The Stack is part Brasserie, part Members’ Club, part Bar and part enigma. It’s probably not on most Capetonians’ radars as much as it should be – but that’s not a bad thing. Its location in the upper reaches of Gardens, a suburb on the slopes of Table Mountain above the CBD, puts it out of the regular ‘party’ loop – which is exactly why it’s worth a visit.
Set back from the road in lush gardens, in an 1850’s era historic building, The Stack looks a little colonial – but that image is dispelled the second you step in the door. There’s nothing stuffy or staid about the interior, where bold patterns and bright colours somehow coexist in a relatively small space that never feels cramped. To the right is the bar – a beautiful wooden number with tall stools and a few scattered bench tables. To the right, the entrance to the Brasserie, which serves a concise menu of quality bistro classics and ahead, the stairs leading up to the Members’ area, with its own bar. All of these elements are immensely appealing, in their own whimsical way – but we’re here to talk bars, and the public access part of The Stack doesn’t disappoint.
Many people are disappointed when a menu at a bar or restaurant doesn’t run to phone book numbers of pages – but they’re wrong. Lengthy lists allow for too much error and hide too many sub-standard offerings. It’s impossible to be good at everything in an encyclopaedia. The Stack’s cocktail list runs to ten items – and all of them are spectacular in both style and substance.
Watching the team behind the bar mix them up is a lesson in precision and style, with all manner of smokes, glazes and muddles lending unique flavours to incredibly interesting drinks. If you want ‘quick’, crack a beer. If you want ‘amazing’, watch the team at The Stack coax flames from an orange rind or conjure smoke from apple and cinnamon into an upended glass while they prep the components of your Negroni. Not that there’s anything slow to the service – they’re as efficient as you would allow artists to be, without cramping their style. There are plenty of wine and craft beer options on the menu, too – and the suggestion that challenging the bar staff to mix you up something bespoke isn’t entirely out of the question.
The inside seating is cozy, but the terrace also offers great views of the garden that transport you well away from the city which is roiling at the end of the paved drive. It’s a great place to settle in for an afternoon with a group of friends – especially if you’ve booked a spot at the Brasserie for a sumptuous dinner, after.
Grab a drink and ask for a tour of the upstairs Members’ area to see the full extent of the interior design genius at work – and to ponder why you haven’t signed up yet.
Visit the official website at: www.thestack.co.za/
The Art of Duplicity
In an age where you can experience everything about a bar or restaurant online – bar tasting the food and drinks themselves – it’s refreshing that one of Cape Town’s hottest spots has virtually no online presence.
The Art of Duplicity’s website landing page is a simple black & white, text-only affair, and offers a simple booking link. There’s no address, no contact number, no menu, no photographs and no marketing schpiel. And that’s exactly what makes it so popular.
Book a slot via the site and you’ll receive a confirmation text to your phone that hints at the location and provides a password. If you can’t decipher the location from the clue, you’ll receive a slightly less cryptic message on the day of your booking.
Arrive at what you think the location is and find the vaguely-ominous gentleman with the clipboard, next to a nondescript door off an ordinary street. Once he’s checked your name – it’s a reservation-only spot – he’ll lead you down a dark alleyway, and up to an imposing door. A slot in the door slides open and you’re asked for your password. Remember it, and you’ll be ushered into a dimly-lit prohibition-era cocktail den. Burlap sacks line the wall, velvet couches and chairs are well-spaced around the small venue and a tiny stage sits opposite an ornate wooden bar which looks more like an 18th century apothecary workstation than a place to prop up, with a drink.
The small service team are committed to the theme – and visitors are encouraged to dress up in 1920’s gear as well. This isn’t a modern interpretation of a speakeasy – it’s as close as you’ll get to the real thing without actual ‘Bugsy Malone’ gangsters.
The menu, compiled by a man often referred to as a’ Mixology god’ – Brent Perremore – isn’t a standard cocktail bar list, by any stretch. The team behind the ornate bar make full use of the extensive collection of jars, potions and spritzes to put together drinks containing ingredients you’ve probably never heard of or tasted. There’s a theatre to the construction of the drinks, which is a wonderful departure. Cocktail shakers fly, strainers fine drinks and garnishes are placed with tweezers – every drink is a work of art, with complex, layered flavour profiles. The descriptions on the copper plate – a literal sheet of metal – menu are as ephemeral as you’d expect, and your faith in submitting to the mixologists’ genius will be rewarded with flavours you won’t experience anywhere else.
