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Johannesburg Nightlife
Johannesburg Nightlife - TravelPuppy.com
From street bashes and gumba - gumba (traditional house parties in Soweto) to lang - arm (ballroom dances) and jols (any good party) in the suburbs, Johannesburg has a lively nightlife, however it is quite divided between white and black venues. There is a somewhat puzzling selection of bars (often male and sport dominated), pubs (more refined and expensive than bars), shebeens (informal drinking places, generally in someone’s home), taverns (more fancy than a shebeens, perhaps with live music) and nightclubs (venues with cover charges, smart casual dress codes, late openings and generally with dancing) to choose from. Every Friday, the Mail & Guardian publishes exhaustive listings of what is on where. Listings are available online.

The nightlife is focused around distinct districts, with Melville / Brixton being 1 of the most popular areas. Other northern suburbs (such as Norwood, Rosebank, Rivonia and Orange Grove) are also popular with more prosperous party animals, whilst the Central Business District, Braamfontein, Yeoville and Newtown also get going after dark.

Going out alone in Soweto is not recommended, it is advised to go with a local or take a guided tour or ‘Shebeen Crawl’ (see Soweto Tours in the Key Attractions section). There are no strict licensing hours and many clubs stay open until sunrise and after.

The legal drinking age in South Africa is 18. Several upmarket hotels have a smar casual dress code, although in almost all other establishments, anything goes. Admission charges (usually between R 10 and R 50) are fairly common, definitely when there is a live band playing. Raves, a popular Joburg experience, can be expensive at R 80 to R 170. Tickets to these and other events can be purchased online.

Bars

The trendiest bar in town, where the younger crowd and the financial elite sit side by side and suck wine coolers or sip daiquiris and discuss music and millions, is Kilimanjaro in Melrose Arch (telephone: 684 1418). Catz Pajamas, a 24 hour restaurant and pub on Main Road, or The Full Stop, a café on Fourth Avenue, are great places to start the night.

The Ratz Bar, Seventh Street, is another lively young bar, and Roxy Rhythm Bar, 20 Main Road, Melville, is a laid back place for a drink and a game of pinball or pool, although it does get hectic later, as local bands play every night. Donna Diego’s Tobacconist, Seventh Street, is a tobacconist’s shop that is home to a small, comfortable yet upmarket bar. The bar is a great place to buy the smoke of your choice and savour it at the same time as listening to classical music and sipping a brandy.

In Braamfontein, Champions, on the corner of Wolmarans and Rissik Streets, lies Johannesburg’s oldest gay bar. The mixed atmosphere is friendly, although the area is not the safest. Carfax, 39 Pim Street, in Newtown, is the venue to go if you are in the mood for performance art with your beer, it also arranges raves.

1 of the city’s oldest bars is Radium Beer Hall, 282 Louis Botha Avenue, in Orange Grove. It started life as a tea room in 1929, was transformed to a beer hall in 1944 and has never looked back. Alternatively, for real upmarket venue in the suburbs, Jabulani’s, Park Hyatt Hotel, Oxford Road, Rosebank is recommended.

Casinos

The new Montecasino gambling complex is situated in the suburb of Fourways. The complex, which is a replica of a fortified Tuscan village, includes cinemas, restaurants, theatres, clubs and shows. It covers and area of 5 hectares (20 acres) and is a maze underneath a false summer night sky. The casino offers the full range of games and is separated from the shops and restaurants by an artificial stream. The age limit is 18 years and identification will perhaps be needed. There is no dress code however shorts and sandals are not encouraged.

Clubs

Melville has its fair share of trendy nightclubs, however Hillbrow and Yeoville still offer the most genuinely South African club scene. An eclectic mix of disco, hip hop,soul, mbaqanga and kwaito on is offered here, as well as a friendly and up for it crowd.

Base, on the corner of Twist and Kotze Streets, Hillbrow, attracts well dressed customers and benefits from a excellent chill out balcony. Da Flava, Rockey Street, Yeoville, is also aimed at the well dressed, playing a lot of hip hop. The fashionable young black crowd go to Piccadilly Café, corner of Rockey and Cavendish Streets, Yeoville. 206 Live, 206 Louis Botha Avenue, Orange Grove, is a great place to go for funk and drum 'n' bass.

