What was formerly an industrial-commercial precinct on the outskirts of the CBD, Cape Town’s East City is metamorphosing into a cultishly cool creative hub where cutting-edge galleries, chic cafés and grungy dive bars rub shoulders with sports-car dealerships and mechanics workshops.
Geographically, it’s the tract where the CBD meets District Six – namely Roeland, Buitenkant and Harrington Streets – and it’s where you’ll find hipsters and high-rollers soaking up the scene (and gathering fodder for Instagram stories!)
And like so many Cape Town neighbourhoods before it, gentrification of the East City is probably on the cards… which is not a bad thing per se, as long as this downtown district retains its gritty, under-the-radar soul that has kept it out of the mainstream.
Have you been down to the East City lately? What’s your favourite spot? Is there a gem you think we should explore? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Belly of The Beast
This online-booking-only fine-dining restaurant sprang up rather sneakily on Harrington Street when it opened on 21 August 2018. Owner-chef Neil Swart sold his wildly popular Arugula Bistro in Welgemoed to pursue dreams of unhindered culinary creativity, which he has done with co-owner and Anouchka Horn in their secret daily set menu.
The industrio-mod eatery serves a maximum of 20 guests per service, which Neil explains: “Cooking dishes on a smaller scale enhances the depth of flavour of each element” – something all home cooks can relate to.
An exposed kitchen lines one side of the small space, with a street-facing window on the other.
And, as for the food, it’s exceptional! For R599, you’re treated to five excellent courses, as well as bread service, a (life-changing) palette cleanser and an after-dessert delight (“a last hoorah”, as Neil calls it). You won’t find value like this anywhere else on the precinct.
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 7pm – 10pm
Contact 021 461 0335, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 110 Harrington Street, Cape Town
Oozing Parisian charm, style and panache, this sexy French crêperie features representations of Leonardo da Vinci’s and Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Leda and The Swan on its walls, swathing the the entire eatery in romantic mysticism. The inspired space was brought to life by local furniture and interior designer Haldane Martin, who has artfully tipped his hat to traditional French cafés, adding accents of red, white and blue for fresh appeal.
The delicious aromas of crêpe batter, melting chocolate and brewing coffee will certainly lure you in, especially on chilly winter mornings. And, once in, you’re sure to find something you love – even health-conscious eaters, who’ll relish the gluten-free, buckwheat-based galettes. Whatever you choose, every bite will have you singing “ooh la la, c’est magnifique!”.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 8am – 4pm
Saturday, 8am – 2pm
Contact 079 45 44 758, email@example.com
Where to find it Corner Buitenkant and Barrack Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
New York Bagels
Established in 1940, NYB comes with a wealth of heritage, while still managing to satisfy modern tastebuds. NYB specialises in traditional, hand-rolled bagels, and is also a destination for great coffee. In addition to fresh-out-the-oven bagels with delicious fillings, there’s also an impressive selection of pastries and cakes, all made in-house. Those with a sweet tooth will delight in the chocolate croissants and traditional baked cheesecake!
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7am – 4pm, Saturday, 8am – 2pm
Contact 021 007 4315, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 44 Harrington Street, Cape Town
Locals have been flocking to to this grungy, no-fuss ramen bar since it opened above Lefty’s in 2014. The rough-and-ready decor and tavern-like seating is all part of its appeal but, actually, the ramen is the main event! There are four lip-smacking bowls on the menu, all rammed with flavour, which might be why it is considered one of the best ramen serving joints in the Mother City.
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 5pm – 10pm
Contact 021 461 0407, email@example.com
Where to find it 103 Harrington Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
Despite what it says on the label, 90% of the happy diners at this cool joint aren’t even vegan, or so we’re told… Lekker Vegan is the brainchild of James Knaap who became vegan after battling and overcoming a chronic illness through conscious eating. Having worked at the Vegan Junk Food Bar in Amsterdam, James realised that Capetonians simply had the wrong idea about what it meant to eat vegan – it’s not all carrot sticks and salads. Lekker Vegan’s menu includes delicious gourmet burgers, Gatsbys and nuggets that are so tasty, you won’t want to share. Keeping things easy, funky and modern, the spot has accents of rose-tinted copper and plants displayed on one wall (and the brand’s bright, simplistic logo on the other), with suspended wooden counters, and cheeky urban music in the background.
