The best bars in Cape Town

·9-min read
Chinchilla, Cape Town
Chinchilla, Cape Town

There are essentially two nightlife hubs in the city that offer a clustered mix of options that are close enough to stroll between if you just feel like browsing for fun: Victoria Road in Camps Bay, aka the 'sunset strip', where you toast the setting sun (preferably in a comfortable armchair at Chinchilla), before moving on to Kloof street in the city. Pockets of Bree Street and Harrington Street also offer some choice, but for the widest choice start at Asoka, then stroll down Kloof street, passing several options (including the entrance to get to the Mount Nelson’s Planet Bar) to the watering holes surrounding Yours Truly, possibly making a detour up Kloof Nek to the Publik or The Power and The Glory, or carry on to Orphanage in Bree street – all within a 20 minute walk.

If you’d rather people-watch on the big screen, turn right from Kloof into Rheede Street to get to the Labia. This is the oldest independent art-repertory movie cinema in South Africa, and the only one in which you can purchase a glass of wine or a G&T with your popcorn.

Read on for more suggestions, while here are our guides to Cape Town's best hotels, restaurants, and things to do, plus how to spend a weekend in the city.

City Bowl

Orphanage Cocktail Emporium

Gone are the bowler hats but the bartenders are still centre stage in this tiny city-centre bar-club, located on trendy Bree Street and named after the orphanage once housed in the church around the corner. A place for ‘lost souls’ to enjoy the wittiest cocktails: 'Knicker Dropper' adds raspberry jam, fresh lemon, egg white and sugar to whiskey; 'Childcatcher' is a sweet melange of gin, elderflower, grapefruit and blackberry; 'More tea vicar?' is a vanilla-infused vodka, rooibos syrup and cranberry juice cocktail, served in a floral china tea cup. The vibe is laid-back but on weekend nights DJs amp it up with deep house and the dance floor takes off.

Contact: orphanageclub.co.za
Price: ££

Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Cape Town
Orphanage Cocktail Emporium, Cape Town

Gigi Rooftop Bar

Gorgeous George is a member of Design Hotels, ‘a global collection of independent, design-driven hotels that function as social hubs’, and Gigi, the sixth-floor rooftop of this repurposed heritage building, sure functions as that. It’s the heart of the hotel: a chic and cosy library-lounge-bar-restaurant that spills out onto the rooftop terrace, where the glass-panelled plunge pool provides visual eye candy, backdropped by an architecturally textured cityscape. Gigi is open from 7am for breakfast till late, so pop in anytime – vibe-wise this is the closest Cape Town gets to a SoHo house, without any pesky membership issues.

Contact: gorgeousgeorge.co.za
Price: ££

Planet Bar

Located in the venerable Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, this small, elegant bar opens onto a fern-fringed glass-enclosed veranda, with more doors opening onto an outside terrace overlooking the gardens and pretty fountain. With great staff and good nibbles, this is a much beloved after-work gathering place for Capetonians old enough to pay a bit more for the perfectly mixed tipple. The cocktails aren’t particularly innovative but there are plenty of them, and there's a good wine list too. It's very close to the city centre (across the road from the Company’s Garden), but the quickest access on foot is through the entrance on Kloof Street.

Contact: belmond.com
Price: ££

The Planet Bar, Cape Town
The Planet Bar, Cape Town

Asoka

The unprepossessing exterior of a residential house hides this intimate candle-lit courtyard around a fairy-lit olive tree. A Cape Town stalwart, this is a great lounge-bar in which to have a pre- or post-dinner drink (or drink all night and line the stomach with Asian-style tapas). Expect a schmoozy place attracting a slightly older crowd, where the music played by respected in-house DJs is usually lounge-model deep house with occasional electronic evenings. If you want to get an idea of the vibe, check out their soundcloud profile.

Contact: asoka.za.com
Price: £

Asoka, Cape Town
Asoka, Cape Town

Publik Wine Bar

Several wine bars in the city but this is my top choice due to the deep knowledge of Cape terroir and winemaking, and their commitment to smaller, independent producers and limited volume labels. Sit down, see what’s on the chalk board, talk through the kind of wine you like, enjoy a few sip-sized samples before deciding on the glass you like, all the while understanding more what makes a wine great. A menu of locally produced spirits, similarly small batch and artisanal, is also available, as well as simple meals (often augmented by pop up chefs). Publik operates as a wholesaler too, so you can take home a bottle of what you like best. What’s not to love?

Contact: publik.co.za
Price: £

Yours Truly and Up Yours

There are now a few branches of this popular bar, all in the centre city and easily identified by the preponderance of plants growing in each venue, but Kloof Street is still the biggest and best. Early Friday evening, the upstairs balcony, dubbed Up Yours, is the place to watch hip, young, creative Capetonians of all persuasions at play. A DJ keeps the atmosphere upbeat and the cool crowd moving their heads but it’s a bar not a dance floor, with a cheap drinks menu (G&T is just about the only cocktail) pulling in students and backpackers. Great peoplewatching. There's no reservations so get there early over weekends, or be prepared to queue.

