The Foreign Exchange

The Foreign Exchange Bar in Cape Town

Open Mon - Tue from 16:00 - 23:00
Wed - Thu from 15:00 - 23:00
Fri - Sat from 14:00 - 00:00
+27 (0)21 448 0083
92-95 Station Road | Observatory
The Foreign Exchange

The Foreign Exchange Bar in Cape Town

The vibrant Observatory-based pub centred on global mixing and mingling

Walking into The Foreign Exchange bar in Cape Town’s Southern Suburbs is like stepping into some sort of United Nations-style establishment for the young and fun. American and Dutch accents meld with Xhosa clicks, multilingual chatter moves back and forth over beer mugs and colourful stories of faraway countries are swapped over spirited games of backgammon.

You see, this welcoming, at times wild, pub deals in the currency of different cultures. Appropriately situated in the diverse, international suburb of Observatory, Forex, as it’s commonly known, is both a base for expatriates looking to celebrate their national identities and an easygoing spot where those from abroad and those from Mzansi can mix, mingle and trade thoughts and customs.

“It’s a place for locals to meet foreigners and vice versa,” explains Vermont-born co-owner Oliver Hagan; he opened the nightlife haunt with business partner and friend Sean Walpole in June 2013. “It’s a win-win situation for South Africans wanting to break out of the typical Cape Town scene and for visitors keen to get to know the local landscape.”

Hardly by coincidence, the two founders also run a Mother City-based internship programme, which, in fact, helped to plant the seed that blossomed into the Observatory bar. Overseeing hundreds of international students in Cape Town each year, the duo saw the need for a space that would give these diverse visitors a mutual gathering point, and so The Foreign Exchange was created. Their aim was also to craft an environment that would appeal not only to those eager to explore new cultures, but to those who like to play as hard as they work.

“Forex is for people who aren’t afraid to roll up their sleeves and work hard to achieve things, but who also enjoy a good party, like to live in the moment and aren’t scared of a few tequilas,” Oliver adds, smiling mischievously.

And on the summery Thursday night I’m visiting the large, second-storey joint, the space is filled to bursting point with those keen to live it up a little. Rowdy games of beer pong bounce around, strangers natter merrily with new-found friends, young business-types take shots of green liquid at the bar and everyone looks ready to settle in for the rest of the evening– all features of the venue that exude an enticing hostel-meets-frat house feeling.

In fact, this is a big part of the allure of Forex: it’s so laidback and so centred on a sense of community that it really starts to feel like home. The easygoing, lived-in atmosphere is further created by the comfy couches, fireplace, bookshelves, beanbags and board games that are found in the cosy, wooden inside area.

But, in the height of the sweltering season, it is the enclosed outside deck that draws the crowds. Peering out over a sea of rooftops and on to the distant horizon, this beach-style balcony is the idealperch for sundowners or a moonlight tipple. And it’s here where I find myself sipping white wine on tap – yes, they sell a draught Sauvignon Blanc and red blend – while watching ping pong balls plonk into cups of golden ale.

Apart from free-flowing vino, the pub serves up almost anything necessary to keep guests well oiled: there’s plenty of craft beer on tap (think Boston Lager, Lakeside American Pale Ale, Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale, Stellenbrau Lager, Devil's Peak First Light Golden Ale and many more), an artisan ale tasting board, a medley of classic cocktails, premium tequila, top rums, whiskies and liqueurs and, of course, 2-L college-style pitchers of brew meant to be shared with mates.

The bevvies are complemented by a selection of bites that go down swimmingly with booze. With a strong emphasis on Mexican dishes, the food menu features items like burritos, nachos and enchiladas as well as Mozambique Chicken Kebabs, Oregon Cheesy Fries and tramezzinis, and I find the butter chicken samoosas so crispy and flavourful that they’re reason alone to return.

It’s this combination of good eats, great drinks, interesting company and electric vibes that make this Southern Suburbs bar a prime night-time option. And, of course, when it comes to a pub that’s globally diverse and anything but cliquey, Forex gives all other Mother City watering holes a real run for their money.

Tip: Forex is the place to be to commemorate any big foreign national occasion, like Bastille Day, Halloween, Saint Patrick’s Day or Fourth of July. It’s also a great spot to celebrate a birthday as the owners will treat anyone hosting a bash to a special birthday concoction and to the honour of designing the drink of the night.

The Bill: Despite its foreign focus, prices are tailored to the South African pocket. Food goes for between R30 and R75 for a full plate, cocktails cost from R35 to R45, draught craft beer rings in at R30, the artisan ale tasting board (it includes five beers) is R25 and wine on tap is priced at R18 for white and R20 for red. During happy hour, which runs every day between 5pm and 7pm, prices are slashed further: cocktails are all R25, craft beers cost R20 and SAB draughts go for R17.


Looking for a place to stay in the multicultural suburb of Observatory? Read more about African Heart Backpackers.


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