The Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town

Boasting the world’s only designer rooftop caravan park and a peppering of offbeat attributes, this city centre accommodation hotspot aims to inject a bit of fun back into your standard overnight stay.

Penthouse and trailer park are two concepts you’d never expect paired, the one being linked to luxury, the other evoking images of toothless hillbillies and raucous rednecks. Still, somehow, with a boldness that makes the absurd appear everyday, the Grand Daddy Hotel in Cape Town’s vibrant city centre has turned their white trash couture take on accommodation into a working, even alluring, combination.

But embracing the unexpected is pretty standard for this boutique Long Street locale. Opened in 1895 as the Hotel Metropole (one of the oldest landmark buildings in Cape Town, hence the ‘Grand Daddy’ designation), it draws together a surprising hodgepodge of looks and feels, quite aptly reflecting the diversity and dynamic energy that is so central to the city, and, more specifically, the street, on which it sits.

Which was the point, of course. In its every aspect, this innovative accommodation hotspot was designed to capture and showcase the creative pulse of the Mother City.

And nowhere was this intent more effectively implemented than in the sky-high, four-star caravan park that sits glinting atop the Grand Daddy’s roof, a project that was born in 2008 as much out of former owner Jody Aufrichtig’s eccentricity as it was his tenacity.

“I wanted to create a mobile hotel and saw no reason why it had to be on ground level,” he says of his decision to use the top of the building as a base. “People’s thinking tends to be too flat; we need to be more three-dimensional.”

So, fighting red tape and close-mindedness at every turn, Jody shipped in seven vintage Airstream trailers from America – specifically chosen for their classic aluminium form – and, with stunned crowds watching, popped them into place using cranes.

Four years later, and after significant media coverage, stepping out into this rooftop world is still a rather surreal experience. The iconic profile of Table Mountain, the blinking CBD skyline and the relentless buzz of Long Street far below form backdrops to a scene oddly reminiscent of a quiet day in an American town in the 1930s Dirty South, a region of the States as well known for hospitality as it is for mullets.

A winding path of wooden decking, bordered by a scattered array of indigenous plants, connects seven sleek silver capsules, each with their own old-school red-and-white mailbox and personal patch of AstroTurf. And enclosing this little piece of Pleasantville is (what else?) a white picket fence that runs the perimeter of the roof.

If this landscape is not endearingly unusual enough, it comes complete with twinkling fairy lights, a centre arrangement of soft white couches and a large screen used for Monday movie nights at SA’s only rooftop cinema, The Pink Flamingo. Not to mention, the Sky Bar  –  a slick, wooden, sky-high watering hole that, under an open Bedouin tent, serves cocktails (amongst other concoctions) as strong as they are satisfying  –  attracts a swanky after-work crowd strangely at odds with the surrounding setting.

But the real appeal of the place – the feature that draws guests and art gurus alike – lies inside each quirky caravan, the interiors of which were designed and adorned according to unique themes –  think Afro-Funk, Goldilocks or Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz – by esteemed local artists and interior decorators.

“I wanted to give local visionaries a rare opportunity to express their creativity,” explains Jody. “Give them a blank canvas like this and they can do anything.”

And that’s precisely what they did. Each trailer is delightfully unique, richly embellished and fully decked out with charming little details and witty, whimsical surprises, making for innovative, yet astoundingly comfortable accommodation that doubles as an exhibition space.

‘For the Love of Lace’ reads the mailbox of the Airstream-cum-installation that’s mine for one night. But even this name doesn’t offer apt warning for the explosion of plush pink extravagance that is the interior. More a courtesan’s chamber than a caravan, it drips with rich velvet swatches, layers of lace and lingerie, cerise bows and butterflies, tassels and frills and diamond drop chandeliers. A decadent black bathroom, screened seductively from the rest of the room, boasts a shower and tiny vanity basin; and the bed – which is surprisingly grand and incredibly comfortable – is covered with enough silky scatter cushions to get entirely lost in.

And losing yourself is exactly what the whole experience invites. As much art display as it is luxury accommodation, the Grand Daddy’s rooftop affords the rare opportunity to exchange the reality of built-in cupboards, ceiling fans and empty overnights for the escapism of one evening in a wild, somewhat wacky setting.

But even just below roof-level, a whole other world awaits, one that offers a distinctly different feel  –  more Great Gatsby with contemporary quirks than off-the-wall artistry – but one that still includes hints of the tongue-in-cheek playfulness that characterises the caravan park.

“Everything is too serious these days,” says passionate Co-owner Jaci van Heteren over a bursting breakfast spread the following morning. “The Grand Daddy aims to introduce a bit of fun.”

Downstairs, little instances of this penchant for adventure are everywhere, from the über-bling, gold Daddy Cool Bar  – an over-the-top embodiment of the pimp daddy character – and digital photographic display to the fish tank that’s built into the wall of a passage, the original working 19th century elevator and the colourful touches of Afro-chic in the 26 luxurious hotel rooms (those who’d rather forego a trailer park experience can overnight in a somewhat more standard room).

Needless to say, with a smorgasbord of surprising offerings and bold combinations, all unexpected and all equally endearing, the Grand Daddy offers so much more than mere lodging; it’s an icon of inspiration, a full-scale experience in itself.

Tip: L’Apero, the Grand Daddy’s charming on-site restaurant, is open to the public daily, and offers a diverse array of fresh, Mediterranean-inspired dishes and desserts – their chocolate brownies have garnered quite a following – and an extensive list of wines sourced from small, local estates. The eatery also offer happy hour specials on Wednesdays and Fridays between 5pm and 7pm. Be sure to pop in to the concept Daddy Cool Bar too for an evening drink or for salsa classes on ‘Salsation’ Fridays.

Opening hours of the various venues: L’Apero Restaurant: Monday – Friday: 6:30am - 10pm; Saturday: 7:30am - 10pm; Sunday: 7:30am – 3pm. Sky Bar: Monday: 4:30pm – 6:30pm; Tuesday – Saturday: 4:30pm - 9:30pm. The Pink Flamingo Outdoor Cinema: Monday: 6pm – 10pm (booking required). Daddy Cool Bar: Tuesday – Saturday: 5pm - 1am.

38 Long Street | City Centre | Cape Town | +27 (0)21 424 7247

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Read more about other interesting and unusual accommodation options in Cape Town.

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