I’m kind of on the hunt for the perfect cocktail in each neighbourhood I venture into.
In this instance, it’s less professional reviewing (which would require far more discipline in spirited methodology), and more about sheer fun.
With the rise of microbrewing, as well as Gin, Vodka, Tequila and Wine lovers having grasped the market monopoly away from established and larger beverage producers, there is a rise of people just wanting to drink something good, ideally local, “authentic”, and something that’s also in their price zone.
No airs of pretension.
However, an undeniable thread that binds beverage experiences – old and new – is the drinker being able to savour the terroir of the gin, wine, beer etc.
The colour, pungency, thickness, quality level, and so much of the essential origin bits of alcohol, can’t be discounted when a customer takes the satisfying first gulp of their chosen nectar.
So, I’m venturing around my city when I can, to drink my way through hidden nooks and rooftop bars, members-only clubs and restaurant bars too.
- Good flavor
- Brilliant aesthetic
- A memorable, recommendable experience for my stop-in.
First up: The Athletic Club & Social
The Central Business District | 35 Buitengracht St, CBD, Cape Town, 8001
Here’s the great thing about The Athletic Club & Social: Before you even take in its view of the cityscape – every single bit of their interiors and architectural design, is worthy of its own individual visit, drink choice, and general mood.
The sum of its parts (including a neo-french noir bar and typified laidback Cape Town ambience) honestly cultivates the airs of progressive bistronomy.
The Athletic Club, however, is also one of the closest ways to get a taste of the kinds of ambience’ful members-only clubs and “only those in the know, know” hidden city gems.
It’s contained, but stately, with a vantage point on their balcony that looks out to some of Cape Towns most coveted real estate and captivating vistas.
While very curated to look vintage cool – with some genuine artefacts that date back to the establishments’ heyday – it is genuinely enjoyable to seat yourself on plush, but worn seating in their bright colourful hues, and order yourself something cosmopolitan.
Perched up high, I categorically made my way through various sections of the Drinks Menu here, which predominantly cater to the lofty cashmere gangs that make their way here in their vintage automobiles.
The prices and cocktail names shouldn’t deter anyone on the hunt for something quality to ease their parched throat.
I started off with the ‘El Diablero‘ (Cost: R60) – not quite aptly named, as it brought none of the heat and spice its name evokes.
Wild Berries, lime juice, Angostura Bitters, Ginger Beer, dehydrated Lime, and Tequila, make up its construction. The pungent berries, as well as the ginger, overpower the rest of the drinks’ rather beloved ingredients.
Verdict: Quenches, but without character.
The drink to order at this establishment is the ‘Clover Club‘ (Cost: R70).
Its design: John Ross Herbarium, Rasberry, Aqua Faba, and Lemon juice.
It’s not opulent, nor decadent; Not cheap, nor seemingly “easy”.
Smooth – that’s the first impression as soon as the foam and liquid meet your lips, slinks down your tongue, and coats your tastebuds, before discretely flowing down your throat.
It’s smooth – and not the forgettable kind, because the mouthfeel lends to the experience in flavour.
No one ingredient overpowers the next.
The Clover Club is the one to drink because everything is working in an alcoholic symphony.
Others to try: The ‘1998’ and a shot of Espolon Tequila!
Second to the table: Tjing Tjing
Cape Town City Centre | 165 Longmarket St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town, 8001
The Asian architectural elements that greet guests from the destinations sign, already point to something unique, as TJING TJING rests slimly between otherwise bland neighbours.
Shirk your Western sensibilities for a taste of the East and Japanese subcultures (or sometimes a fusion of it). The three-storey Japanese emporium TJING TJING, is celebrated for its singular offer of good food, otsumami (Japanese snacks), a fair few inventive beverages (from what I hear), and relaxed ambience.
I gorged myself on a hearty meal of the Traditional Japanese Breakfast (Teriyaki grilled fish, rice, pickles, Sesame greens, and Miso soup), on the ground floor, before venturing further up towards embroidered blue wallpaper, decorating kokeshi dolls, and vinyl-covered seating, to digest and dessert.
The rooftop bar isn’t a den of iniquity.
