Orphanage Cocktail Emporium on Bree

Please sir, could I have a martini?

My first thought: the name may be tasteless, but the cocktails certainly aren’t.

I’m willing away the stress of Wednesday’s work day with happy hour at yet another innovative addition to a fast-evolving Bree Street, Orphanage. The Capetonian-style speakeasy opened its doors, or rather unlocked them discreetly in true roaring twenties fashion, at the end of March 2012, but word travels fast in the Mother City and at half past five, mid-week every single street-side table is filled with well-dressed office worker types unwinding with brightly coloured cocktails and craft beer.

Though only steps away from Cape Town’s most formidable nightlife artery, Long Street, Orphanage is an obvious departure from the outright debauchery that often comes with city centre bar and club territory.

There aren’t students guzzling Black Labels, nor is there the kind of clientele that would be the sort of permanent fixture found at the bar counter of the “Slug and Legless”.

Orphanage is sophisticated, it’s stylish, and based on my delicious and easy drinking 'Jammy Dodger', a mix of El Jimador tequila, orange-ginger jam and lime, it’s the kind of place where you’ll end up leaving with a swagger even if you couldn’t claim one to start.

“It’s a little bit artist, it’s a little bit out there, it’s a little bit different, but the response has just been amazing, “ explains one of the cocktail emporium’s owners Ray Endean.

The concept bar was inspired by a handful of speakeasies and alchemy haunts in London and Manhattan, and even though its creators adapted it to appeal to a Cape Town market, it feels like the kind of place that has enough swank to land it safely in one of the world’s top urban centres.

The menu itself took months to develop, and was sourced from the likes of over 200 bars from New Zealand to New York.

A modest Ray admits that the drinks themselves may not be unique, but that the serving suggestions are definitely different.

“We’re doing our own home infusions: vanilla-infused vodka, citrus-infused vodka mandarin-infused rum for our mandarin mojitos, a raspberry-lime foam for one of the drinks, and then a roobois lemon jelly shaped like a block of brown sugar to go with one of the favourites, the ‘More Tea Vicar?’.”

With inclusions like the ‘Brimstone and Fire’, a drink born in the 1860s which requires barmen to pass a flaming concoction between two steel milk jugs while on fire, and the ‘Rack and Ruin’, a mix of bubbles, pear air and strawberry caviar, the choices are just as much about the fundamental mixology as they are about the artistry of the presentation.

Similarly, the bar itself is a combination of meticulous dedication to a certain motif and handsome styling. Bank head seating, exposed brick and a beautiful, dark wood back bar blend seamlessly with a spy hole on the front door (a nod to the secret, speakeasy theme) and the skeleton key chandelier dangling from the low-hanging ceiling. 

Bottle service is available for patrons keen to settle in for a stint more permanent than just cocktail hour – the tables are equipped with circular cut-outs perfect for ice buckets; and for those who prefer to pick their poison and fill their bellies too, sharing platters are aplenty: there’s an artisan cheese board, a mezze dish, a charcuterie option and a number of mouth-watering individual plates.

“We don’t do tapas; tapas are Spanish. We do sharing platters; social eating is something we’re really trying to encourage,” says Ray.

He’s just as adamant about clarifying the name of the venue.

“It’s ‘Orphanage’, not ‘The Orphanage’,” he explains.

A title that takes its cue just as much from its location – it’s on the corner of Bree and Orphan – as it does from a slice of old Cape Town lore. Apparently back in 1918 Spanish Flu ran rampant through the streets of the Mother City, leaving children parentless. As a result, the pastor from St Paul’s church opposite founded one of the first homes for orphaned kids; now called the St Francis Children’s Home, which continues to this day to extend a helping hand to little ones in need.

Orphanage hasn’t taken the title without offering something in return though, if cocktailers order the ‘More Tea Vicar?’, an elixir served in a rose-patterned tea cup made up of vanilla vodka, roobois syrup, cranberry and lemon, then a R15 donation goes to the present day children’s home in Athelone.

Needless to say, while it still feels somewhat uncouth to order a drink called the “Child Catcher”, the actual cocktails are in such good taste that the unconventional names don’t seems so harsh.

Tip: Feeling a little wallet wary? Come on ‘Sunday Bloody Mary Sunday’ for Orphanage’s half-price Bloody (Dirty) Mary and food special. They make the regmaker extra zingy, with a little bit of sherry and horseradish and serve it in a soup can, plus there’s a mash up of funky tones to get you toe tapping. Do note though, the bar only open on Sundays from October to May.

Opening Times: Saturday to Thursday 5pm-2am, Friday 3pm-2am, Sunday (October to May) noon to 12pm. 

227 Bree Street | Corner of Bree and Orphan Street | Cape Town |+27 (0) 21 424 2004

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