Cultivating Cool In Cape Town
Not many cities host a regular festival that’s free for all to enjoy, but then Cape Town is no ordinary city. On the first Thursday of every month, a whole host of the Mother City’s galleries, shops, bars and restaurants open their doors slightly later than usual to Capetonians and in-the-know visitors (yep, that would be you) alike to show them a ruddy good cultural time.
It’s an allocated evening for galleries to launch new exhibitions, restaurants to show the city what they’ve got, up-and-coming musicians to show off their talent and pop-up brands to make their mark on a ready-and-waiting audience. And it’s all brought to you by a specially curated walking-tour map that you can pick up from any of the partaking spaces (there are always a few regulars, so don’t worry, you won’t have to look too hard). By no means a set tour, the map is more like a programme or guide that you can follow as loosely or religiously as you like – much like an actual festival, it just tells you what’s going on from 5pm-9pm – and from there the city is your oyster. A balmy Cape Town evening never looked so good. We mean, it doesn’t really get any better than discovering new artists with a G&T in hand, right?
The emphasis is on the art (with roughly 35 galleries partaking at any one time), but First Thursdays also offer the best introduction that you could possibly get to the Mother City’s compact City Bowl District. In fact, what started back in 2012 as a small project involving just six art galleries has grown so extensively that it’s now one of Cape Town’s leading cultural attractions, a kind of eclectic institution that defines the capital far more eloquently than mere words could. And that’s exactly what its co-founders, Gareth Pearson and Michael Tymbios dreamed of: an urban space that once went deathly quiet come evening, turned into a lively hub for people from all walks of life to enjoy collectively; for a more liveable downtown; for the value of experience to overtake that of material goods; for a cityscape to be celebrated for all that it can offer. The end result? A monthly, city-wide, ‘street festival’ that is more of an ingrained cultural ritual than a stand alone event.
So, if you hadn’t quite set your South Africa holiday dates yet, now you have something to plan around. Make sure you hit up the Mother City during the First Thursday of the month for the likes of these gems listed below and oh so much more. Oh and no two First Thursdays are the same which means that your experience will always be unique. Cool, right?
99 Loop Gallery
This chic and modern gallery located on – yep, you’ve guessed it – Loop Street, showcases South Africa’s top emerging and established artists. Here you’ll find anything from paintings, sculptures, photography and they also have the space for more playful installation work. All of that, plus the fact that it’s in such close proximity to the city’s other top galleries, means that you’ll want to linger here for a while.
Another Loop Street treasure, this Ebony Curated is one of three gallery spaces founded by Dewald Prinsloo, Leonard de Villiers and Marc Stanes back in 2007. Here you’ll find classic and contemporary fine art pieces, as well as exclusive local design – think high-end furniture, lighting and rugs.
The Labia Theatre
A quaint Orange Street cinema that feels like you’re watching a film at your grandma’s – if your grandma happened to have four screens – an evening at the Labia, at just 50 Rand a pop, is always a night well spent.But head there on First Thursdays and the cultural experience laid on makes it all the more ‘holiday worthy’. Hosting a Cinema Club, with free entry and free popcorn, First Thursdays at this independent cinema basically means an hour-long visual feast completely gratis. You’ll have to get there around five to grab a slot, but it’s worth it if you’re into your arty films. Promise.
Tjing Tjing House
A hip Japanese eatery turned rooftop bar, Longmarket Street’s Tjing Tjing makes for the perfect stop for a quick bite (and maybe even a drink or two) when on the First Thursdays trail. Expect a delicious, contemporary take on classic Japanese street food dishes, like gyoza and hirata buns, followed by ultra-cool electro-indie beats and bespoke cocktails on the rooftop terrace. Who needs the real thing when you’ve got Cape Town’s answer to Harajuku?
The Gin Bar
The Gin Bar is notoriously Cape Town’s not-so-best-kept secret and is well worth a visit First Thursday or not. Unnasumingly fronted by Wale Street’s decadent Honest Chocolate, a shop that does what it says on the tin (yum), a pretty little courtyard leads to the aptly named gin bar. But it doesn’t stop there, upstairs the delights expand into whiskies, other spirits and artisanal cocktails. On First Thursdays they offer everything from whisky tastings to live music and late night DJ sets – it’s the perfect way to round off some gallery wandering.
A Cape Town institution, Clarke’s Bar & Dining Room on Bree Street is everyone's favourite hangout. Whether grabbing breakfast at 8am or a beer at 11pm, it’s the place to be. And it’s always packed on First Thursdays – only ever a good sign, right? Stop here for a drink, or a cheeky burger.
Located right by all of Cape Town’s best galleries, on Loop Street, Yours Truly is a cool cafe turned bar space that hosts live DJs every Thursday and holds month-long exhibitions in association with VANS. Known for supporting local artists, this one’s always a good go-to on First Thursdays.
The Book Lounge
Whether you’re a big reader or not, nobody can deny having a soft spot for a well put-together independent bookstore and the Book Lounge is just that. The passion for good literature is palpable and the decor oldy-worldy – keeping its doors open later than usual for a First Thursday treat, this one’s worth a wander.
Bree Street’s La Parada is a big hit. Often hosting a First Thursday themed event, this stylish tapas bar is where the in-the-know go to round off their night with a good ol’ boogie.