight of vegetarians and vegans in South Africa, a country full of rabid meat-eaters. So when I heard — twice in the same week — about a mysterious takeaway restaurant called the Fussy Vegan hidden at a Caltex garage in Blairgowrie, I headed right over. An Unfussy Lunch From the Fussy Vegan I love everything about the Fussy Vegan. I love the name, which is evocative and easy to remember. I love that the Fussy Vegan is hidden in plain sight, sandwiched between a petrol station convenience store and a car wash. I love the branding and the friendly staff and the interesting selection of products, almost all locally sourced. Most importantly, I love the taste of the food. I showed up around 12:30 on a Thursday afternoon and the shop […]

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Gin cocktail from Tonic

Five Fantastic Jozi Cocktail Bars

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. 1) Mix Mix, in Rosebank’s Keyes Art Mile, is the bar I visited most recently so I’ll write about it first. 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 […]

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Restored wall at Rand Steam Laundries shopping centre

The Dramatic Story of Rand Steam Laundries

Once upon a time, about 130 years ago, a group of Zulu men called the AmaWasha ran a business washing clothes beside a stream, on the outskirts of a ramshackle mining town called Johannesburg. The water in this stream was particularly good for clothes-washing. Soon a bustling laundry called Rand Steam mushroomed on the spot, displacing the AmaWasha. South Africans hotels shipped their linens from from as far away as Cape Town to be washed at Rand Steam. The laundry closed many decades later but the original buildings — some of the oldest industrial structures in Joburg — received protected heritage status from the city. The buildings remained until the early 2000s, when a company called Imperial Holdings — to the rage and dismay of heritage activists and other onlookers — illegally tore down the Rand Steam Laundries to build a car dealership. Enter the heroes of this story: the formidable Flo Bird and her colleagues at the Johannesburg Heritage Foundation, who organized a resistance, picketed the site, raised a ruckus with the city government, and ultimately blocked the car dealership from being built. There wasn’t much left of Rand Steam save a few discarded elements of the buildings and […]

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AFRIKOA Cafe in Rosebank Keyes Art Mile

My Favorite Jozi Coffee Shops: AFRIKOA in Rosebank

This post, featuring AFRIKOA Café, is the eighth in an occasional series about my favorite coffee shops in Joburg.  I recently wrote a story about AFRIKOA Café — an African chocolate café, champagne bar, and coffee shop — for Lonely Planet Travel News. I want to mention it briefly here too because it’s something really new and different. AFRIKOA is in the Keyes Art Mile, that super cool art/design/foodie complex in Rosebank. AFRIKOA opened in February and is the now the coolest place there. Long story short: AFRIKOA is the only chocolate company in South Africa that sources its cocoa beans directly from African farmers (from one specific region in Tanzania) and produces/sells single-origin chocolate that never leaves the Continent. AFRIKOA chocolate is made in Cape Town but the café in Rosebank is its first brick-and-morter shop. The hot chocolate at AFRIKOA is incredible, as are the chocolate desserts, which were conceived by Belgian pastry chef Laettia Van Waeyenberge. AFRIKOA also serves African coffee, with beans sourced directly from a single coffee estate in Rwanda. In addition to the chocolate and coffee, AFRIKOA serves fancy French champagne by the bottle only. This is a bit of a departure from the whole […]

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Cheese on display at the Cheese Gourmet in Linden

Five Great Jozi Cheese Shops

I love cheese. I just ate a toasted cheese sandwich like 30 seconds ago. And while Joburg is no Paris, there are a few really good spots to buy cheese in this town and I thought I should profile them as part of my Jozi Top Fives series. I’ve written about most of these places before, but as with all my Jozi Top Fives posts I think it’s nice to sum them up neatly together in a group. There are a lot of shops selling cheese around town, although not many with a specific focus on cheese. While the first few choices were easy I had a hard time rounding out the last couple of places on the list. In the end I went for geographic diversity, accessibility, and a range of different cheese nationalities. 1) Cheese Gourmet, Linden I’ve blogged about the Cheese Gourmet more than once (see here and here) and it is undoubtedly the best place in Joburg to shop for a dinner party, book club meeting, or any other kind of event that could benefit from a selection of cheese. There are many dozens of cheeses to choose from, all made in South Africa, as well […]

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Inside Urbanologi restaurant

Urbanologi: My Number One Date Night Restaurant

Many of you read my previous post about the interesting experiences I’ve had recently on Tinder and other dating apps, and my plan to start a business helping people improve their dating app profiles. In conjunction with that I’m starting a series of posts about my top recommendations for Jozi dates. First up: Urbanologi. I have mentioned Urbanologi briefly on this blog but never devoted a full post to it, which is inexcusable because it’s one of my favorite high-end restaurants in Joburg. In fact it might be my very favorite. And Urbanologi is definitely my number one Jozi date night recommendation for people who are adventurous — in both the places they go and the food they eat. Urbanologi is downtown, which always feels like a bit of an adventure (although the location in Joburg’s 1 Fox Precinct is totally safe), the restaurant’s decor is the perfect combination of edgy and classy, and the food is innovative, beautifully presented, and insanely flavorful. Urbanologi is also vegetarian-friendly. And did I mention the drinks? Urbanologi shares its space with Mad Giant Brewery, which makes some of the best craft beer in the city, and also offers a great selection of wine. […]

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Naked Tinder selfie

Men on Tinder: Read This

Okay people. It’s time to talk about dating apps. If you’re using a dating app like Tinder — or considering doing so — read to the end of this post. You could win a free dating app profile consultation and photoshoot. I avoided the dating app scene for ages. The whole concept terrified me. But I have several friends who are using dating apps — Tinder most commonly — or have used them in the past, and while the feedback wasn’t 100% positive I’d heard a few success stories. So a couple of weeks ago I swallowed my fear and downloaded the app. I chose a few photos, wrote a bio, and bam: I was on Tinder. I thought I’d swipe on a few profiles, have some nice chats, block a few creeps, maybe go on a couple of dates. And much of that did happen, except for the dating part — I haven’t gone on a single Tinder date yet. But that’s a story for another post. Anyway. The main thing I’ve done while browsing Tinder is laugh. I don’t laugh because the men are witty (although a small percentage of them are). I laugh because many of the […]

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Savory dishes from TJIPS

This Is the East: TJIPS in Eastgate Mall

Sixth in an occasional blog series called This Is the East, featuring hidden spots on Johannesburg’s East Rand. A few weeks ago I saw some photos of a plate of chips — fries, to the Americans among you — on Instagram. These were no ordinary chips. They were beautifully presented, sprinkled with colorful sauces and herbs, and I could taste them right through my phone. My mouth literally watered. A couple of clicks told me these chips come from a place called TJIPS in Eastgate Mall. (Eastgate is the pre-eminent sprawling Joburg mall of the East.) The Eastgate food court is not the first place I’d expect to find a high-end, gourmet chip shop. I was intrigued all the more. Within minutes I was DM-ing with Jaron, the TJIPS’ founder, arranging a visit. The Story of Slap Chips Before I continue, I need to explain about slap chips. Slap chips (pronounced something like “slahp tchups”) are basically soggy fries — a South African staple food. Apparently slap chips originated during South Africa’s gold mining era, when miners ate a lot of fish and chips and food stalls sloppily fried huge quantities of thick-cut potatoes in massive vats of cheap cooking oil. The […]

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