We’re not talking about those hideously stuffy fraternities where cigar-smoking, social-climbing corporate types used to congregate after work to escape suicide hour. There’s a new incarnation of social clubs – where creative types hang out, exchange ideas and shoot the breeze. One such spot is The Stack – a chic brasserie and bar downstairs with a thoroughly modern members’ club upstairs – housed in the historic Leinster Hall in Gardens.
THE BACK STORY
The original Stack was opened by hotelier Nigel Pace and his interior-designer wife Sarah Ord in July 2015, and it had not been open for a week, when a blazing inferno gutted its insides. “We stood there and watched our carefully selected antique furniture, historical books, top-of-the-range appliances, customised art and decor that we’d spent months collating burn,” recalls Sarah. “But while the firemen rushed around, there was this moment when we turned to each other and swore we would do it again.”
Fast forward 11 months, and the brand-new Stack is up and at ’em, looking spangly, stylish and super-luxe. Part private-members’ club and part public brasserie and bar, the exciting new space pokes fun at gentlemen’s clubs of yore in quirky and offbeat ways – we love Flipflop Fred – a technicoloured trophy head made out of recycled slip-slops that presides over the upstairs lounge. Sarah’s excellent taste and inimitable eye for putting seemingly incongruent colours and patterns together has resulted in a glam yet cosy common room that’s fresh and traditional all at once.
Downstairs is a ritzy bar, a luxuriously pared-down brasserie and a deep verandah with Paris café chairs and tables, perfect for a sunset G&T. Add some jazzy house beats (Sarah Vaughan remixed, anyone?), and you’ll never want to leave.
Nigel’s decades of hospitality experience (Singita, Cape Grace, The Plettenberg, and so on) is evident in every last polished sconce. The gregarious Malta-born hotelier exudes warmth and humour that permeate the entire place, and it feels like he’s brought the best aspects of all the places he’s worked at and travelled to to his new venture. From the rosettes on the barmen’s waistcoats to the tablets on which the wait staff take your orders, to the bold flower arrangements (courtesy of Sarah’s mother) and the (choice and volume of) background music, everything has been carefully conceived and it all hangs together beautifully.
“It’s comfortable with great lighting and proper, hearty French fare,” says Nigel. “No smears, no froths, no strangled ingredients,” he adds with a mischievous twinkle in his eye. The kitchen is headed by Warwick King (who earned his stripes at Delaire Graff and Phinda), and his menu features a daily plat du jour. On the night we were there, it was Toulouse Cassoulet (sausage casserole); other dishes of the day include coq au vin, pork schnitzel, moules marinières and duck à l’orange, obviously.
YOUR GO-TO LOCAL
The menu items are – astonishingly – very affordable! We had the rich and hearty French onion soup (R75) to start, butternut au gratin (R100) and steak frites (R160 for 300g of sirloin) for mains, with a side of crispy kale chips (R40). Our crème brûlée (R65) came to the table in one of those old-school copper pans – so chic. (Check out the brasserie and dessert menus here.)
The Stack’s downstairs bar is cosy, luxe, glam and hip in the same breath – there’s no room for air-kissers or fronters here; just regular people after a top-drawer tipple and a jolly good time. Heavily inked head barman Derrick Erwee muddles the cunningist cocktails – hit him with your taste preference and he’ll pull it out of the bag. Or, keep it simple with a scotch and soda, while toe-tapping to the latest lounge-house beats.