If you’re after food, there are a limited number of equally ornate desserts on offer, which are definitely worth a look. It’s odd to not give too much away in a review of sorts – but The Art of Duplicity is worth experiencing in its full glory, as the owners intended: without too much forewarning, for a properly fantastic night out.
Book a table for Wednesdays, when a Jazz band takes to the stage in the evening. Some big names have graced the tiny stage – but you won’t know who’s on the lineup until they step up to the mic. You won’t be disappointed, though.
Visit the official website at: www.170120.co.za/
Incognito is a welcome, slick bar in the heart of the wine country in Constantia, south of the Cape Town City Centre. The area is big on restaurants – especially the high-end ones associated with its premium wine estates – but seemingly offers a limited number of options for those just looking for a drink in a stylish setting.
Enter Incognito – named more for its location, tucked away behind the Cape Dutch gables of the historic Alphen Hotel, than any kind of low-key modesty. The Alphen is all oak trees and classic architecture, but a short zig-zag down a nondescript passage between two of its restaurants delivers you to Incognito, a striking architectural contrast to the rest of the venue.
The square glass box overlooks the back of the lush hotel gardens and swimming pool, with floor-to-ceiling doors that slide open and invite the greenery in. Interior tones are light greens and dusty greys, with a long bar backing the room. There are plenty of TV’s for the live sport crowd, but they top the bar, rather than detracting from the rolling green vista out front. There are two small terrace sections to the left and right as well, if you enjoy lounging in the sun while enjoying your drinks.
The focus is very much on drinks, thanks to the presence of sister restaurants Blanko and La Belle at the Alphen, where more substantial meals are on offer. Not that the small plates and bar bites are lacking – there’s plenty of crunch and punch to items like bacon, manchego & almond-stuffed dates; chicken & beef sliders; spiced whitebait; croquettes and a few different pizzettes.
The cocktail menu is divided into a couple of different sections to help narrow down the choices – there are a handful of interesting signatures, like the Passion Fruit Vanilla Sours and Rooibos Cosmo; a trio of tasty G&T’s; concise classics and some virgin options for the supporting cast. There’s a decent wine list, with MCC’s, Champagnes and a name-check of quality local producers by the glass, carafe or bottle. Essentially, if you can’t find something on the drinks menu that tickles your fancy, you’re probably not thirsty.
There’s plenty of vibe to lap up – Incognito is rapidly becoming a popular after-work drinks location for the locals, so it’s bound to be a more ‘authentic’ experience than any number of bars at the tourist-centred spots around town and the seaboard. An array of live DJ’s set the early evening tone with classy classics that are more than mood music and less than a full-on party – keeping the atmosphere light without turning the venue into a club.
If you want to sneak in with the kids to grab a drink and a snack, do so before 16:00 – after which point, it’s a ‘No Under 18’s’ zone.
Visit the official website at: Incognitobar.co.za/
Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar
Tjing Tjing House is a multi-level Japanese-inspired eatery and bar, sitting just off the restaurant-heavy Bree Street in the City Centre in a 200 year-old heritage building.
The ground floor is home to Tjing Tjing Torii, a restaurant modelled on the ‘yokocho’ (street food alleyways) of Tokyo. The electric atmosphere doesn’t detract from the great food, which is a typically street food-inspired selection of bento, tempura, yakitori and gyoza, along with some more filling options, like ramen or rice bowls.
One floor up is Tjing Tjing Momiji, a more refined space which offers a more refined Japanese dining experience, along ‘keiseki’ (seasonal degustation-style menu) options, with great wine and sake pairings. The Momiji lounge is on the same floor – darkm, moody and sophisticated and a great place to hunker down to enjoy some great cocktails, Japanese whiskies and ‘otsumami’ bar snacks.
One floor above that is the haven of Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar, voted one of the best bars in the world in 2012 by Conde Nast Traveler. Up in the rafters, you’d expect it to be cramped and close – and it’s anything but. The wooden beams in the roof highlight the space, rather than limiting it, and a terraced section through the glass doors offers cityscape views if the low-light interior isn’t to your taste.
The bar is a lavish affair, respectfully paying tribute to the form of a Japanese shrine in bright red, contrasted by a black & white Tokyo & Kyoto-driven photo wall, opposite. Seating is sparse – this is a party bar, with great music and a sizzling atmosphere, rather than one to settle into for a long session.
