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Best bars in Cape Town

Views, cocktails and speakeasies

Walk around the streets of Cape Town for an evening and you can practically hear the clinking of glasses! The Mother City is abuzz with cool bars and a new opening seems to pop up every month or two. It’s almost impossible to only name a few, so we’ve taken an entirely biased view and created our own personal “best bars in Cape Town” list. We’ll definitely drink to that!

Best bars in Cape Town - the silo
Enjoy the best views of the Mother City at the Silo Rooftop Bar

1. Rooftop gems

Let’s start with the CBD’s latest hotspot, Gigi. Part of South Africa’s first Design Hotels member, Gorgeous George, this Instagram-worthy rooftop is rather special. Come with friends at the weekend for live DJ sets and acclaimed mixologist Jody Rahme’s excellent cocktail creations.

Meanwhile at the V&A Waterfront’s Silo District, you can hit two rooftop standouts in one evening. Start at the plush Silo Rooftop at the Silo Hotel with a glass of bubbly, wine or a cocktail, accompanied by treats from the tempura bar while you watch the sun sink into the ocean. The views are nothing short of spectacular, making this a ridiculously popular haunt – and the only way up is if you have a reservation. Once the Silo Rooftop closes after sunset, hop across the street to the Radisson RED Hotel. A cool hipster hangout, the RED Roof comes complete with a drinks van to order cocktails from and many a live music night. Oh, and those unbeatable views of course.

Moving back into the CBD, the Asian-tinged Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar has been a massive hit ever since it opened in 2011. The old attic with a Japanese shrine-inspired red bar opens up to an airy outside rooftop terrace. Listen to indie and electronic music over cocktails and otsumami, whilst nibbling on okonomiyaki fries.

Best bars in Cape Town - chinchilla
Immerse yourself in the vibey beach scene of Chinchilla Rooftop Bar

2. Beach beauties

Being a seaside town, a visit to a beach bar is of course a must – and they don’t come much grander than the aptly-named Grand Africa Café & Beach near the V&A Waterfront. This beach club-style destination offers a whopping five bars to choose from, complete with palm trees and day beds. Our pick is the Ibiza Beach Bar for a dipping-your-toes-in-the-sand-while-drinking-cocktails-and-eating-seafood-nibbles kind of day.

If you happen to be staying in glorious Camps Bay, then head to Chinchilla – the vibey rooftop space on the strip simmers in summer, with beautiful bronzed bodies hitting it up for cocktails, light bites and DJ beats after a day on the beach. Later this year, you might also want to check out the new rooftop bar at the expanded Marly Hotel – word has it that, come December, it will join the ranks of best bars in Cape Town.

Best bars in Cape Town - cause effect
Specially crafted, experimental cocktails at Cause & Effect Bar. Credit: Crush Magazine

3. Experiential, multi-tasking spots

Some bars stand out from the norm thanks to innovative concepts. One such watering hole is the award-winning Cause & Effect, just off Kloof Street in the CBD. Offering the liquid equivalent of a three-course meal, you can choose a starter, main and dessert cocktail – or simply order whatever the heck you feel like. Classic cocktails do feature on the menu but it’s the Experiential section that turns this into one of the best bars in Cape Town. The cocktails ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘Nelly the Elephant’ are as wonderfully OTT as their names suggest, whilst also being expertly crafted. Rumour has it they are also opening a second spot in the V&A Waterfront towards the end of 2019.

If gin is your tipple of choice, then The Gin Bar is a must. The location for one is genius – the bar is hidden in a quaint courtyard behind the utterly moreish Honest Chocolate Café in the CBD, meaning you could essentially satiate any chocolate cravings on your way in too! Choose from five “potions”, a traditional G&T, or an educational gin tasting.

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Best bars in Cape Town - orphanage
Sample tasty cocktails at the cosy Orphanage Cocktail Emporium. Credit: John Henry

4. Secret – and not-so-secret – Speakeasies

Those who don’t mind a bit of a show with their cocktails will love the prohibition-era-inspired The Art of Duplicity. Hidden in a hush-hush top-secret location, you’ll have to make a reservation to be given clues as to where it is. Upon entry, you’ll be asked for a secret phrase and then taken through a dark alley to a 1920s speakeasy. It’s not all show though – the mixologists serve some of the best cocktails in town together with excellent food platters. Great fun.

Another (non-hidden) speakeasy favourite is Orphanage Cocktail Emporium on Bree Street. The cosy, low-lit bar serves brilliantly named cocktails such as ‘More Tea Vicar?’ and ‘Benedict Cucumber Patch.’ Live music, DJ nights and yummy bites all add to the allure.  Another plus – it’s open until 02:00. Then there’s the newly launched Athletic Club & Social, named after its former life as an underground speakeasy-style bar for athletes. The building dates to the 1900s, which is reflected in the gorgeous vintage-style interior design spread over three floors. The basement bar area, dubbed The Trophy Room, is for live music and DJ sets, while the ground-floor restaurant and bar and the top-floor lounge with balcony are perfect for a glass of red or a top-notch cocktail.

Best bars in Cape Town - Publik
Discover some hidden wine gems at the off-beat Publik

5. Wine dens

As you are probably aware, Capetonians are big on wine – and there are plenty of bars to sample some of the best varietals from both South Africa and around the world. For something a bit more offbeat try Publik or Openwine. The former is a lively joint that specialises in introducing oenophiles to lesser-known wines from small producers and the carefully curated list will have something new each time you visit. The latter is a one-stop wine-concept store, with an all-South African wine line up but served “the Italian way”. Divided into The Kitchen, The Lounge and The Cellar, there are various ways to taste wine as well as some delectable nibbles. There is also a popular food pairing option – and of course all wines can be purchased to continue the vino-experience at home.

Best bars in Cape Town - elegant dames
Lounge in luxury at the plush Willaston Bar

6. Elegant dames

Feeling fancy? Then dress up for a glass of bubbly, wine, or sophisticated cocktail at one of the best hotel bars in Cape Town. There are plenty to choose from but three of our favourites include the Planet Bar at the iconic Mount Nelson (think breezy terrace in summer and cosy fireplace lounge in winter, coupled with impeccable yet non-intimidating service); the Willaston Bar at the aforementioned Silo Hotel – all plush velvet, great cocktails, and those views again, this time through the famous curved pillow windows; and Bascule Bar at the Cape Grace Hotel, for its impressive collection of over 400 whiskeys.

Best bars in Cape Town - power and glory
Make like a local and enjoy a cold beer at hip The Power and the Glory

7. The absolute classics

Last, but certainly not least, are our absolute classics. The ones that, if we were pushed, we would say are the must-dos and must-drinks of your time in Cape Town – and the ones that have stood the test of time amongst the newbies with their sparkling infusions and glitzy concoctions. The House of Machines, or THoM, manages to cram a whole lot in under one roof. It’s a motorbike workshop, café and men’s apparel shop by day; and a hipper than hip cocktail bar by night. ‘Nuff said; go check it out. Then, there’s The Power and the Glory, everybody’s favourite neighbourhood bar that’s located just off uber-trendy Kloof Street. It’s the kind of place where you go to let off steam and listen to some tunes and there’s frequently a pile of people on the street outside, sipping G&Ts. Get there early to secure a sought-after table inside – and something from the snack counter.

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