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Music venues in the Mother City – live, local and lekker
Cape Town city centre’s top places to listen to live music
Cape Town city centre’s top places to listen to live music
Though far from keeping pace with London’s reverberating live music scene or San Francisco’s electric underground indie culture, Cape Town does, in fact, have its own heaving soundscape. So, while appearances by high-profile international artists are the exception to the rule, not the norm, it’s nonetheless easy to find gigs and concerts featuring both local favourites and emerging musicians every day of the week.
In terms of performance spaces, the Mother City has it all, from speakeasy-style jazz clubs and grungy dive bars with dilapidated stages to swish lounges and large-scale concert halls. And, truth be told, you don’t even need to venture outside of the CBD to catch a solid session of righteous tunes. So, without further ado, here’s our overview of Cape Town city centre’s live music venues.
TOP PLACES TO HEAR LIVE MUSIC IN CAPE TOWN CITY CENTRE
Aces ‘n’ Spades
Billed by owner Reg Macdonald as, “a good bar where bad things happen”, Aces ‘n’ Spades is the kind of joint that glorifies Bob Dylan and worships at the altar of Jimi Hendrix. Situated on one of the slicing side roads that cut across the main nightlife artery of Long Street, this seedy-chic dive bar is wholly devoted to rock and roll; both its décor and its somewhat inconsistently scheduled live music line-up pay homage to the passion. Though, don’t be fooled into thinking this is a down-and-out kind of place. With top-shelf whiskies, a sizeable selection of craft beers and a clientele that’s prepared to pay for both, the venue is hardly a hole in the wall. To find out who’s playing, visit the Aces ‘n’ Spades Facebook page.
62 Hout Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 424 1620
Alexander Bar Upstairs
One of the newer additions to Cape Town’s live music scene, this intimate 40-seater space gives audiences a rare chance to experience eclectic performances in close quarters. The second-storey platform – it rests above its old-world counterpart, Alexander Bar & Café – features live jazz on Tuesdays, new folk-style jams on Wednesdays and a selection of theatrical, comedic and literary acts the rest of the week. Tickets are generally priced at less than R100p/p, and music lovers can check Alexanderbar.co.za to confirm scheduled sessions, show times and ticket costs.
76 Strand Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 300 1088
Best known for its beautiful clientele and brilliant cocktails, Asoka is one of Cape Town’s oh-so-trendy lounge, restaurant and bar venues. Housed in an old Victorian home on Kloof Street, the swish dinner-and-drinks hotspot features live jazz every Tuesday from 9pm to 11pm. Music lovers are invited to soak up the resident band’s laidback grooves and hard-bop explorations free of charge while indulging in a full-course meal, snacking on bite-sized tapas or simply sipping on some of the famed bar’s delectable creations. After the ensemble concludes their act, a DJ takes the reins and guides listeners onto the dance floor for the remainder of the evening.
68 Kloof Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 422 0909
The Artscape Theatre
As Cape Town CBD’s largest multifunctional creative arts centre, The Artscape Theatre, with its opera house and medium-sized and small auditoriums, often hosts a variety of high-profile local classical and operatic performances. The Cape Philharmonic Orchestra regularly takes to the acclaimed venue’s expansive stage, and a wide spectrum of musicals, like Dirty Dancing, and showcases aimed at promoting music appreciation and education, like the Brass Band Pops and the Fine Music Radio Jazz Showcase, are also consistent inclusions on the theatre’s annual bill. Visit Artscape.co.za or phone the Artscape box office to find out about upcoming events.
D F Malan Street | Foreshore | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 410 9800
As the industrial-chic stomping ground of the Mother City’s too-cool-for-school inner-city crowd, The Assembly features the best and brightest local and international musicians and DJs week in and week out. Though thoroughly committed to Cape Town’s electronic music scene, the refurbished District Six warehouse also devotes a large portion of its playlist to live acts as well, and its owners are emphatic about giving artists from nearly all genres a chance in the limelight. Thus, expect to hear everything right or left of mainstream, from intimate acoustic sets and improvisational jazz sessions to heavy metal distortion and skanky ska rhythms. Check Theassembly.co.za website to find out about upcoming events, times and ticket prices.