Opening times Monday – Thursday, 12pm – 10pm
Friday, 12pm – 3am
Saturday, 1pm – 3am
Sunday, 3pm – 10pm
Where to find it 37 Barrack Street, Corner of Harrington and Barrack Streets, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
Dust and Dynamite
Stepping into this rocking, rodeo-style saloon on Caledon Street, you’ll feel like you’ve been dropped onto the set of a Spaghetti Western. Decorated from head to toe in all kinds of Wild West paraphernalia – cowboy hats dangling from the ceiling, swinging saloon doors, bright-red theatre curtains, an old honky-tonk piano against a wall, and wood panelling everywhere – the bar has been described by La Tête’s Giles Edwards as “the perfect place to sip a cold beer and relax after a long week in the kitchen.
“Wayne Keet, the owner, is a real-life cowboy – he’s from another era,” continues Giles. “The place has been meticulously put together.”
With a rocking playlist to match the interiors, we recommend you swing open the saloon doors – not just for a beer but for an entire experience.
Opening times Tuesday – Friday, 3pm – 2am
Saturday, 6pm – 2am
Contact 076 677 2947, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 27 Caledon Street, CBD, Cape Town
This former auto-electric shop is now a popular juice bar, whose bright yellow entranceway hints at the energising vibe inside, which comes courtesy of the healthy stuff on offer. A small menu offers light, healthy meals, as well as an array of brightly coloured juices, nut milks (walnut, almond, cashew and Brazilian), and activated charcoal, ginger and orange shots.
Just as suited to a quickie breakfast, lunch on the go, or a chill session upstairs, The Electric also welcomes working nomads, who sit tapping away at their MacBooks while the world buzzes by.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7.30am – 6pm
Saturday, 9am – 2pm
Contact 0214610916, email@example.com
Where to find it 48 Canterbury Street, Cape Town
The Cousins Trattoria
Hailing from the Adriatic coast of Italy, cousins Andrea Biondi, Simone Briganti and Luca Pantani had lived in Cape Town for many years when they decided the Mother City was in need of an authentic Italian trattoria. So they opened one and, aptly, called it The Cousins Trattoria. The pasta is made fresh each morning – the recipes come straight from nonna, so don’t ask for any changes! You won’t need to, though, because every plate is a simple, stunning feast of flavours. The speciality – Cousins Pasta – is a giant Grana Padano cheese wheel filled with tagliolini, cream, mushroom and thyme. Wow!
Ask for a booth and get comfortable. And save space for a vodka-infused sorbet or an excellent affogato, and end your meal off with a limoncello if you need some help digesting…
Opening times Monday – Sunday, 6pm – 10pm
Contact 083 273 9604, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 3B Barrack Street, CBD, Cape Town
Harrington’s Cocktail Lounge
It’s hard to believe that this ornate, plush, decidedly sophisticated after-work drinks spot was once a grungy live-music dive (The Assembly). Velvet booths, botanical prints, crystal chandeliers and revived hardwood floors set the tone, with a striking L-shaped bar wrapping around half the venue, and boasting an exposed brick wall that houses rows of spirits.
The cocktails, as one would expect, are excellent, and some of the best in the city – especially when accompanied by tapas to share.
Good to know The Black Market takes place on the First Thursday of every month, and includes a market, exhibition, happy hour and DJs. Bistro & Vine evenings take place on Wednesdays from 5pm – 8pm: R150 for a glass of wine, a hearty bistro meal and a platter of sweets.