A flourishing rave culture is centred around Ice Productions with its huge Ice Festivals. Their Freedom Festival takes place at The Electric Workshop, in the Mega Music precinct, Gough Street (between Jeppe and Commissioner Streets), Newtown, an area including a revamped old turbine house and numerous smaller venues.

Favoured venues are Reality, 248 Jeppe Street, which has 3 dance floors and offers a blend of hip hop, house and drum 'n' bass, Midrand, the home of some big parties of note, Bump, on the corner of Alexander and Aitken Roads, and Carfax, 39 Pim Street, Newtown, which is a chief venue for launches and parties. Big Brother Productions hosts regular H²O parties at Wildwaters, a water theme park in Boksburg, east of Johannesburg. Other extraordinary venues for raves include the Newtown Music Hall (formerly the Mega Music Warehouse), between Pim, Goch, Bezuidenhout and President Streets, Newtown, the turbine hall of a deserted power station.

Cultural Events

The Arts Alive festival (telephone: (011) 838 6407) occurs each year during September, primarily at venues in Newtown but also in Soweto and Tembisa. Apart from stage productions and general music concerts, such as the popular Jazz on the Lake (at the Zoo lake), community festivals from Alexandra and Soweto are also included. There are several sub festivals that occur at the same time, including Joy of Jazz and Dance @ Arts Alive. This is observed as 1 of South Africa’s top dance festivals and boasts a huge programme. Zwakala Festival at the Market Theatre Laboratory is an annual festival, into its 9th year, which gives novice theatre groups the opportunity to perform in a professional environment (telephone: (011) 832 1642/3).

FNB Vita run numerous festivals, including Dance Umbrella, the major national platform for South African choreography, each February and March, at the Wits Theatre, Jorrisson Street, Braamfontein, the Windybrow Theatre Festival, every March at the Windybrow Centre for the Arts, 161 Nugget Street, Hillbrow, and the Market Theatre Laboratory Community Theatre Festival, where music, plays and dance are showcased by community theatre troupes in May.

The annual World of Music and Dance festival, WOMAD, takes place over a weekend, at Bluegum Creek in Benoni, and includes a late night dance event, workshops and weekend camping (dates change every year).

Dance

Dance Factory (telephone: (011) 833 1347, facsimile: (011) 833 1263, email address: dancefactory@icon.co.za), President Street, Newtown Cultural Precinct, hosts a massive range of international and local performers, often mixing classical and ethnic styles.

Film

Ster - Kinekor (telephone: 086 030 0222) cinemas are situated at dozens of venues throughout Johannesburg and screen mainstream movies. Cinema Nouveau, situated at The Mall shopping centre, 50 Bath Avenue, Rosebank (telephone: (011) 880 2866), has a reputation for showing art house films. The year 2000 saw the 1st ever Soweto Film Festival, which could well become an annual event.

Some prominent films set in Johannesburg include Mapantsula (1988), which tells of a petty hoodlum caught up in the events of the student riots in Soweto, The Foreigner (1994), which deals with the growing xenophobia aimed mostly at immigrant Africans in Johannesburg, and The Line (1996), which portrays ordinary South Africans caught up in the violent times of a fast changing society.

Literary Notes

Johannesburg’s turbulent past (and present) has provided fertile grounds for the growth of a rich literary tradition.

A brilliant source of books is the African Books Collective. Nadine Gordimer, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991, was born close to the city in 1923 and has lived in Parktown, Johannesburg since 1948. In The House Gun (1998), set in Johannesburg, she explores, through a murder trial, the struggles of a violence ridden post apartheid society.

In his writings about Johannesburg, Herman Charles Bosman (1910 to 1951) presents the soul of the city as reflecting the soul of Africa. To understand the background as to why Johannesburg has intrigued so many writers, Gandhi’s Johannesburg: Birthplace of Satyagraha (2000), by Eric Itzkin, and A City Divided: Johannesburg and Soweto (1984), by Nigel Mandy, are both good preliminary reads.

Although Nelson Mandela was not born in Johannesburg, he did own a law practice here in the 1950's and was arrested in the suburb of Rivonia, before being tried and convicted for treason in 1963. Mandela’s autobiography Long Walk to Freedom (1995) presents a remarkable insight into what Johannesburg in the 1940's and 50's was like for this extraordinary man.