61 Harrington Street | District Six | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 465 7286
Cape Town City Hall
Built in 1905, the Edwardian-style Cape Town City Hall has since exchanged its role as home to government for a life spent hosting many of the city’s finest arts and culture events. The honey-coloured building’s grand and acoustically sound auditorium makes for a dazzling live music performance venue, and appropriately, the artists booked to play atop its stage are of the highest calibre. Thus, if the opportunity arises to catch what’s likely to be a world-class act within this Mother City gem, go out of your way to attend. The best way to find out about events scheduled at the Cape Town City Hall is to keep your ear to the ground and, well, subscribe to the CapeTownMagazine.com newsletter.
Darling Street | City Centre | Cape Town
De Waal Park
Every second Sunday from November to March, this sprawling city centre greenway invites members of the public to pack a picnic, the kiddies and even the canines and unwind to the beat of local performers sounding off on the park’s old bandstand. The FREE concerts (that’s right, there’s no admission charge) feature both well-known musicians and emerging artists and generally start in the late afternoon, either at 3pm or 4pm. The complimentary shows typically last one hour, but concert-goers are, of course, welcome to spend a larger portion of the warm summer night relaxing on the De Waal Park lawns. To view the summer concert series’ full line-up, visit Dewaalpark.co.za.
Camp Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0) 82 451 9339
Jackal & Hide
With Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as its namesake, this restaurant-cum-groove bar was pretty much obligated to offer visitors more than just one service. Accordingly, Jackal & Hide masterfully combines two identities – that of a top-notch eatery and that of a vibey entertainment hotspot. Where does live music come in? Well apart from Friday night Bassmint sessions that feature the Mother City’s foremost deep house DJs spinning sick beats from 6pm, the trendy Kloof Street venue hosts FREE Thursday live music gigs. The sets, which star up-and-coming local acts, are generally unplugged and ideal for those both looking to drink in some chilled tunes and dine amidst a more ambient environment. The shows start at 8:30pm and last roughly 90 minutes; consult Jackal & Hide’s Facebook page for line-up info.
108 Kloof Street | Gardens | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 424 1020
La Vie Café Bar
Located on prime oceanfront real estate in Sea Point, the laidback La Vie Café Bar pairs the antics of blues harmonica player Dave Ferguson with good vibrations and casual fare every Sunday from 4:30pm. The wondrous one-man act features Dave, a mic, a row of pedals and nearly two dozen harmonicas, and, much to first-time listeners’ surprise, the performance is on par with the work of a four-piece band. What’s more, the show is free of charge as long as you’re enjoying something off the beach-style restaurant’s reasonably priced food and drinks menu. A great way to end the weekend, the quirky live solo gig lays the perfect backbeat to a leisurely afternoon spent soaking up the sparkling Atlantic views and sipping on sundowners.
205 Beach Road | Sea Point | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 433 1530
Mercury Live & Lounge
Formerly The Jam, Mercury Live & Lounge is a Mother City mecca for live music. As much a portal for up-and-coming local bands looking to enter the market as it is for groupies game to wile out to the city’s fresh or famed talent, the two-stage venue has been a pivotal component of the Cape Town soundscape since it opened in 2003. While the space isn’t as sizeable as The Assembly, Mercury nonetheless knows how to pack in the crowds and put on an epic party. Needless to say, if you’re planning a night out at this East City hangout, expect a hangover to go with an evening spent inhaling off-the-hook tunes. Consult the venue’s gig guide via their web site, Mercuryl.co.za, to find out about upcoming events, show times and ticket prices.
43 De Villiers Street | Zonnebloem | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 465 2106
The Piano Bar
A moody De Waterkant musical revue joint where Sophiatown’s African-inspired jazz and Manhattan’s cosmopolitan swank collide head on, The Piano Bar is the place to go for easy listening funk, soul and blues. The sophisticated haunt features live music every night of the week (even on Mondays and Sundays) for FREE, and on Saturdays there’s a special focus on showcasing up-and-coming local talent. What’s more, the upmarket crossroads is as committed to serving up groundbreaking cocktails and innovative fare as it is to giving emerging artists a much-needed platform. So, expect a drinks menu that changes monthly, cuisine that’s casual but of top-end quality and a venue that’s as vibey in summer as it is cosy in winter. The music starts around 8pm each night, and amateurs are invited to give performing a go after the professionals have finished up. For a schedule of artists, consult The Piano Bar’s Facebook page.