Opening times Thursday & Friday, 12pm – 4am; Wednesday & Saturday, 5pm – 4am
Contact 021 461 2276, email@example.com
Where to find it 61 Harrington Street, CBD, Cape Town
Coffee connoisseurs, this one’s for you. Situated on Harrington Street, Kamili (“perfect” in Swahili) is a mecca of roasting, brewing and sipping, where creating the perfect cup of coffee is part and parcel of their promise. In addition to selling beans wholesale, the buzzy café serves a selection of breakfasts, waffles, fresh salads, gourmet hot dogs, and more. Whether you’re popping in for your daily fix, looking to stock up your pantry, or meeting a colleague for a work date, this contempo cool hole-in-one is the place to do it all.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7am – 6pm
Saturday – Sunday, 8am – 4pm
Contact 083 444 5375, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 48 Harrington Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
You’ll feel like you’ve stepped into a Sherlock Holmes-era laboratory, where writhing machinery collides with industrial-chic decor. Welcome to Cape Town’s only steampunk coffee roastery. Co-founder David Donde says the concept was a natural choice, considering the relationship between coffee and steam. Known mainly for their unparalleled coffee and eye-catching decor (centred around a vintage roaster adorned with copper dispensers, gauges and contraptions), the cosmopolitan joint also offers delicious breakfasts and wholesome meals – not to mention a Steampunk High Tea with a sophisticated edge.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 6am – 6pm
Saturday, 8am – 6pm
Sunday, 8am – 2pm
Contact 021 200 0440, email@example.com
Where to find it 36 Buitenkant St, Cape Town City Centre, Cape Town
Jay V van Zyl
Reminiscent of a 17th-century English Coffee House (where the nation’s great thinkers would gather to discuss philosophy, commerce and science while enjoying a tasty brew), Haas Collective is where the intelligentsia (and design-savvy breakfast set) head for excellent coffee, deep conversations and equally good food. Everything from the carefully curated heritage decor, delicious freshly made brews and the all-day breakfast menu ensures that Haas keeps its wonderful reputation intact. We recommend the Banana Bread French Toast, and an array of egg dishes made with fresh, seasonal produce.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7am – 5pm
Saturday – Sunday, 8am – 3pm
Contact 021 461 1812
Where to find it 19 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
Even if you’ve never been, you’re sure to have heard of this Portuguese institution, which was started by business partners Sam Pereira, Dan Faias and Jose Hilario. Outside, it’s pretty nondescript, but step through the threshold, and you’re met with a cacophony of live music, conversation, and beckoning aromas. What the restaurant lacks in swanky interior design, it makes up for in flavour. Sam Pereira swears that the secret to the Tavern’s success is his secret trinchado sauce…
Opening times Monday – Thursday, 11.30am – 12am
Friday, 11.30am – 2am
Saturday, 11am – 12am
Contact 021 465 7547, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 15 Caledon Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
It’s the stuff that Willy Wonka dreams are made of: crazy colours, glitter and sparkles, and decadent treats by the baker’s dozens. Established by the late Charly Biess and his wife Jacqui in 1989, the ever-popular bakery is now largely run by their three daughters, Alexandra, Daniella and Roch.
It opened in Thibault Square, before moving to the Waterfront and then to Roeland Street, and today it resides in Zonnebloem, but continues to serve special-occasion and everyday cakes and cupcakes in all different shapes, sizes and colours to queues of hungry customers.
Opening times Tuesday – Friday, 8am – 5pm
Saturday, 8.30am – 2pm
Contact 021 461 5181
Where to find it 38 Canterbury Street, Zonnebloem, Cape Town
A rustic boozer with lorry loads of character, this dark and smokey dive bar might not be for everyone, but could be exactly what you’re looking for if you feel like a hole-in-the-wall vibe, off the beaten path. We love the ribs, widely known as the best in town, as well as their American-style fried chicken on waffles with syrup.
Opening times Monday – Saturday, 4pm – 1am
Contact 021 461 0407, Info@leftys.co.za
Where to find it 105 Harrington Street, Cape Town
The Raptor Room
This popular retro-cool hangout on Roeland Street is a cute and quirky diner dressed in neon pinks, with a green tiled floor and fern wallpaper, giving it a fresh but old-school feel – and making it difficult to miss! The imaginatively named menu items include You Gats-tby Kidding Me (loaded pork sandwich); F*K Bread (a salad with corn fritters); and the Beyoncé Float (sparkling watermelon juice with vanilla ice cream). The classic Mac n’ Cheese is a crowd pleaser, and we recommend adding some smoked bacon for extra punch. Open for breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner until late, you can expect a constant stream of laid-back, fun beats for ambience along with your grub.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 10am – 11pm
Saturday, 10am – 5pm
Sunday, 10am – 3pm
Contact 087 625 0630, email@example.com
Where to find it Shop 2, 79 Roeland Street, Cape Town
This cool surfer-punk bar on Harrington Street, downstairs from Harringtons, is festive and casual, making it a popular neighbourhood watering hole where locals go to listen to liuve music and let off steam. Inside there are private booths and a long bar area, while the outdoor courtyard is a cool reprieve from the tiny dance area, which heaves when the band starts playing (last Thursday of every month).
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 12pm – 4am
Contact 076 070 4474, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 61 Harrington Street, CBD, Cape Town
This Cape Town institution has been luring regulars back for more than three decades with its familiar playlist, pool tables and foosball, games and rowdy, anything-goes atmosphere. With five bars, and a legion of friendly bartenders to keep you entertained, you’ll never be kept waiting too long for a drink.
