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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 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 mixes cocktails at Mix Cocktail Bar in Rosebank.
Devin Cross of Mix Cocktail Bar.

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.

Majordomo cocktail from Mix, one of my top five Jozi cocktail bars
The Majordomo, which has a smokey, savoury flavor, served with puffed pork rinds.
Butcherbird cocktail from Mix.
The Butcherbird (sorry I drank some before taking this picture), which is a bit sweeter and topped with plump, candied cherries, the thought of which are making my mouth water as I type this.

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.

2) Mootee

I’ve blogged about Mootee before and I think it’s my favorite, mainly because it’s in Melville and I can walk there.

Outside Mootee on 4th Avenue in Melville
Mootee on 4th Avenue in Melville. The facade looks a bit different now than when I took this photo last year — the interior space was recently divided and a sister bar, called Smoking Kills, opened in the space on the left. The right side is still Mootee, just smaller.

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.

blowtorched cocktail at Mooteebar in Melville
A blowtorched cocktail.
Drink in prescription bag from Mooteebar
A couple of Mootee’s cocktails are served in pharmacy bags that emit smoke when you tear them open.

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.

3) Tonic

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.

Inside Tonic in Linden
Inside Tonic. The neon sign in the back, I have learned, is impossible to photograph. But it reads: “When life hands you lemons, make a 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.

Pineapple gin cocktail at Tonic
A pineapple cocktail that I remember nothing about other than the fact that I loved it.

Basically I love everything about Tonic and that’s all I have to say about that.

Outside Tonic
I love it so much.

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.

Alleyway at 1 Fox where the Little Fox cocktail Bar is.
This is the view you’ll see when standing outside of the Little Fox.

The Little Fox is, conveniently, directly next door to the Ginologist gin distillery, and hence serves mostly gin cocktails made with locally produced gin.

Inside the Little Fox Cocktail Bar
Inside the bar. You can see the gin distillery through the window on the right.
Cocktail from the Little Fox
A cocktail I drank. As per usual I have no recollection of what it was.

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.

Inside Sin & Taxes
Due to extreme darkness it’s very hard to take pictures in Sin + Tax. I haven’t brought my camera there since the first time I went in December 2016. So sorry, these photos are ancient.
Julian Short mixes a cocktail
Sin + Tax bartender/owner Julian Short.
No. 9 cocktail from Sin & Taxes
I remember this tequila cocktail well, even though I ordered in two-and-a-half years ago. Drinking it made me realize for the first time that cocktails can be a lot more than just liquor and mixers.

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.

Sanza's jollof rice

Friday Night at the Yeoville Dinner Club

Sanza Sandile isn’t an average chef. Which makes sense, because Yeoville isn’t an average suburb.

Yeoville Rockey StreetLooking down on Rockey Street from the Yeoville Dinner Club.

Actually I’m not even sure Sanza calls himself a chef — if you ask him he’ll probably say he’s a cook or a journalist or a philosopher or an entertainer. He’s all of those things and more. But above all, as I see it, this man is a chef.

Sanza’s story is best told by Sanza himself and trust me, he will tell it to you. His food is as much about story-telling as it is about cooking. I’ll run through things briefly:

Sanza came of age as apartheid ended and South African democracy began. He went to university, became a radio journalist, but all the while he cooked. He spent most of his adulthood in Yeoville, which was a gathering place for South Africa’s black intelligentsia in the 1990s and early 2000s. Over the past two decades Yeoville has become an African melting pot, with immigrants flooding in from Ghana, Nigeria, Cameroon, Mozambique, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, among other places. Many of Sanza’s peers left Yeoville and relocated to wealthier suburbs like Melville, which Sanza calls Smellville. Sanza stayed on in Yeoville and his cooking took on the ingredients and flavors of his newly arrived neighbors.

Sanza at the Yeoville Dinner ClubSanza tells his story before dinner.

The Yeoville Dinner Club

Sanza used to have a tiny food stall on Rockey Street, which I wrote about once. That tiny stall is no more. But Sanza has revived his business just upstairs from the old one, serving “Pan Afrikan Plates” in a small room he converted into the Yeoville Dinner Club. I had dinner there for the first time on a recent Friday evening.

I’m not a talented enough food critic to properly describe Sanza’s Pan-Afrikan plates. (Marie-Lais Emond is much more talented than me though — read her review of the dinner club on Eat Out.) All I can say is that — like Yeoville and like Sanza — the Pan-Afrikan plate is not an average meal. If you’re looking for a unique African culinary experience, the Yeoville Dinner Club is the best place in Joburg to find it. You won’t find more creative, better-tasting food than this.

Table at Yeoville Dinner Club
The Yeoville Dinner Club’s long table, which Sanza rescued from an office board room.

Fried fish and Moroccan saladMozambican fried fish and Moroccan cabbage salad. The fish was the only non-vegetarian food on the table.
 Falafel at the Yeoville Dinner ClubFalafel with peanut sauce. This was my favorite dish of the evening — Sanza’s falafel is so much better than any other falafel I’ve eaten.
 Sanza's jollof riceSanza’s take on West African jollof rice.

A few tips for eating at the Yeoville Dinner Club:

  1. Sanza generally prepares meals every day of the week but you must arrange in advance. Meals cost about R375 per person, which includes food and homemade African cocktails. It’s a pricey meal by Joburg standards but worth every cent.
  2. Food is served family-style and you never know who else will be there. Be prepared to get to know new and interesting people.
  3. Sanza’s food is mostly vegetarian, but you won’t miss the meat.
  4. There is an incredible Cameroonian-owned fabric shop/tailor next door to the Yeoville Dinner Club. If you like fabulous African prints, be sure to stop in.
  5. Catching an Uber from the Yeoville Dinner Club is tricky. Uber drivers are often harassed by metered taxi drivers on Rockey Street and don’t like to stop there. If you want to catch an Uber, walk around the corner to another street and call from there. Or negotiate with one of the many metered taxis parked outside.
  6. Don’t let Yeoville intimidate you. It’s one of Joburg’s most interesting, vibrant neighborhoods and the Yeoville Dinner Club is one of the best ways to experience it.

Meal at Yeoville Dinner ClubGreat food, great company, great chef.

The Yeoville Dinner Club is at 24 Rockey Street. You can book a meal by contacting Sanza on Facebook or calling +27-83-447-4235.

My meal at the Yeoville Dinner Club was complimentary. Opinions expressed are 100% mine.

A Little Piece of Fake Tuscany in Fourways

Last weekend I went to Montecasino. I went there to see a play: Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which I enjoyed.

I also went because I wanted to experience Montecasino, described on its website as follows: “Known for being Gauteng’s number one entertainment destination, having being (sic) voted Best Casino, Best Entertainment Complex, Best Cinema Complex and Best place to take out-of-towners.” (Note to the Montecasino marketing team: You should work on your website. It sucks.)

Having lived in Joburg for a year and a half, I feel remiss in not visiting or writing about Montecasino until now. For better or worse, it’s a part of the city’s culture. But I must say, I’m at a loss for words to describe the place.

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Christmas Eve-Eve at Ratz

Melville is known for its musty book shops, vintage clothing stores, and a lively bar scene. It’s also known for its rats.

Rats are a common sight in Melville and the most popular bar in town is aptly named Ratz. Joe used to be a regular patron at Ratz, in the good old days when rats ran free around Melville. (Although I’m disappointed to report that Joe never actually saw a rat at Ratz.)

Current-day Ratz in the late afternoon.

Today, Ratz has had a makeover and is actually quite posh, in a quasi-seedy kind of way.

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