You can read a city by its streets. These palimpsests of progress, decay and rejuvenation reveal how we live and play, work, eat, consume and pay homage. Walk the length of Bree Street, beginning in the southwest and heading for the harbour and at every crossroad there’s a story waiting to be re-told.
They say the last places to board the windows and finally lock the doors as inner city decay spreads are churches and liquor stores. When they go, a part of the city dies. But there are no such markers on Bree Street. At the top end—that’s the mountainside for non-Capetonians—seated gracefully on the corner of Orphan Street is a beautiful stonework church, the Anglican Church of St Paul. Further up, across Buitensingel Street, where Bree starts is the fashionable Fire & Ice Hotel, also a place of extremes.
Unfortunately, the Sunday believers can’t break croissant at Crust Café (021-422-2222) as it’s only open Monday to Friday. But it does open at 7:30am and they do serve “Dippy Eggs”—soft-boiled eggs with marmite toast “soldiers”. You can buy a one-roomed, 62m2 apartment next door in The Edge for about R1.2m. It’s a modern development, square and functional, aiming for minimal but achieving banal. Not even the design skills of John Jacobs Interiors (021-422-0105) on the next block would help.
A man who can help you sort out the frustrations in your life is Commando who runs Pound For Pound, a traditional boxing gym (072-159-8361) at the crossroad of Buiten Street. He keeps the professionals he trains separate from those who just want to get fit. Private classes start at R200 per session and group classes are R70. His gym is above a wonderful kids store called Merry Pop Ins, run by the charming Andrea. It’s a storehouse of fabulous second-hand children’s clothes, toys, books and related stuff.
At the next corner is DVD Nouveau (021-422-4984), the film-lovers emporium. If they haven’t got it then it’s probably not worth seeing. Make sure you go in with a clear idea of what you want or you will spend hours just trying to choose. Diagonally across from them, the serious eating begins—and there’s lots of eating to be done on Bree—with a visit to Jardine (021-424-5640), the kitchen of award-winning chef George Jardine. Check out the bakery and coffee shop on the side.
As you cross Wale Street (with the discreetly marked Offices of the Public Protector), the old and the new start to compete. On the east side are new buildings including an edifice that resembles a gigantic urinal (it is said to house the Sunday Times’ Cape Town office) and further on blockhouse-style hospital. On the west side is a mix of styles (including the saddest little whore house in the west) and the famous Heritage Square. Here, you will find & Union (021-422-2770) an upscale beer, sausage and tapas place (with free WiFi); Cheyne’s, an old-style wine bar (o21-422-3358); and Talk-Show TV Café—a place you should only enter if you don’t mind being on live video and shown on arbitrary TV in odd parts of the globe.
But the crown of this part of Bree is Caveaux (021-422-1367) a wine and tapas bar that has made its mark here and beyond (there’s a branch in Newlands). (The Marie Stopes Family Planning Clinic across the road is a gentle reminder of the dangers of spending too long hours in the company of wine and members of the opposite sex.)
Of course, the place where that was encouraged, the infamous Moulin Rouge, is no longer on Bree. The women of Moulin Rouge are probably still around, maybe across the road at Club 24 or have relocated to Sea Point. But back then, on a Friday afternoon, the SA Breweries delivery truck—the big semi trailer and truck kind—would pull up and a lot of beer would be unloaded. I don’t think the women were that thirsty. On Monday, SAB would be back with the refills. But it’s gone, and right next door to the empty corner is New Media House.
New Media Publishing (021-417-1111) outgrew their premises in the fashionable Foundry on Prestwich Street, and took over this beautiful quasi-art deco building. Extensive refurbishment and interior design has turned into a modern media centre for one of the most successful publishing companies in the country.
Across the road, is Soloped (021-425-3876) the best little bicycle shop in the city. Bernie, who owns it, has serviced every bike I’ve ridden in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle tour (and they’re not always been my bikes). He’s knowledgeable and knows a lot about bikes.
At the foot of Bree, across the road is the former Imperial Cold Storage (now Spearhead Building), which stands where the original beach line used to be before the land was reclaimed. An art deco heritage building, it retains its plaster-mould façade and wrought iron columns. On the ground floor is Col’Cacchio Pizzeria, and there’s no better place to tell a good story than here.