There’s also a restaurant, so you can line your stomach before the evening gets out of hand.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 12pm – 4am
Saturday – Sunday 6pm – 4am
Contact 021 461 5892, email@example.com
Where to find it 45 De Villiers Street, Cape Town
A good ol’ pub with fantastic lunch specials in a cosy environment, JC – which stands for just chilling – is the perfect spot to do exactly that, with an ice-cold brewski in hand, of course. Whether you sit indoors, or on the deck outside, JC is perfect for a low-key catch-up with friends. And, if you’re a sports fan, order a burger, wrap or toastie, and settle in for the match.
Good to know Wednesdays are quiz night; on Friday evenings there’s live music, and on your birthday JC gives you a drink and a meal to the value of R80 – so be sure to bring your ID.
Opening times Monday – Sunday ,11am – late
Contact 021 461 4594, firstname.lastname@example.org
Where to find it 18 De Villiers Street, Cape Town
ChopChop is your one-stop destination to get a spot of work done after hand-picking the ingredients for your salad or wrap from the salad bar. The small menu includes breakfasts, wraps, salads, soups as well as coffee and cold-pressed, juices.
Opening times Monday – Friday, 7am – 5pm
Contact 071 262 4717
Where to find it 75 Harrington Street, Gardens, Cape Town
After starting out in Observatory in the ’90s, Diva Café Ristorante (aka Diva Pizza) moved to the East City in the mid Noughties, becoming a favourite among locals. The rustic decor, straight out of a Roman trattoria, brings a slice of Italy to Cape Town along with thin-crust pizzas, saucey pastas, and a cheap-and-cheerful vibe.
Opening times Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 10pm
Sunday, 4pm – 9pm
Contact 021 461 0013, email@example.com
Where to find it 81 Buitenkant Street, Cape Town
East Side Stories
While you’re in the area, don’t miss:
Just Like Papa For top-notch adventure equipment, this incredible store is where you can find everything outdoor-related under one roof.
Nude Foods A plastic-free grocery store filled with organic items that are good for you, and the Earth.
The Fugard Theatre For a diverse range of excellent local and international productions, as well as screenings of theatre adaptations, with a historic District Six backdrop.
The Book Lounge A cosy spot that brims with character, featuring a wide range of local and international books, and wonderful rare reads. Find out about the author readings and exciting book launches!
State of the ART Gallery A boutique gallery featuring unique works of art from various up and coming, and renowned, visual artists around South Africa, hosting regular exhibitions where the beautiful pieces are available for purchase.
Moroccan Warehouse For exquisite hand-painted tiles, beautiful lampshades and lanterns, cushions, carpets and other home decor, all with a Moroccan edge.
Art Sauce For all your arts and crafts needs under one colourful roof. Here you can find everything from canvases, paint brushes and easels, to sketchbooks, mounting paper and pencils. Let the creative in you run wild!
Eastside Cartel For a haircut with an edge in a modern interior. Situated in a revamped warehouse, this small, contemporary hair salon has a big fan club, and rightfully so!
Palm Black Tattoo Studio For personal (and brilliantly done) hand-poked tattoos. In fact, this private studio is one of the only places offering the hand-poked technique in the city, and one of the best at that.
East City Boxing For personalised boxing training without the crowds (and expensive gym fees). With individual one-on-one training, this a cool place to get fit while honing your self-defence skills.
The Kimberly Hotel’s Bar For a drink in a living piece of Cape Town history. One of the oldest functioning hotels and backpackers, the bustling bar drips with character (and characters).
Roark Gym For expert fitness training in a non-threatening group environment. After one or two visits, you’ll become part of the tight-knit fitness family – and won’t want to go elsewhere else.
Perseverance Tavern For traditional pub grub in the oldest pub in Africa! Affectionately known as Persy’s, this bar and grill is a firm favourite among rowdy regulars.
The Big Box Café For a nostalgic game of Monopoly or Scrabble while you enjoy a cuppa and a bite to eat with friends and family. This board game-themed café adds an element of fun into everyday lunch dates.
East City Cycles With backgrounds in pro cycling and bike workshops, the passionate team at this cool bike shop offers a full range of services and expert advice.
City Bowl Market For a delectable range of street food, fresh local produce, handmade crafts, and unique fashion pieces – this vibey market on Hope Street is a Thursday evening fixture.
Researched by Kent Cloete, Nikki Benatar, Alicia Chamaillé, Annabel Short, Michelle de Bruin and Bridget McNulty
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