After #Basculegate, Bascule goes from (almost) ruin to redemption. Well done @CapeGrace

It makes me happy to write this. It makes me happy to write good things about Bascule.

There was considerable fallout after my original post about Bascule. My thought was to get the hotel to sit up and take notice after many private emails and conversations passed without the CG acting on complaints.  Immediately after my post the hotel denied that anything was wrong. Then lawyers got involved. They said if I carried on with negative public comments the hotel would ban me. I said here that I can’t afford a legal battle, nor could I afford to be banned from a place that is part of the Whisky fabric in Cape Town.

But nearly a year after the post, most of what I complained about (and granted, what I complained about was subjective, my opinion only and the hotel did deny everything) has been fixed. The Bascule is on its way to restoring its whisky heritage.

Importantly, in public I repeat my private apology to Michael Liffmann. What I did wrong was that I attacked your character. I should not have done that. Instead I should have simply stuck to the facts. I hope that you will enjoy more support from the staff and any negativity that you feel blows away faster than the froth on your favourite CBC craft beer in a south-easter!

On the whisky front it seems that George has taken back control of the bar. The Bascule now boasts stunning new display windows, showcasing the best of South Africa in the form of the multi-award winning Three Ships expressions & Bain’s Cape Mountain Whisky. Bascule is a whisky bar in South Africa and it makes sense, and makes me proud, that Bascule has chosen to feature the best we have to offer. Recently I attended the launch of the Bunnahabhain display – a must see, very clever use of the maritime theme linking whisky to the Waterfront.

Unfortunately for Bascule, George Novitskas is heading to Gauteng where he has accepted a position at an international drinks company. George will be looking after luxury brands, something he is well suited to after his time in the opulent, elegant world of the Cape Grace.

That begs the question: who will take over? I don’t know the internal workings but I would suggest Bradley Jacobs, the assistant manager. Bradley has been a Bascule stalwart for years. He has a wealth of whisky knowledge and has been rebuilding Bascule back to a whisky bar. If merit were the only factor, Bradley would be my first choice. On the empowerment front, Bradley would add some much needed colour to a very pale management team at Cape Grace. So – let’s hear it for Brad!

What’s new at Bascule? Cocktails. Not the normal fare, but some very clever, high-end drinks. Among those mixing them are Andrew, possibly still celebrating Zimbabwe’s cricket victory over the Aussies, and Devin, ex-Orphanage, Cape Town’s best cocktail bar. Inspiration and advice came from Anil at Shaker Bar School. Some of the offerings are a Rooibos Blazer (Lagavulin 16; maple syrup; lemon bitters & rooibos tea) at R 190; Cape Malay Curry (Johnnie Walker Platinum; Apricot liqueur; roasted cumin) at R 110. Chatting with Bradley last week he said that the cocktails are made with double measures of the lead spirit. The mathematically inclined among you may be interested to know that a single Lagavulin 16 goes for R 100, so with that in mind, the cocktail is pretty good value.

George said “As you know most whisky lovers prefer to drink their whisky neat. Yet whisky cocktails are making a huge come back worldwide. A good whisky marries beautifully with citrus flavours, loves a bit of spice, and can be utterly transformed by a shot of sweetness tempered with a dash of bitters.

Bascule has always been at the cutting edge of whisky trends so it made sense for us to diversify our whisky offerings in the form of a new whisky cocktail menu, making whisky the star attraction. To start our creative juices flowing, we took inspiration from our local heritage experimenting with fynbos, rooibos and locally grown herbs to really bring out the beautiful expressions of single malt and blended whiskies used. All ingredients used are house made such as our chocolate and lemon bitters, ginger beer, spiced purees and naartjie ratafia.  We have utilised whiskies from the full whisky flavour spectrum to suit any whisky palate as well as non-whisky drinker. It is also important to remember that these cocktails are not seasonal and can be enjoyed all year round. 

The passion at Bascule will always be whisky.  The new menu is designed to get people excited about whisky again and for non-whisky drinkers to fall in love with it like the rest of us.”

Back to my original post. I suggested the following:

  1. Bring back the comfortable seating.
  2. Make a designated, comfortable outdoor area for smokers. Cigar lovers don’t want to be huddled under umbrellas in the rain during winter or blown away by the Cape south-easter during summer.
  3. Make a special area for the members.
  4. Have regard to the views of the members.
  5. Give George, the manager proper authority. He has the support of the staff and members.
  6. Remove Liffmann from the decision making process. He does not enjoy the respect of the staff or any of the members I’ve spoken with.
  7. Get rid of the hookers.

Subsequent to my post…

1 – The seats remain, the couches gone, a distant memory. It is a pity. No change.

2 – Cigar smoking is gone, Cape Town following the international trend. It is what it is. No change.

3 & 4 – I hear there is a new membership offering, with private areas, discounted rates, special members evenings and so on. A lot of members left, but I hear that a lot have signed up for the new offering. Positive change.

5 – I understand George (and Bradley) were given more authority than he had at the time of my article. Positive change.

6 – Michael Liffman is still there, but I understand stepped back from Bascule’s operations. Change.

7 – The hookers. That seemed to generate the most coverage. Let me relate a story. A few months ago I went to East Africa on a whisky gig. I stayed at a top hotel and once I settled in to my room, went downstairs for a drink. I walked in to the bar and the half a dozen women sitting at the bar turned and batted their false eyelashes at me. It was not because I am a Brad Pitt lookalike. I’m not. It is because I was  a tourist and tourists are perceived to have fat wallets. The point is that most 5 star hotels in the world have prostitutes on the premises. It is a fact of life.

Since my article I understand that Cape Grace has taken several measures to deal with the scourge of prostitution. (They deny that anything they have or have not done is a result of my article). Apart from one initiative introduced in conjunction with the V & A Waterfront, all measures are internal. They include enhanced access control to certain areas inside the hotel; tighter coverage via CCTV, more uniformed and undercover security personnel and certain other measures.  There are other measures, of course, that have been introduced since the article appeared. Well done CG – you have now done good, confronting the problem.  Why Philma Gomes, the PR director, denied that there were prostitutes is still a mystery to me.

I’ve been to Bascule about 4 times in the past 6 months and am pleased to say that the measures have worked. Positive change.

Membership was also an issue, with members originally not being credited for the time the Bascule was closed. The original response to complaints was “During the Bascule closure, all whisky members have had access to their whisky from their lockers and were offered 10% discount at all F&B outlets.”

A week after some comment on my blog about membership CG sent out an email to members saying “Dear Valued Member of Bascule.  I would like to inform you that your memberships have been extended by 2 months due to the closure for the refurbishment in March of last year. If you have already paid for the renewal of your membership it will be extended by 2 months of your current membership year.  I do apologies for the late communication of this information and if you have any further questions or concerns please don’t hesitate to contact me.”

Common sense and decency eventually prevailed as one would expect from such a great hotel, and the members got some of what they wanted.

On the staffing front, someone I found to be a particularly problematic waitress changed her name and left the country. Positive change. The staff seem happier. Positive change. There is a new personnel manager, Barry Ross, who I think is an excellent addition to the CG and I wish him well. I’ll be sending him information about a responsible drinking initiative I’d like to do at bars and hotels at the Waterfront. He seems keen to help. Unfortunately the many emails I sent to the GM Sandy Pollard and PR director Philma Gomes about the responsible drinking issue went unanswered. I think that’s a bit rude of them.

Overall – well done to Bascule, well done Cape Grace, you’re heading in the right direction and have done well.

See you this Tuesday evening.

Thank you.