Barfly Biographies

As the 2010 tourism juggernaut limbers up, expect to see more books of lists appear. 101 Beloved Bars of Southern Africa by Chris Marais & Pat Hopkins (Zebra, 2007) is more a tour guide than a barfly compilation as some of the country’s most notorious drinking dens like Ronnie’s Sex Shop, the bar at the Troyeville Hotel and the Karoo Saloon, are conspicuous by their absence. Which is no surprise as the authors are tourist telltales of note from the pages of Sawubona and the much lamented Scope magazine.

bar1 Barfly Biographies

In fact some of the bars chosen aren’t even bars in the conventional sense, like the Bakkie Bar of Beira, a moveable al fresco drinking facility, with contact details listed as the Mozambican Ministry of Tourism – just try and make a booking. Calling a Chobe River Sunset Cruise a bar is a bit like calling the 1Time flight to Cape Town a restaurant – it does have a menu and waitrons, after all.

The tasting room at the Krugel Mampoer farm may “bear a passing resemblance to a bar” but it’s doubtful whether they serve a G&T with a twist and the bar snacks are hopeless. Each place featured is accompanied by an appropriate anecdote, usually of the historic or graffiti reporting variety, along with contact details. Like Gilroy’s Pub in Roodepoort listed with the note “they are planning to move to Muldersdrift, so it is essential to phone before visiting.”

It’s easy to pick who wrote what. Hopkins lists Ghosts of South Africa on his CV and this book has more spooks than Halloween. There’s the Cabin Bar in Kalk Bay, the Blowhole Bar in Simonstown, St. George’s Club in PE, Notties Pub on Nottingham Road, the “short Gerhard Moerdyk Street”, Mike’s Kitchen in Parktown, Kitchener’s Carvery Bar in Braamfontein and the Val Hotel which boasts a ghostly “porch parrot.”

Grass is another theme, with Tings an ‘Times in Hatfield straight out of De Pyp in Amsterdam while the Revel In in Bokfontein “acquired notoriety in 2001 when it hosted Going for Green, the world’s inaugural Marijuana Olympics” where boks of another sort can play.

Yes, there is a definite whiff of nostalgie de la boue wafting around. You’ll look in vain for the Mount Nelson Planet Bar (even if the terrace at the Polana makes the cut and both were designed by Herbert Baker) or Bascule, the mega-bling bar of the Cape Grace at the Waterfront. But then there’s a curious antipathy towards the V&A: introducing the Buitengracht benchmark Fireman’s Arms, “one has to look past the V&A Waterfront to find the enchantment of the Mother City” while it’s hard to swallow the observation that Thirsty’s Dockside Tavern in Durban “is everything the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town wishes it could be.”

There are a couple of schoolboy howlers: the most sought after cognac in the world is more likely Louis Treize (XIII) than Louis Trize while the pair of artists exhibiting at the Graskop Hotel are likely Willem Boshoff not Willem Boschoff and Johan Anthony Boerma is of course better known as Johnny Golightly. Exactly who listed “the eccentric Radium Beer Hall” in Orange Grove as “one of the world’s top twenty bars” surely deserves some amplification.

Overall, this guide gets a passing grade as some of the revelations are really useful. Like knowing that the theme tune at the Drakensberg Inn is “mamma get the hammer, there’s a fly on papa’s head” or the way to win a bokdrol spitting contest. Knock back a stiff tot of Olof Bergh brandy; the spirit “infuses the drol, and the projectile becomes a little heavier” although you’d probably have to drink a whole bottle to beat the current record of 12 metres.

One complaint: the back cover boasts revelations inside of “where Elvis Presley’s love child drinks” and although I read it from cover to cover, I’m none the wiser.