A Hedonist's Guide to Cape Town: Best Places to Party

By Keith Bain & Pippa de Bruyn

1) Albert Hall
A once downtrodden, derelict hovel has been transformed into one of Cape Town's most exciting venues: Albert Hall is one of the city's stand-out spaces for just about any kind of party or performance and has in no small way put Woodstock back on the map as a night-time destination, especially if you're into quirky, full-tilt events that pack out with the coolest crowd in town. The Hall celebrates the owner's love of antiques with smatterings of designer inventiveness. In a signature palette of black, white and red, everything echoes the obsession with left-of-centre nostalgia, from the antique Coca-Cola fridge in the entranceway to the vintage paintings and prints that decorate the walls alongside the long, narrow dance-floor-cum-auditorium. A small stage—more like a curtain—and speaker-bedecked raised area at one end of the hall is used by anyone from live artists, to DJs hosting underground parties, and top-rated comedy performers-this venue has no commitment to any single event so there's an anything-goes, never-to-be-repeated approach. The downside can be atrociously slow service at the bar, when it packs out (and there are two outdoor areas for the crowd to spill into, meaning they let big numbers through the door) you may struggle to get near the counter.

2) Club Chrome
Somewhere at the end of that long, long queue, Chrome has been going strong for years now, playing it safely within the realm of commercial house as well as hip-hop, R'n'B, and electro. Monumental drinks displays and a huge, industrially-proportioned dance arena are what make this place work and keep the crowd of (mostly) younger party animals queuing till late. If finding a bit of serenity amid the mayhem is important, pay for access to Platinum Privé, a dedicated VIP lounge which has a view of the main dance floor, while yet another VIP section caters to the champagne swilling high-rollers who need to have their own DJ and dance floor, and don't like to get their own drinks. Although this is one venue in Cape Town where you might catch a classic house DJ, like Lisa Lashes, flown in for a special event, what makes Chrome a serious contender is that you might actually get a chance to witness the mayhem of a full-blown Kwaito party, exposing you to the sound of 'real' South African urban music culture, as preferred by sophisticated post-hip-hop groovers.

3) Decodance Underground
Can you say cheese? Well, even if you're not a fan, it's worth knowing that Cape Town's quintessential Eighties' music venue really likes to turn Old School into cool. The vibe, crowd and music are eclectic and unified only by a desire to dance, flirt and drink to the accompaniment of familiar tunes that come straight from the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. The Cure finally collides with The Clash, and Michael Jackson is resuscitated for a much-applauded appearance alongside Duran Duran and Bonnie Tyler. There's quite a grungy sound, too, and some more rock-based music from those eras, so not always ideal if you're the type who prefers the smooth, even beats of the electronic age. The venue is a pretty cool place to hook up with free-spirited, open-minded individuals, since the whole idea here is to go against convention, not to mention the pretence and posing of most modern clubs. Even the location, at the seriously funky Old Biscuit Mill—where the Neighbourgoods Market is held each Saturday—has an alternative edge, and when you walk down the entrance stairway into the darkened, windowless cavern (so typical of Eighties clubs in South Africa), you'll feel as if you're stepped into a time-travel capsule.

4) Fiction DJ Bar & Lounge
Join the shiny, happy—and undeniably music-obsessed—people on Cape Town's hottest dance floor; this is one club which takes music seriously, providing the very best in experimental, underground and ground-breaking urban DJ-inventiveness. Wrapped around a thumping, postage stamp dance floor is a sexy montage panel depicting dozens of unearthly and other-worldy characters—all fictional B grade movie heroes and villains, from Swamp Creature to Planet of the Apes. A disco ball spins overhead and on the walls, detailing from a lava projector or fine-tuned lazer beams dance like miniature universes. Elsewhere the fiction theme continues—with vintage movie posters as you ascend the Victorian stairs, a TV in one corner perpetually screening Manga cartoons, a South Park freeze frame on a dysfunctional television atop the bar fridge, a Pac Man ghost mosaic as you step out of the unisex bathroom, and a violent video arcade game next to the doors leading to the wraparound outside terrace overlooking Long Street. It has all the trappings of an interactive museum of popular culture, but the real interaction is on the dance floor where you share space (squeezed in real tight, in fact) with a let-rip kind of crowd, getting off to music that is hypnotic and intoxicating.

5) Crew Bar
Yowzer! If there's one party venue that's threatening to usurp Bronx's long-standing position as Cape Town's number one gay club, then this is it. Just a short stumble down the road from Bronx, Crew functions on much the same formula, only it gets pumping much earlier these days, and scores major points for the quality of its bar staff (who are far friendlier and, since they avoid the roughneck sailor formula, a whole lot prettier than their beefier counterparts up the drag). Whereas Bronx tends to fill up with just about anyone who is capable of ordering a drink (although not always able to hold their liquor), Crew is defined by the overwhelming abundance of gorgeous men, be they twinks, muscle-bound hunks, or lithe models looking for a new spot to pose. To ensure that it's usually packed to capacity (which inevitably draws in even more fine young things), the managers keep the more recently launched, sleekly-styled upstairs lounge-bar, Madisons, closed until much later in the evening, meaning you'll spend a considerable portion of the night squeezed between a heaving mass of beautiful and brawny men. There's a dancefloor with rather commercial, sometimes downright cheesy house that gets the crowd into a full-tilt celebration just as soon as the first person dares to set foot on it.

To discover more of Cape Town's hottest hotels, restaurants, clubs, and bars, order your copy of A Hedonist's Guide to… Cape Town here.

Published: 12 May 2010 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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