I HAVE always loved Loop Street, for so long the plain sister to bodacious Long and trendy Kloof. Always more functional than fun. But no longer. Loop feels like the new heart of a city getting its groove back.
I can feel it from where I sit on the pavement at Butter bistro on Loop Street with the perfect yellow ceramic mug on the perfect wooden platter at the perfect little black table. “Butter makes everything better," says the menu of this tiny eatery — think simple buttered (sourdough) toast, porridge with burnt honey butter and stacks of crumpets oozing butter.
Across the road is one of the oldest corner cafés in the city. Cadiz still sells the cheap egg and tomato sauce hangover sandwich that it did 30 years ago. It's that kind of street.
But the stylish, relaxed, people-spilling-on-to-the-pavement Butter symbolises the new joyful spirit of a city shedding its sad Covid skin. Old and new, traditional and innovative, in comfortable companionship.
Atlas Trading smells of cumin and curry. A family-owned business in the Bo-Kaap since 1946, it sells rice, nuts, lentils and speciality Eastern (and local) foods such as the kumquat pickle that Laureen says is the perfect accompaniment to any curry.
Next to Cape Town's oldest spice shop, on the corner, is the fabulous new Turkish Bazaar stacked with authentic Middle Eastern fare such as tahini and rose jam. And, tacked on to its side, a little restaurant serving authentic döners.
We go down Wale Street towards Heritage Square, flanked by Buitengracht, Shortmarket and Hout streets. It is next to Riebeeck Square, which has ample parking, especially if you arrive early.
In Shortmarket, we climb the narrow staircase to the first-floor jewellery atelier of Philippa Green, where we try on her trademark chunky rings in brass and sterling silver. And we pop into Bergamot, the exclusive stockists of Aesop, the iconic natural skincare brand from Australia.
Long Street has a split personality. Its downtown version is slightly boring; then, for the last few blocks before it crosses Wale Street (on the other side of which it morphs into its bar-and-clubbing persona), it becomes the centre of the African curio district. Hair and nail salons. And markets selling masks, baskets and African cloth.
But there is also the old antique arcade, the centre of Cape Town's antique trade since the late 1990s. It feels otherworldly. Treasures glint from behind the glass shopfronts in the slightly gloomy interior. Right at the back is Glitterati, a vintage treasure trove. Racks of coats and wobbling towers of shirts and jerseys. Jewellery, shoes, scarves and ties. I find the perfect tweed jacket, which Laureen insists I must pair with a red stripy shirt she extracts from a pile with her expert stylist eye before insisting I button it “right to the top". And, of course, she is right. Laureen is always right when it comes to putting together a look. Terry Mullins, who has owned this shop with her mother for 17 years, is highly amused as she writes up our purchases by hand in an invoice book.
Cape Town's hottest restaurant street now is Bree. We head there for lunch via Buiten Street. Laureen introduces me to Pezula Interiors, another Plettenberg Bay-born lifestyle brand. Belonging to Steven Whiteman, son of the maverick hotelier, the late Gail Behr, it is an airy white cathedral of exquisite taste. For rich people. The kind who own beach houses and villas on the Atlantic Seaboard. Rugs from Swaziland, fabrics from Ghana, beads from the Gold Coast. But I am smitten by the beautiful selection of design, film, food and gardening books.
Next door is the Whatiftheworld gallery — the OG of Cape Town's alternative art scene. Born in 2008 in Woodstock, the wild child has grown into a recognised contemporary art gallery, both within South Africa and internationally. Currently exhibiting Sanell Aggenbach and Maja Marx.
We order a pizza to share at the Pizza Shed in Bree. Laureen promises it will be the best I have ever eaten. And it is. Thin-crusted, made from their signature slow-proofed dough. So good, we order another.
On to Kloof. Ice cream at Unframed. A squizz around the Olive Branch Deli stocked with a dizzying array of fantastic products. Laureen loves the sculpted fruit preserves. I stock up on Aleppo pepper from the apothecary-style spice section.
We mosey through AKJP Studio featuring garments from Adrian Kuiper and 40 other sustainable designer and homeware brands. Jade Paton's quirky ceramics are dotted all around. “The most beautiful clothes in Cape Town and everything on trend," says Laureen.
Egghead Diner is a South African take on the iconic Los Angeles brand Eggslut. Its funky and fun interior is design shorthand for contemporary Cape Town. We pop into LIM, the original minimalist interior shop founded by Pauline Mutlow in 1997 and still in its original location.
Down to Dunkley Square on Wandel Street. It still feels like a secret destination, although I remember drinking hot chocolate in front of the fire at Roxy's in the 90s. Judging by the crowd drinking beer in the pale late-afternoon winter sunlight, it remains a magnet for bohemians, artists and creatives. Laidback Cape Town.
On day two of our grand city tour, we head to the East City — the strip of shops and restaurants on Harrington Street. Right at the bottom is Dias Tavern, the Portuguese restaurant and bar that has been there forever. Still serving the same peri-peri chicken, trinchados and prego steak rolls it has for decades.
But the rest of Harrington is a monument to coolness. A trendy bicycle shop, a barber, an outlet for New York bagels, and the flagship store for the cool Swedish brand, Fjällräven. A Lebanese bakery, vintage clothing, an indoor-plant shop and the ultimate cool Cape Town destination grocer — the no-packaging Nude Foods.
We eat Korean popcorn, chicken and dumplings at Downtown Ramen, one of many new Ramen bars popping up all over the city.
Cape Town feels alive again. Full of life and possibility. And the red thread running through its new incarnation, says Laureen, who has lived here all her life, is the Eastern influence you can see and feel. Korean and Chinese, but now Japanese too. From Mochi Mochi, the quirky cafe in Buitengracht, to the finely curated homeware offerings at Waza in upper Bree.
My favourite finds of our rediscovery tour were the Turkish Bazaar in the Bo-Kaap, the delicious book selection at Pezula and the interior design at Egghead. Laureen's: “The charcoal pieces (to cleanse your drinking water) at Waza for R50, and all the different knick-knacks for a considered Japanese lifestyle; the bags full of stickjaw tameletjies at Atlas Trading (about R50 for a bag of about 15); the rediscovery of the antique shops off Long Street; and defs those books at Pezula that you are eyeing".
♦ VWB ♦
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