The menu is true to the Japanese theme, with sake and a number of Japanese beers available – and the cocktails get the authentic treatment too. The Sake Sour pairs the dryness of rice wine with the tang of sour apple and lime, with a lift from a dash of Cointreau.
The Ginger Ninja brings the heat to a tropical punch-themed banger, and the Umami Bomb matches a honey& mushroom reduction to roasted sesame-infused bourbon for a quite otherworldly cocktail experience. The mixologists are also happy to produce more traditional, classic cocktails on request – which are equally high-impact, but you’d be missing out on the opportunity to taste some truly unique drinks from the well thought-out menu.
There are snacks here too – but not as you know them. Forget the peanuts and pretzels – otsumami includes things like tempura mushrooms, sesame broccoli and unmissable okonomiyaki fries. Their signature? The ‘Atsui Dog’ – a hot dog with milk bread, beef sausage, kimchi, kewpie mayo and hot sauce that you’ll dream about, long after you’ve left.
Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar trades Tuesday to Saturday from 5pm to late on a first come, first served basis. Early group reservations can be made via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Don’t just visit Tjing Tjing for the cocktails – their wine list is equally wonderful. Their House Red and White are provided by Swartland duo David & Nadia – who come with serious credentials – and the rest of the list comprises an interesting selection from lesser known, though no less worthy, estates.
Visit the official website at: TjingTjing.co.za
The Willaston Bar
Cape Town is one of the world’s most beautiful cities – and there are few places better suited to drinking in her full splendor than The Willaston Bar. Set on the 6th floor of the imposing Silo Hotel in the Silo District of the V&A Waterfront, the striking 5.5m tall windows show off views of the harbour, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head which few can match.
The hotel may look a little intimidating from the outside – it sits adjacent to the high-concept Zeitz-MOCAA Gallery and shares reconfigured grain silo architecture from which it draws its name – but the interior is welcoming and warm and the staff are incredibly friendly.
The lift ride from the ground level is a little cramped and dark, which only serves to amplify the experience of stepping out of it and turning left towards The Willaston and being smacked between the eyes by that view of the city.
The spectacular bar itself offers a glimpse into the menu offering – every conceivable spirit, mixer and tool is on display, making for quite a promising sight for anyone with more than a passing interest in what it is they drink to enjoy themselves.
The menu runs to 19 pages – and I know we’ve said before that long menus are problematic, but this one avoids falling into the ‘lots of options, most done badly’ trap by limiting their cocktail selection to just 11, with a focus on local twists to established classics.
The Rose Ginvino is the bar’s signature drink, mixing pink gin, chenin blanc, lime, grapefruit, rose syrup and egg white into a dream confection, while the Old Fashioned gets the fynbos honey treatment and the Mouille Point Mule (named for a seaboard suburb nobody is entirely sure how to pronounce) benefits from the addition of Rooibos spirit aperitif. Presentation is clean and pure, giving the drinks themselves the chance to shine.
The rest of the menu is taken up by a hefty selection of local and international wines and bubblies, some decent craft & commercial brews and a comprehensive listing of every spirit on the stacked bar, if cocktails aren’t your bag.
Bar snacks, small plates, salads, sandwiches and sweets are also on offer – a great mix for a sundowner session. It’s a bit crass to mention, but also worthy of a note – despite the hotel’s clear design appeal and lofty room pricing, the drinks are well-priced, considering the quality of ingredients – thankfully not suffering the ill effects of the ‘view tax’ that so many elite properties add.
The Willaston is a reservation-free zone, so arrive early to claim a spot at the window – or on the mezzanine level above the bar – to make the most of the sunset with a great drink in handm and great company nearby.
Visit the official website here
Chinchilla Rooftop Café & Bar
Tables at restaurants and bars on the ‘Camps Bay Strip’ are probably the most in-demand in the city during tourist season. It’s where the beautiful people come out to play in one of the city’s most exclusive neighbourhoods, set between Table Mountain and a beautiful beach lapped by the Atlantic. At its peak, the place is generally wall-to-wall models, supercars and thundershowers of money. It’s not a criticism – it’s just the scene, and Camps Bay owns its bling, unapologetically.
Chinchilla is a relatively new rooftop bar on the strip, part of the Kove Collection which owns several restaurants there. There’s nothing blingy about it – the tones are muted, the décor stylish but simple and the music, chilled – but it’s still bound to draw in the cocktail jet-set because of its pristine see-and-be-seen location.