Contact: yourstrulycafe.co.za
Price: £

Your Truly & Up Yours, Cape Town
Your Truly & Up Yours, Cape Town

The Piano Bar

In the middle of De Waterkant’s social hub, this cosy New York-styled jazz and cocktail club offers live music Tuesday to Sunday from 7pm, ranging from jazz and blues to classical piano and indie pop. The daily line up is available online: predominantly solo artists, with bigger bands sometimes picking up the tempo Fridays and Saturdays. It’s happy hour from 3pm to 6pm, and the wine list is short but good; there's also great tapas, meals and creative cocktails served on their wraparound veranda with views of De Waterkant stretching all the way to Table Bay. 

Contact: thepianobar.co.za
Price: £

The Piano Bar, Cape Town
The Piano Bar, Cape Town

Tjing Tjing

Located in a 200-year-old heritage building on Longmarket Street in the Cape Town city centre, Japanese-themed Tjing Tjing bills itself as a rooftop bar but it’s really a pretty renovated attic space that opens onto a small outside terrace (if it’s too full, decamp downstairs to Momiji Lounge). The curved timber beam ceiling structure and indigo wallpaper creates a cosy atmosphere, the red lacquer bar adds glossy colour and the cocktails are pretty good – try the signature lychee martini. Great tunes – new indie and electronic (playlists available on soundcloud and spotify) – attract a cool local post-work clientele and tourists staying in nearby hotels.

Contact: tjingtjing.co.za
Price: ££

Tjing-Tjing, Cape Town
Tjing-Tjing, Cape Town

Athletic Club & Social

If you have time for only one night cap head on over to the cosiest, coolest restaurant-bar in Cape Town. The three-storey Victorian building was for many years owned by pharmacist and sports fanatic Herbert Tothill; new owner Athos Euripidou pays homage to this with his collection of sports memorabilia, spread across several womb-like spaces he has created for guests to cocoon in. Persians carpets on herringbone wooden floors, tasselled velvet chairs and leather banquettes, walls painted oxblood red or papered in arresting patterns, pools of warm light cast by fringed lamps – it’s sophisticated, fun and very popular. The underground ‘Trophy Room’ hosts music events (live jazz on Thursday evenings from 9pm), or head to the upstairs bar and the wrought-iron balcony. The restaurant is excellent too.

Contact: theathletic.co.za
Price: £

The Power and The Glory

What founder Adam always envisaged as a kind of extension of his home is still one of the best places to spot the Cape Town hipster; The Power and The Glory is where local creatives hang out and order good coffee, handcrafted beers and interesting shooters while watching the traffic crawl up towards Kloofnek. It has a good, simple breakfast menu and great sandwiches. At 5pm the tiny attached bar-room, called The Black Ram, opens up, to fit a few more of the regulars and newbies who drift in off the street. Trendy but unpretentious and very welcoming.

Contact: 00 87 897 9749 
Opening times: Mon-Sat, 8am-10pm; The Black Ram, 5pm till late
Price: £

The Power and The Glory, Cape Town
The Power and The Glory, Cape Town

Camps Bay

Chinchilla Rooftop Café and Bar

Chinchilla, the more informal option located on the rooftop directly above Bilboa, is the most comfortable place to watch the sunset in Camps Bay. It’s a sexy well-dressed bo-ho adults only café bar, with comfortable lounge areas for those who are only here for the cocktails and the view (which is, of course, fabulous), and a few dining tables in between. There's a small classic café menu that includes beef carpaccio; prawn cocktail; grilled steak bearnaise; crayfish; pan-roasted baby squid; beef burger – familiar dishes, well executed.

Contact: chinchillarooftop.co.za
Price: ££
Reservations: Advised for dinner in particular

Chinchilla, Cape Town
Chinchilla, Cape Town

V&A Waterfront

Bascule

Hands down the best bar in the Waterfront, with yachts parked right outside, an intimate, elegant atmosphere, and the best selection of whiskies in the city – over 400 at last count. Cocktails aren’t too shabby either – try the signature Rooibos Whiskey Sour, made with a South African bourbon cask whiskey, or the Garden Martini, a refreshing blend of vodka, basil, lemon grass, lemon juice and elderflower liqueur. On Fridays the after work crowd spills out onto the edge of the marina, with a great view of Table Mountain. Note it's part of the Cape Grace, but feels completely separate from the hotel.

Contact: basculebar.com
Price: ££

Bascule, Cape Town
Bascule, Cape Town

Grand Africa Café and Beach

Sit with your toes curled in the sand while sipping a cocktail and watching the ships chug in and out of the harbour. There’s nothing 'grand' about what is essentially a warehouse overlooking a manmade beach in Granger Bay (adjoining the Waterfront), but the views are sublime. The venue can seat up to 1,000 people – when it’s full, service is slow. There's a good food menu (pizzas particularly), but it’s definitely more of a cocktail vibe; the wine list is also excellent. (Tip: If you prefer sipping cocktails on a lounger around the pool, new Cabo Beach Club, located on the other side of the Waterfront, is another fake beach contender for the Instagram crowd; check it out on cabobeachclub.co.za).

Contact: grandafrica.com
Price: £

Grand Africa, Café and Beach. Cape Town
Grand Africa, Café and Beach. Cape Town
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