47 Napier Street | De Waterkant | Cape Town
Richard’s Supper Stage & Bistro
On Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, Sea Point’s only dinner theatre regales both locals and those from farther afield with the musical revue “Kaapse Stories from the Mother City”. The performance, which uses well-known international and South African songs to illuminate the colourful history of Cape Town and her people, hinges on audience participation and comedic interludes. Aside from the supper stage entertainment though, Richard’s also attempts to redefine the Monday blues with regular start-of-the-week jazz sessions. The first Monday of every month, the bistro invites music lovers to wine, dine and marinate in the ambient grooves of their house quartet. Guests should arrive by 7:30pm to take in either performance, and booking is recommended. To do so, and to enquire about pricing and accompanying meal options, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone the number listed below. Bookings can also be made via Computicket.com.
229 Main Road | Sea Point | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 434 4497
This easy, breezy Mouille Point Mediterranean eatery treats visitors to a heady dose of The Rivertones, a Bob Marley tribute band, every Sunday from 3pm to 6pm. With a casual outdoor area that looks out onto a bustling greenway and the vast ocean beyond and a slightly more formal interior that comes complete with a fireplace, the restaurant beckons to those looking for a groovy sundowner session in either summer or winter. The laidback venue specialises in wine – it has nearly 80 reds and whites by the bottle and almost 40 by the glass – and is devoted to the concept of simple, fresh fare prepared well: think Spanish-style tapas, seafood-heavy mains and seasonal salads. The performance is free of charge when paired with the purchase of anything off the restaurant’s food and drinks menu.
121 Beach Road | Mouille Point | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 433 1757
Straight No Chaser
Formerly known as Mahogany Room, Straight No Chaser is the venture of two South African jazz greats, Kesivan Naidoo and Lee Thomson. The intimate space is modelled on the sultry, smoky speakeasy-style clubs that came out of New York City between the 1920s and 1950s. Focussed on creating a culture of listening in Cape Town and affording musicians a wide berth of artistic freedom, the heavily wooded bar connects audiences with phenomenal jazz performers from Wednesday to Saturday each week. Two shows – one at 8pm and one at 10pm – are scheduled per evening, and booking is essential. For a full line-up and ticket information, visit the Straight No Chaser Facebook page.
79 Buitenkant Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 76 679 2697
The Waiting Room
Slotted in above legendary local burger joint Royale Eatery, this retro, lounge-style venue is every bit as funky as its downstairs foodie sibling. A long-time Long Street haunt, The Waiting Room features live bands – mainly smaller acts and acoustic ensembles – on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in its main space, a fairly intimate area that claims comfy couches, cushions, wooden flooring and a patch of dance floor. Those who tire of sitting or crouching during a performance – this tends to be the vibe – can enjoy a dop on either the venue’s large second-storey or rooftop balcony. Visit The Waiting Room’s Facebook page to find out the week’s line-up and associated cover charges.
273 Long Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 422 4536
Zula Sound Bar
As much of a mainstay on the Cape Town live music scene as Mercury Live & Lounge is, Zula Sound Bar is the most lauded place on Long Street to catch a local act. Having relocated to a more sizeable space at the end of 2011, the aural institution now boasts both upstairs and downstairs areas and can thus feature three to four different bands and DJs simultaneously. There’s also a chilled-out bar area and a restaurant that serves up wood-fired pizzas and home-cooked food. More importantly though, from hip-hop and rock to folk and electronica, this house of sound embraces it all, and thus, unsurprisingly, lures in one of the most diverse listening crowds in the Mother City. To find out what’s on the cards for any given week, visit Zulabar.co.za.
98 Long Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 424 2442
Arguably the champion of Cape Town’s craft brew movement, this Portuguese-owned beer garden-cum-bar boasts live unplugged sessions every Tuesday and Wednesday from 8pm; there’s no cover charge attached. The outdoor gigs feature a vast and varied line-up of local talent best enjoyed with one of the watering hole’s handcrafted German and Belgian lager, amber or Weiss beers. Alongside the tasty beverages, the venue dishes up a selection of gourmet pub grub – think burgers, grilled hot dogs and Prego rolls made with free-range meat and organic ingredients. Do note, it’s best to come early to secure your space; seating – which comes in the form of shared picnic tables – is limited.
110 Bree Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0) 21 422 2770
Looking to get down after the live music dies? Check out our overview of top places to party in Cape Town.
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