Zakes Mda’s new novel about Sophiatown, Heart of Redness (2001), discovers the area during ‘The golden 50's, the flowering of South African culture and the Sophiatown renaissance.’ 1 of Johannesburg’s most well known theatrical sons is Pieter-Dirk Uys, perhaps better known as Evita Bezuidenhout. Pieter-Dirk Uys started frustrating South African politicians and censors with his plays from 1973 onwards. His more notorious works include Adapt or Dye (1981), which insulted the white regime’s preoccupation with skin colour and, more recently, Truth Omissions (1996 / 1997), a somewhat ascorbic comment on South Africa’s Truth Commission, a post apartheid platform to assist reconciliation and reparation.

1 of South Africa’s greatest living poets, Don Mattera, was born in Johannesburg’s Sophiatown in 1935. His grandparents sent him to a private Catholic boarding school, which he despised. Here he acquired little other than skills in English, boxing and codes of masculinity, which he turned to great advantage on his return to Sophiatown, where he became leader of one of the most well known gangs, the Vultures. Then, slowly, along with the campaign opposed to the apartheid removals (from Sophiatown), began the process of politicisation (membership of the ANC Youth League) and his conversion from gangland boss to political activist.

Poetry

Poetry Slams (literary boxing matches) happen at the Mixer Café Theatre, on the corner of Fourth Avenue and Seventh Street, Melville.

Music

The forceful lyrics and irresistible dance beats of kwaito can be heard blasting out of clubs, taxis, shebeens and street parties throughout Johannesburg. The genre uses local languages and street slang in lyrics that reflect life in South Africa and employs a distinct South African style of dressing and dancing.

Places to hear kwaito include Enigma, 187 Oxford Road, Rosebank (telephone: (011) 442 9190), Sankayi, Mutual Square, Rosebank (telephone: (011) 447 8653), Planet Katzys, Lakeside Mall, Benoni (telephone: (011) 427 1964), Monsoon Lagoon, and Caesar’s Palace, Kempton Park (telephone: (011) 928 1280). Also worth checking out are La Frontière, Hillbrow, Insomnia, Randburg, Tandoor, Yeoville, 707i, Orlando West, Soweto. Maskande is a Zulu / country fusion that is well signified by Philemon Zulu and the Jeremy Franklin Band. Busi Mhlongo and Madala Kunene are also worth watching.

Gigs are not as common as they are for kwaito performances, therefore visitors should check local press. Good website's to get all the latest details include www.rage.co.za

Melville’s The Bassline has moved to the Newtown Music Hall (formerly Mega Music Warehouse) in the Newtown Cultural Precinct and is still 1 of the most popular jazz and blues venues in Johannesburg, hosting several great local live bands (such as Tananas).

In Melville, the Roxy Rhythm Bar may lean towards students but, despite its brawny rock and basic burger atmosphere, you are still certain of a great local music line up. Rosebank has the dark, smoky Blues Room, located in the Village Walk complex on Rivonia Road, which is rated as the best jazz and blues venue in town. In Newtown, Kippies, at the Market Theatre, 121 Bree Street, also hosts very good (and subsequently packed) jazz nights. Travellers seriously into live music, are advised to take a guided tour of Soweto’s shebeens. Julian’s Bistro and Music Theatre, 286 Acacia Road, Blackheath, is open from Wednesdays to Sundays and concentrates on blues, jazz blues, blues rock and fusion. Brilliant sites to visit are www.tonight.co.za

Theatre

Since 1976 and the days of protest theatre, the Market Theatre Company, 121 Bree Street, Newtown Cultural Precinct (telephone: (011) 832 1641), has gained a reputation for putting on productions that are socially relevant. The Civic Theatre Complex, Loveday Street, Braamfontein (telephone: (011) 403 3408), comprises the Nelson Mandela Theatre (formerly Civic Main), Tesson, Thabong and Pieter Roos theatres and an art gallery. Shows are mainly local productions, spectaculars, musicals, comedy and pantomime (when in season).

Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre, Shop 65, Montecasino Boulevard, on the corner of William Nicol Drive and Witkoppen Road, Fourways (telephone: (011) 511 1988), owned by the great impresario who gave it his name, gives both new and established artistes opportunities for new directions and growth.

Another famous theatre and cabaret figure, Richard Loring, runs The Sound Stage, Old Pretoria Road, Midrand (telephone: (011) 315 5084).