Exploring keeps life fresh. But as anyone who ever watched an episode of “Cheers” knows, sometimes the greatest pleasures can be found in finding those places you can go anytime, by yourself, maybe more than once a week, and find good people to talk to in a lively environment. A “local.”
My first real local was The Brewer’s Art in Baltimore (quality beer, good food, friendly people, a basement with rock music and the right amount of darkness). As a transplant to London a few years ago, I finally felt at home in Islington when 69 Colebrooke Row opened in the neighborhood (exceptional cocktails, lively music some nights, and an excuse to dress up if the mood struck), and it is one of the few places I stopped by when passing through recently. Their “terroir” cocktail made with distilled local clay was a taste sensation. Recently, it was a real blow when one of my Brooklyn locals, Van Horn in Cobble Hill, closed (the only fried catfish I’ve ever liked outside of the South, interesting beer, fine cocktails, music I was always in the mood for, good people). Please come back, Van Horn.
For the last six weeks I lived in Cape Town, doing research by day and chaperoning a group of public health students who were studying abroad. The kitchen was nothing to write home about, so most nights I was out exploring the city. (Thanks, Uber.)
My local became The House of Machines, and it doesn’t feel quite right to not be heading there this week. I avoided going at first because it seemed a little too Brooklyn-y to check out. Since my real life happens in Brooklyn there didn’t seem any point in going to a place in Cape Town kitted out with subway tiles on the walls and cozy filament lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling. While there is a bit of an America theme going on–elsewhere in Cape Town and London and probably lots of other places too, Brooklyn is having a moment–The House of Machines is very Capetonian, and is a worthy addition to my list of beloved locals. Coffee, motorcycles and menswear by day, it is all bar and liveliness at night, with no pretense.
The nights I went I had the best cocktails in Cape Town (by the great Nick Koumbarakis, who has an enviable beard and a skilled hand with a bar spoon and a mixing glass), enjoyed some rollicking live music (by, among others, Andy Lund, who played every Wednesday night and is a fellow Drive By Truckers fan), and chatted with Paul Van Der Spuy, who also designs dapper clothes. One night I met a man who described himself as a pirate, nearing retirement. With at least a dozen gold hoops in his ears, a bald head covered in tattoos of tropical bugs, and different skulls and crossbones on each of his knuckles, he certainly looked the part. Sealing the deal for me, The House of Machines even has an Alabama connection. A motorcycle built by the late Larry Pierce, from Birmingham, has pride of place in the shop. This Saturday The House of Machines is hosting the South Africa leg of the ride to celebrate Pierce’s life.
If you’re in Cape Town and you like cocktails, music, coffee, nice people, good beer, motorcycles, well-tailored clothes, or you’d like to meet a pirate, this could be your new home away from home. I’m sure it’ll be mine next time I’m in Cape Town.