It’s actually a roomy and quite comfortable place to settle in with friends or acquaintances for a no-pressure visit while the wind billows about gently.
The benefit of the drinks on offer at TJING TJING, is that they present you with the opportunity to titillate your senses by alternating between sweet, tangy, and punchy in different flavour combos.
Having already had a taste of some of their “conventional” drink choices (try the Shibuya – Malibu coconut Rum, apple cinnamon, Star Anise, Pineapple, Lemon), my waitresses recommendation of the ‘Kasai‘ turned out to be a hit!
The design: Fireball Whisky, Ginger, Pineapple, and spicy chilli with a dash of lime.
It is memorable – hitting high notes with the tickle of its heat, and the sweetness of everything else mixed in. The whisky is by no means top shelf (or even mid-range), but it’s forgiven because the cocktail is an all-around good one.
Definitely give the Kasai a try for a party of the senses!
If you’re tweaking for an ultra-sweet cocktail, order up the Dessert cocktail made of: White Chocolate liquor, Strawberry and baobab, the bar man’s homemade syrup, some cream, and garnished with mint and apple.
It’s not for everyone, as this cocktail is less about refreshment and refined flavour, and actually tends to coat your throat, satisfy those with a sweet tooth and zero cavity worries, and leaves the drinker with a sugar high of note.
I loved it!
Others to try:
Shinjuki (Takamaka Rum, Pineapple, Star Anise, Almonds, Grapefruit, and Lemonade).
It is one of the most well-defined cocktails I’ve ever had. It doesn’t overwhelm or contradict any meal you may be having at TJING TJING too.
Third to bat: Cause | Effect
Victoria & Alfred Waterfront | 280 Dock Rd, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, Cape Town, 8001
It’s said that cocktails sometimes taste better with a view.
I won’t discount that wisdom, but some places deliver bliss by the glass, by the service, and by their ambience.
Cause | Effect is a globally ranked “Experiential Cocktail Kitchen & Brandy Bar inspired by Cape Town’s fynbos, oceans, vineyards and mountain”… but people who go there rarely know that.
We’re often simply drawn in by thirst, and what appears to be a really “chill” vibe that’s made by the people nodding along to an eclectic mix of Indie, Hip Hop, and House music, as well as being a place perfectly situated to catch the cool waterfront breeze.
Bedecked in warm woods, copper-tinged furnishings, and yielding brown leather, the establishment founded by award-winning Mixologist Kurt Schlechter and his partner James ‘Trigger’ Phillips, is responsible for some of the finest contributions to the culture and experience of dining – and that’s from around the world!
The proof of their prowess is in each order – intrinsically bound by inspiration to the Cape’s best bits.
The Drinkaterium (Cost R129) is as much about the flavour of the cocktail, as it is about the presentation.
Ginologist Floral Gin, Wild Fennel, local Vermouth, Litchi, Capritif, and Soda, come encapsulated in a fauna terannium mystified for effect, and honestly as visually delicious as the refreshing cocktail.
It’s not too memorable on the tongue – veering the side of safe, smooth, and cool, rather than truly reaching for an edge.
Got a taste for the classics, delivered in a different way?
Order up the House Gin Martini, which is made dry, and with a 3:1 ratio of gin: vermouth, and completed by 3 olives.
Need I ruminate on the merits of a well-made Martini?
Well, it’s one of the quintessential examples of true elegance – sophisticated from delicate glassware to the smooth and crisp elixir itself.
Cause | Effect walks the line on balance, with their choice of Gin, as well as favouring olives over a twist of lemon. However, the impressive number of people who kept ordering this particular rendition seems to speak for itself.
My personal recommendation for DIY Martini preparation is giving Japanese Roku Gin a try, and NOT overdoing it with the Vermouth, lest it overpowers the entire drink – trust me!
High praise so far, goes to the liquorice-tasting The Langa (below left) – Arrack Aybrook & Maison Old Reserve, Apple Rooibos, Franshhoek Absinthe, Salt, and Seaweed.
Others to try:
The Cape Negroni (above right) – comprised of local Gin, Caperitif, Campari bitters, and Orange.