Jozi is fickle. But that is exactly what makes it such an amazing city. It is this fickleness that has nurtured its entrepreneurial and exploitative nature that feeds this gargantuan monster making it roar louder and stronger with each coming year. Anyway, we were on the rooftop in New Doornfontein when we overheard a post-hipster rejoicing over how cool this new rooftop is compared to the boring Arts on Main building. Many of you have not even been to Arts on Main (aka the centre of cool in South Africa), yet here she is lamenting about how mundane it is. Anyway, we will get to this rooftop. Let’s take you back a bit.
So, how did I end up on a roof in New Doornfontein? What the hell is New Doornfontein? What the hell are post-hipsters and why aren’t they going on voyages of discovery, instead of merely booting the faces of the hipsters? All will be revealed…
As it was my last weekend in Jozi in 2012, I felt compelled to do something constructive with my life on this fabulous Sunday summer. Considering that I had less than half the recommended daily dose of sleep thanks to the genius of Gareth Emery, I figured the easiest thing to do was head to Maboneng for, uh, whatever Maboneng had to offer. Often on Sundays, I don’t really know why I find myself at Market on Main. Today is no different. It is very seldom that I purchase anything at the market as, well, I don’t really need anything there. Yet I still end up going. I have a feeling that I am not the only one with this problem. Anyway, I purchase my craft beer with little pieces of ickiness floating on the surface (but that’s what makes craft beer so cool) for the recommended hipster price of R40 a pop and then decide to walk to the Troyeville. I think I’m the only one who would have a crazy idea like that.
To tell you the truth, I really have been dying to watch ‘The Brother Moves On’ (and my friend wanted to watch ‘Spoek Mathambo’) and they were playing on a roof just across the train tracks from Jeppe Police Station. Since we had nothing better to do, we decided to take a walk there. We got there too early so we decided to keep walking to The Troyeville Hotel.
The Troyeville Hotel resides in one of Jozi’s oldest suburbs. Just east of the city, it forms part of what were the exclusive suburbs of old Johannesburg. Nearby is Kensington and Belgravia. Just their names alone, shows these were meant to be posh establishments for the randlords of old. The suburb was home to Gandhi (a blue plaque is outside his house at 19 Albermarle Street) and the anthropologist and anti-apartheid activist, David Webster, who was gunned down in Troyeville in 1989. The Bloemenhoff Park has been renamed in honour of him. The area was primarily Jewish until the late 70s, when the Jewish population gradually moved northwards to Hillbrow and Killarney. The east was colonised by the Portuguese. The suburb has the remnants of a rather grandiose past but, as is the case with many of the older suburbs in Johannesburg, only relics remain of its glory days.
The Portuguese influence in the east is very evident (if you care to look for it) and some of the finest Portuguese cuisine can be found in eateries in the area. The Troyeville Hotel is one such establishment. Their cuisine is not strictly Portuguese, but inspired by our north-eastern neighbour that was once a colony of Portugal. I personally prefer the Mozambiquan-Portuguese type dishes, which is probably why I really like this place.
We got there quite tired and thirsty (that walk is far for the unfit!) and, being a combination of White and Indian, we were let in without much question and directed straight to the pub, which has an immensely classic feel, which is indulgently inviting. You can feel this place has many a story to tell you. Granted, most of them would be about cheap cane and cute concubines, but these are stories nevertheless. The setup is very typical for many of these old pub-in-hotel establishments and reminds me a lot of the Willowvale Hotel in Durban. It is also known as The Flamingo due to the Flamingo Room in the hotel with the large, great looking mural of flamingos.
There is something special about this place and well, that’s why it’s rather famous. Even though it possesses mundane architecture and is in a very dilapidated part of town, it’s a hot spot for intellectuals and creative thinkers. If you’re at the bar, strike up a conversation with one of the patrons and you might be pleasantly surprised to find that this rather non-descript person is one of South Africa’s foremost thinkers or strategists. The management of the hotel have taken heed of this and they regularly hold book launches at the restaurant. I’ve been to two of these launches which were thoroughly intellectually stimulating and entertaining. What makes this venue even more special is the view from it. During the day, it gives you a great panoramic view of Hillbrow but that skyline really only comes alive at night. So at a book launch, you sit at your table with your favourite allies, whilst chowing down on some fantastic chicken livers and prawns that were marinated in heaven. In front of you are these two individuals engaged in deep discussion about a highly relevant current affairs topic, while the lights of Hillbrow smile in the background. Does it get any better?
Anyway, back to my story… We got there in a rather thirsty state and low and behold, they serve hipster beer! Well, not really full hipster, but they have Mitchells beer from Knysna. I like the story behind Mitchells. You can get it, on tap at a lot of bars and pubs in Jozi. The Colony on Jan Smuts also stocks the beer. However, what sets Mitchells beer apart is their plastic, re-sealable one litre bottles of golden amazeballs. Get hold of one and see how it will change your life. Anyway, we order prego rolls, chicken livers and Mitchells draught. The prego was ho-hum. Oddly I expected better. I did order the chicken (as opposed to the beef) so that might have been the problem. The chicken livers were fantastic though – on par with the food that I had a few months ago at the Troyeville.
The beer was fantastic as always but the great thing was that it cost about R16 for a draught. Yes, you read that right.
So if you want good, cheap beer in a fantastic setting, you know where to go!
We pay and leave. We walk past a pristine 1975 Toyota Corona and we make our way to this mythical party.
The mythical party is on a roof in New Doornfontein. As with all hipster places, it has to be new, which is why the party was not in Doornfontein. Doornfontein was actually the first suburb to be built outside the original Jozi city limits. At the time of its inception, it struggled to find residents as it was deemed too far from the CBD! Tell that to people that live in Lenasia and have to work in town. As the city grew, the suburb became more and more attractive, especially with the Jewish community. The history of the Jewish community is very much intertwined with the early history of these suburbs. Today, it’s a very different place to what it was 120 years ago. As with most suburbs, there still exist many reminders of the past.
The venue was called King Kong. Apparently it’s named after a maize meal brand in Benin. The venue was pretty fantastic. Cozy, with enough space to lounge a bit. After the beers, the walk up the stairs was not so cool. The sound was atrocious but I’m pretty sure this can be sorted out. But hey, the view was beyond spectacular.
Parties on rooftops have been a thing for about a year now. This venue will definitely be used more this year and I think you should go for a party there. These parties, however, seldom feature bands playing on rooftops. I foresee that this will change in 2013 and maybe a band like St. Lucia will play on top of the world. We can dream.
When to go: You can drop by to the hotel any time you like. It’s a pub and you will find some interesting characters whenever you go. I highly suggest you go to one of their midweek book launches. Join the mailing list to find out when these are.
How to get there: Do you know how to get to Arts on Main? Well, to walk from there, from Fox Street, walk across Commissioner and then get to Market Street. Walk eastwards on Market. You will pass the Jeppe Police Station then walk over the bridge and in five minutes, you should get to there. King Kong is on the way there. If you are coming from the east by car, take the Gillooly’s Interchange towards Johannesburg on the R24. Drive for about 6km you see the hotel on your left.
Cost: The food at the hotel is quite reasonably priced. Beer is cheap but you knew that already. During the book launches, they have a set menu which costs around R180 and is completely worth it especially as a sampler as to what foods they do and do well. Beer is not that cheap on these days.
Anything Else: The immediate East of the city is quite a fascinating place. I’ve threatened to blog about many of the places in this vicinity but it’s just too beautiful and I cannot find the right words. You need a keen eye to truly explore this region. Save it. Fall in love with the rest of Jozi and then tour the East. You will find that the love will just deepen.