The Foreign Exchange

The Foreign Exchange Bar in Cape Town

Open Mon - Wed from 16:00 - 00:30
Thu - Sat from 16:00 - 02:00
 
+27 (0)21 448 0083
92-95 Station Road | Observatory
oliverhagan@gmail.com
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.”

The Foreign Exchange Bar

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.

The Foreign Exchange Bar

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 and board games that are found in the cosy, wooden inside area, which was refurbished slightly in early 2015 to make it even more warm and snug.

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 ideal perch for sundowners or a moonlight tipple. And it’s here where I find myself sipping white wine while watching ping pong balls plonk into cups of golden ale.

Apart from vino, the pub serves up almost anything necessary to keep guests well oiled: there are 13 different craft beers on tap (think Boston Lager, Lakeside American Pale Ale, Van Hunks Pumpkin Ale, Stellenbrau Ale, Woodstock Brewery’s Happy Pills Pilsner, German Erdinger Weissbier 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 Foreign Exchange Drinks

The bevvies are complemented by a selection of bites that go down swimmingly with booze. With a strong emphasis on pub grub, the food menu features items like a Portuguese prego roll, a juicy beef and chicken burger, cheesy bacon fries and pizzas as well as a few Mexican dishes like burritos, nachos and enchiladas, and I find the samoosas and spring rolls 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. The bar also has events on most nights of the week: there’s a salsa class and social dancing session on Monday evenings, a free pub quiz on Tuesday nights and beer pong on Thursdays.

The Bill: Despite its foreign focus, prices are tailored to the South African pocket. Food goes for between R45 and R80 for a full plate, cocktails cost from R50 to R55, draught craft beer rings in at between R35 and R50 and wine is priced at between R25 and R45 a glass. During happy hour, which runs every day between 5pm and 7pm, prices are slashed further: cocktails are all R30, craft beers cost between R30 and R35 and SAB draughts go for R25.

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

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