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What do Two Schmucks, Three Monkeys and Lucy’s Flower Shop have in common? Apart from having cool names, which is a prerequisite for this kind of thing, they are three of the bars that have made it onto the 2021 Top 50 Bars in the World List, which, incidentally, actually goes up to 100.
This year two of this country’s bars, both in Cape Town, made it onto the list: Cause/Effect Cocktail Kitchen, at number 75, and The Art of Duplicity, at 86.
In the case of the latter, even if it hadn’t been on any “best” list, I’d want to go … because, well, who can resist a little duplicity on a Saturday night. A cursory search on Google for the address didn’t offer up much. Its home page says it’s Cape Town’s hippest secret bar; dress code: Mae West meets Al Capone — luxurious, decadent and hush-hush — perfect for a covert whiskey-laden date and some swing. But in the space for the address there’s this: “Now that would be telling”.
The deal is that you need to book — in my case, the only slot available on the bookings site for the week ahead was on Saturday at 9pm — so I made the reservation, with the promise that once I’d booked, the address would be shared with me a few hours before I was due to arrive.
As any good journalist would, I tried to do some research so I’d know what I’d be in for on my only Saturday evening in the Mother City. The bar is hidden away in a Victorian warehouse — so far so good — a thriving speakeasy, decadent jazz and cocktail bar inspired by the US’s prohibition era. Opened in 2018, it first operated only by word of mouth but now, once you’ve booked, you get a secret password and a series of prompts a few hours before the agreed-upon date and time of your booking.
At dinner earlier that evening, I kept checking my WhatsApp and SMSs. I received an SMS reminding me of my booking and a link in case I wanted to cancel, but no address.
A friend who had been to the bar had given me a vague idea of where it was, behind a popular inner-city coffee shop, which she said you had to walk through to get to the hidden lounge. I took my date and headed in that direction.
The city was eerily quiet for Cape Town in December, the streets deserted and the aforementioned coffee shop closed. We parked the car, hugged our handbags close to our bodies and went in search of the secret alleyway on foot. Some car guards huddled in a doorway, waiting aimlessly for tips, were the only life on the street.
“We’re looking for that secret bar,” I ventured to them. “It’s in an inconspicuous alleyway in an unmarked location known only to a select few.” They all nodded in unison and directed us around the corner, with the instruction to follow the music. Reggae and surf-rock seemed incongruent with the pictures of the bar I’d seen on Instagram. They’d led us to the Surfer Rosa pool joint and the door man there had no idea what we were talking about.
We went back. The car guards gave us a knowing look — and sent us up the road to Mavericks — Cape Town’s famed strip joint, which was in the process of closing for the evening ahead of the pandemic curfew.
We’d spent an hour looking for the place and decided to give up, feeling we’d have been better off trying to get a drink in Barcelona, at number 11 on the list, Two Schmucks. For now, the duplicitous jazz bar would have to remain Cape Town’s best kept secret.
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Published by Arena Holdings and distributed with the Financial Mail on the last Thursday of every month except December and January.