Wallpaper of men riding penny-farthings. Tasselled bucket chairs covered in velvet. Herringbone wooden floors decked with layers upon layers of Persian carpets. Leather booths with French rattan screens. Marble tabletops with mint-coloured legs. May we introduce The Athletic Club & Social, a whimsical design fantasy of colonial-meets-modern that opened its doors on 14 December 2018.
Following extensive renovations to a grand old building, the interiors of this sophisticated watering hole are like a dream you can touch, and the food and service are a cut above. And you don’t even need a membership card to join!
How the games began
You may be wondering, as did we, what a social club on Buitengracht Street has to do with athletics.
The building itself dates back to the 1900s when it was owned by pharmacist and sports fanatic Herbert Tothill. In 1900, Tothill turned the building into a gathering place for sports stars of all races to come together over a glass or two of the good stuff. The then-basement was converted into an underground speakeasy of sorts where people from all walks could socialise (without being arrested for violating the Group Areas Act during apartheid).
The building’s history is ever-present, with trophies on display in vintage cabinets, framed newspaper clippings of the stars that frequented the institution, and vintage sports equipment and memorabilia that grace the walls and embellish the surfaces.
The three-storey building is home to various nooks, all of them completely unique. On the ground floor is a restaurant and the first of three stunning bars; one floor down is a second bar where chairs and stools are cleverly positioned to create private seating areas.
The first floor is my favourite. Here, a third bar meets you at the top of the stairs (climbing so many stairs renders a person very, very thirsty!), and then a maze of rooms is open for your choosing, each one more sumptuous and extra than the previous. At the front of the building, a glorious balcony offers far-stretching views of Signal Hill. We know where we’ll be spending the rest of our summer…
Not your average club kitchen
The dominantly Mediterranean-themed menu consists of three types of tapas: vegetarian, meat and seafood. The portions are surprisingly large, offering excellent value for money considering the quality of the produce and the excellence with which each dish was conceived.
We’ll be back to try every single plate, and also to re-order the ones we’ve already had.