The girls and I did a spot of pub crawling Friday night. In truth it was only two bars, and one was more of a modern cocktail bar. But the latter, which I’m glad I agreed to go to, is a genuine bar, an iconic establishment with a deliciously rich history.
The Radium Beer Hall situated in Jan Smuts Avenue, Orange Grove is touted as the oldest surviving bar and grill in Johannesburg. Established in 1929 as a tea room by the Khalil family, it sold liquor illegally to Black customers who were barred from drinking during the era of separatism. These days it serves a cosmopolitan mix of customers and has an unmistakable Portuguese character. Posters and photographs which adorn the walls, will engage any visitor for a long time, until the alcohol kicks in, and you’re trying hard to listen to your mates over the obscene din of tipsy patrons.
On this Friday night, the place was full to bursting and made a mockery of the sign on one of the entrance doors which proclaim a capacity limited to 100 customers. But that did not deter the live jazz quartet from vying for the customers’ attention. They were lively too, and had me tapping my foot in appreciation while trying desperately to listen to the girls regale me with tales of their past visits to this wonderful oasis in a run-down Johannesburg.
I had visited this bar before, nearly two decades earlier and had all but forgotten that the place existed. I was really glad that this watering hole had so much staying power. It’s all good, as I had an impression that the old-style bar trade was dying out, rapidly being replaced by upmarket, but characterless cocktail bars and what-not.
On the subject of bars, the 10th Anniversary edition of Sawday’s Special Places Pubs and Inns of England and Wales is out and lists the winners of this year’s competition.
The one I would kill to visit some day, and spend some quality drinking time at, is Rugglestone Inn in Widecombe-in-the-Moor, Devon. Now that’s a truly awesome pub.
While Britain has literally thousands of pubs, according to this article, they’re slowly but surely dwindling in numbers too. What a pity.
Do you have any favorites around the world?