Tables at the railing overlooking the beachfront are snapped up pretty quickly, but an advance reservation could nab you one. There are plenty of comfortable couch set-ups too, for bigger groups looking to settle in for the afternoon and work their way through the cocktail menu as the flotilla of resident DJ’s provide a vibe that ramps up as the sun sets and then maintain an aura of sophisticated sounds as the night elongates.
The cocktail menu is bound to have something on it to please everyone, with a focus on crisp flavours and interesting variations on classics. Margaritas upgrade with the introduction of vanilla, orange and pomegranate; G&T’s come in watermelon & mint, peach & sage and litchi & basil iterations and the Purple Haze of vodka, coconut milk, litchi juice & ginger is served in an iced alchemist’s bowl.
The Strip is the home of bling, so there’s the option to buy your whiskey, gin ,vodka and tequila by the flash bottle, while there’s a decent champagne, MCC and wine list, with decent by-the-glass options.
Chinchilla is definitely the kind of spot where you settle in for the long haul with a group of friends, so thankfully the food menu stands up to the cocktail offering, from bar snacks (antipasti) to sandwiches (roast beef and a killer grilled cheese); light bites (oysters, prawns, beef carpaccio) to mains (prawns, crayfish, rib eye) and a dessert menu topped by a Hennessy-infused chocolate extravaganza with coffee ice cream.
Keep an eye on their ‘What’s On’ page for updates on DJ sets – you’ll catch some of SA’s top names at their weekend ‘Sunset Sessions’ during summer, and you can book a spot via the site to catch them.
Visit the official website at: www.chinchillarooftop.co.za/
Cause | Effect
Having established a reputation as one of Cape Town’s cocktail hotspots in a sea of great cocktail bars, CAUSE|EFFECT recently re-opened in a bigger space at the V&A Waterfront. Locals tend to give Africa’s most-visited tourist attraction a wide berth, but the temptation of the expanded offering and a rebranding to CAUSE|EFFECT Cocktail Kitchen & Cape Brandy Bar may just change their minds.
Far from your generic ‘cool space with lurid drinks’, CAUSE | EFFECT backs up slick décor with a series of Cape-inspired cocktails that each tell a story. They make maximum use of the Cape’s mountain, oceans, fynbos and to deliver inventive elixirs. The process itself even becomes a décor element, with a solera system of barrels in which Old Fashioneds and Boulevardiers are slowly ageing takes pride of place. The copper stool-lined, stone-clad bar is lined with apothecary-style jars of herbs, spices and ingredients for the mixologists to play with. The foliage which adorns the roof is largely artificial, but lush.
One of the bar’s main selling points is that most ingredients are made in-house, including bitters, tinctures, vermouth, kombucha and cordials – and that should give you a clue as to the quality of the drinks themselves. In keeping with the theme of using local products, ‘fynbos’ (a type of vegetation endemic to the Cape and found only there) finds a home in almost every drink.
There are plenty of options to choose from, but if ‘spectacular’ is your game, order the ‘Nitro Martini’. Select your custom fynbos blend from the bunches strung up above the bar and watch as the mixologists freeze the flora in liquid nitrogen and infuse it into a martini of vodka and Caperitif. It doesn’t get more African than the ‘Tree Of Life’, with its baobab and cardamom bitters or a Margarita garnished with sea salt infused with lemon pelargonium.
South African brandy is dramatically underappreciated at home, despite regularly winning global awards and beating Cognac in competitive tastings – and the CAUSE | EFFECT team is out to change that. Their menu contains more than 60 handcrafted brandies from the Cape. Order some world-class examples for sipping or watch as the team blends them into cocktails that shimmer. Should you fall in love with a particular sprit, many of them are – unusually – also available for purchase by the bottle, from the bar.
There’s food, too, from a menu as eclectic as the drinks one – mostly small plates and platters overflowing with cheese, Coppa and Parma ham.
Book an advance spot at the Schweppes Bartender’s Lab. Seating just six guests, the experience sees a dedicated bartender bring the bar’s full sense of mind-bending creativity to bear on a cocktail & small plate pairing.
Visit the official website at: https://www.facebook.com/CauseEffectBar/
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The Seven Best is an online guide featuring curated lists of must-sees, must-dos and more as you plan your journey around South Africa.