Cocktail culture has gripped Cape Town and a night on the town in one of the most beautiful cities in the world should include world-class cocktails.
In anticipation of a long, hot summer I hit the nightspots to conduct some in-depth research into where to go and what to drink. Time constraints limited me to four places. Addresses and contact details are at the end of the story.
The idea was to drink less, but drink better and ensure that whatever cocktails we ordered were made with premium and super-premium spirits. There is a world of difference between cocktails made with average spirits compared to gems crafted with world-class spirits.
First stop was HQ, which a few years ago was famous for Friday nights with Rene the DJ. HQ is a restaurant and bar with a decent dance area. The crowd is from 22 to about 70, with the older patrons occupying more of the restaurant area than the bar area. We ordered a Guatemalan Mai Tai, which has a base of Ron Zacapa Rum, served in an Easter Island statue style glass and a HQ Blush, with a base of Tanqueray 10 Gin.
The drinks transported us to an island setting, you know the scene, close your eyes and imagine the cool breeze, sand between your toes…yes, that scene. Drinks were delicious, the vibe was great and picking up quite quickly, a few people had started dancing but…we had other places to go.
A short walk down Longmarket Street took us to Tjing Tjing. The bar is above a very popular daytime eatery, Dear Me. Tjing Tjing recently opened a very stylish and intimate whisky bar. My natural instinct was to camp at the whisky bar for the night but whisky would have to wait. Stepping up into what is one of Cape Town’s best rooftop bars is a treat. The bar was very busy with a varied crowd, hipsters to bachelorette party people. Long beards and short skirts.
The drinks – we tried a margarita with Don Julio tequila and a Cosmopolitan with Ciroc Vodka. I confess to not being a big fan of Vodka. I like flavour. Vodka is a flavour neutral spirit. What to do? Focus on texture – a perfect texture is what I’m looking for in a premium spirit. Ciroc delivers silkiness on the palate that makes for a classy Cosmo. Tequila – well, I think there are three types: Those that have a place at student bars with a supply of salt and lemon; those that are “ja well no fine ok if you need to”; and those that should be sipped, slowly. Don Julio fits into the latter category. An appearance and texture similar to a decent whisky, it is perfect on its own and in a cocktail it is pretty damn good, thanks very much.
Next stop was the highlight – Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar. What began as a pop-up bar, a risky three-month experiment, is now one of Cape Town’s best venues for proper drinks. Try a Lawrence of Arabia, a Sir Lowry Vesper or just put yourself in the hands of the bar team and let them make your evening. A choice of around 200 different types of gin and variety of tonic waters, local, imported, traditional, craft – take your pick. The crowd – cool, sexy, dare I say quietly cultured?
Caitlin Hill, (ex-Orphanage), one of the owners, took care of us and yes, we experimented a bit with some of the more exotic gins. Mother’s Ruin caters to one of my core beliefs – that a Martini should be made with Gin, not Vodka, and with proper vermouth. At Mother’s Ruin there is a lot to believe in, such as the power of a passionate team producing perfect cocktails with premium products. I think Mother’s Ruin is ideal for a G & T after work, or pre or post dinner cocktails. Actually – spend the evening there, kick back, have something to drink, something to eat, chill a little. You deserve it.
The final cocktail venue was Orphanage Cocktail Bar. Closed now and moving to Speaker’s Corner, Church Square, Orphanage was among the first mainstream high-end cocktail bars. Modern legends of the cocktail scene such as Nick Koumbarakis, Brent Perremore, Assaf Yechiel & Anil Sabharwal have worked at or had a hand in menu design and training at Orphanage.
I don’t know what we had but it was spectacular. The base was Tanqueray 10 but the remaining ingredients are a mystery. Assaf said “sit back, relax, and enjoy”, and we did. Aromas of juniper, orange, limes, grapefruit, mixed herbs leapt out the glass. A custom cocktail from one of South Africa’s best bartenders is a real treat. I’m looking forward to trying out the new Orphanage when it opens.
Conclusion – stick to the good stuff, go to the good places, put yourself in the hands of skilled bartenders and you’ll enjoy world-class experiences.
Mother’s Ruin Gin Bar
219 Bree Street, Cape Town 082 681 6601
Address: 165 Longmarket St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001, South Africa n Phone:+27 21 422 4374
100 Shortmarket St, Cape Town, South Africa, 8001
Phone: 021 424 6373
Was at 227 Bree St, and is moving to Speaker’s Corner, Church Square. +27 21 424 2004