In this fledging district along the eastern edge of central Johannesburg, a group of entrepreneurs, artisans, restaurateurs and designers has banded together to engage in a process of revitalisation – showing off creative talents and innovative venues that bear a distinctly urban African feel
Co-founder, Living Room
Born out of a desire to contribute to downtown Johannesburg’s urban renaissance, the Living Room was founded by a team of young local creatives and entrepreneurs, helmed by artistic and ambitious co-founder, Taryn Jacobson.
Since its inspired inception, the vibey rooftop café, cocktail lounge and events venue has solidified its spot as one of the city’s favourite hangouts. Every corner of the space is bedecked in vines, hanging plants and rooftop shrubbery, providing a lush and inviting inner-city sanctuary with epic skyline views.
When advising Maboneng newbies, Jacobson points them in the direction of Al Lado, where they can enjoy top-notch drinks and stellar food. Of the establishment, Jacobson says, “Al Lado reminds you of a bar you’d find in London’s Soho, where you can escape the urban setting and step into an intimate candlelit space; they have amazing cocktails and tapas combined with interesting décor and a cosy courtyard.”
Besides this spot, Jacobson also loves Agog Gallery, the nearby fine-art space. “I love rooftops,” she explains, “and they have one! Stylish from floor one to floor three, you step into a glamorous wine bar over cobbled pavers on the ground floor, a gallery on the next and the stylish rooftop on the third floor.”
“If you find yourself visiting Maboneng on a Sunday,” she adds, “some shopping for authentic African gifts on the top level of the weekly Market on Main is an absolute must.”
Actress, theatre creator and entrepreneur Hayleigh Evans is a bona fide maven of Maboneng. In 2011, Evans co-founded POPArt, a leading fringe theatre, production company and performing arts hub. Of notable upcoming POPArt events, Evans highlights two performances: “Teresa Phuti’s Legaga, which is an extraordinary solo dance piece (3–6 December), followed by our annual traditionalXXXMas Stockingsburlesque show.”
To fuel her creative exploits, Evans frequents Little Addis, an intimate eatery located within the Fox Street Studios building that serves up “delicious and authentic Ethiopian food and drink”. For one-of-a-kind shopping finds, Evans urges visitors to visit VintiQueen vintage store at Maverick Corner. She also recommends catching a flick The Bioscope, an indie cinema that’s adjacent to POPArt.
One of the pioneering forces behind Maboneng’s expansion is Bheki Dube. A hospitality trailblazer and young entrepreneur, Dube founded Curiocity, an upmarket, design-focused backpacker hotel in the heart of Maboneng.
A favourite local hangout of his is the Marabi Club. “What makes the Marabi Club so special is that it pays homage to the original jazz of Johannesburg (a style called marabi) and that the club is located within Hallmark House, a building designed by arguably Africa’s most celebrated star architect, Sir David Adjaye.”
The jazz is not the only reason why Dube loves the Marabi Club. “[Its kitchen is] headed by Vusumuzi Ndlovu, one of Africa’s brightest young star chefs whose cuisine is inspired by traditional African dishes, elevated with a modern culinary twist,” he says. Two fine examples of Ndlovu’s fare include dombolo(a traditional steamed bread) with a gravy dip and the Marabi mussels, prepared in a broth of popular local beer, Carling Black Label, with ginger and dill.
Dube further praises Hazard Gallery, which is housed in another historically important building, the Cosmopolitan, that dates back to 1899. “The space includes a beautiful sculpture garden curated by Patrick Watson, an acclaimed local landscaper,” Dube says. “The gallery is run by young people, providing an interesting space for… art that breaks the borders of how galleries are perceived in the traditional art world.”
Co-founder, Market on Main
One of the pioneering ventures to activate the Maboneng precinct was Market on Main, a carefully curated upscale Sunday market where all manner of vendors – from vintage shops to purveyors of delicious food – trade in the finest regional cuisines and local designer goods.
Since its 2011 launch, the weekly market has presented an easily accessible space for diverse community engagement and a fertile ground for entrepreneurs to grow their businesses.
Enterprising designer Bradley Kirshenbaum is one half of the dynamic duo – the other is Jacques van der Watt of fashion brand Black Coffee – behind the successful venture, which was born out of a shared desire to “activate the newly formed Maboneng precinct with regular foot traffic and make it accessible to the broader Johannesburg community, providing a relaxed space for people to spend time downtown”.
When not occupied with his market duties, Kirshenbaum likes to enjoy a nourishing meal at Eat Your Heart Out, a Jewish-style deli in the area. “It’s located in the heart of Maboneng in the sunniest spot with a cosy indoor and sunny outdoor seating area,” he says. “The menu is Tel Aviv-inspired, serving hearty portions of shakshuka, all-day breakfasts, latkes, pastrami on rye, falafel, shawarmas and freshly squeezed juices.”
Just a block away is another of Kirshenbaum’s top picks, the beloved Afrosynth Records. This independent and wholly unique record store is, according to Kirshenbaum, “highly recommended for vinyl collectors, specifically those searching for rare and new local South African finds”.
Photography by Adriaan Louw
This article was originally published in the December 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine