Drinks with friends used to be such a complicated affair. Bars were for some, and even those people couldn’t use just any bar. It was the ugly side of Cheers, Where Everybody Knows Your Name™. You had to be sure these were your people, once your eyes had adjusted to the smoke and dim interior.
Pleathered Ladies’ Bars had the same rules when it came to skin tone and age but did bend the rules by allowing gentlemen and borderline teens too. You were left wondering what or who qualified visitors as a “lady”, and when indeed the rules applied and when not.
Once again, wine came to the rescue. For all their hip trendiness, wine bars have eroded the divide. What follows is certainly not an exhaustive list of wine bars in South Africa, but a sample in some of the country’s main visitor destinations.
The Bascule Whisky, Wine & Cocktail Bar in the yacht marina of the V&A Waterfront built its reputation on whisky, thanks to its expansive collection from across the world. Its wine offering has however not been far behind. The bar has indoor and outdoor seating and is an easy place to pull off the act of having just stepped off your super-vessel for a sip and sundowner among Instagramming tourists. Optional extras: Captain’s peaked cap and foreign accent. Contact: 021 410 7100.
Zambian-born sommelier Penny Setty has set up shop within the ancient walls of Heritage Square, home of what is South Africa’s oldest fruit-bearing vine. From her Penny Noire Wine Bar, she offers visitors an insightful taste of local and interesting specimens. Contact: 021 424 4646.
Self-described as a home of Japanese subculture, embroidered Macaques, cyberpunk, and Samurai inspiration lends Tjing Tjing Rooftop Bar a Blade Runner feel even though it’s in Longmarket Street. Cocktails are the thing, but there’s an “extensive” wine list too. Not too shabbily, the house wine is made by Swartland’s David & Nadia. Contact: 021 422 4374.
Bree Street has a number of wine bars. One belongs to Chef Liam Tomlin who has a string of popular dining businesses in his Chefs Warehouse brand. Pinchos, which includes a wine bar, is among them. Food is served tapas-style alongside a broad selection of South African wines. No reservations are taken at the venue, situated in Bree Street. Contact: 021 422 0128.
Not to be confused with that other seat of power in Wale Street, Openwine Wine Bar’s guests are quite possibly as influential and infinitely more interesting. It claims the title as “first Enoteca in Cape Town”. Apart from wine imbibing, the venue is also popular for live musical performances. Contact: 021 422 0800.
Also in Bree Street, is Culture Wine Bar by chef Matt Manning. On the list are “cult classics, hidden gems, natural wines, and special imports from across the globe”. There’s a small menu too. On the next floor, is its Wine Library a private members club and co-working space. Contact: 087 153 5246.
Not far along the road also, is Leo’s Wine Bar, which is owned by Matthew Freemantle. He named the place after his young son and placed it inside the Max Bagels shop. “Low intervention wines from smaller, specialised producers” are the catchwords here, as well as “natural” varieties too. Contact: 076 042 0224.
Wine in another form is the star of the show at CAUSE | EFFECT Cocktail Kitchen and Cape Brandy Bar. The V&A Waterfront venue is arguably the leading venue of its kind. Taste South African brandies, young and old, from around the country. The enterprise is also masterful at creating world-class cocktails using local ingredients, at the same time showcasing the diversity of this fine spirit. Contact: 021 422 0266.
Khayelitsha has its own wine bar, adjoined to a restaurant. Called The Milk Restaurant and Champagne Bar, the venue at 33 Zantsi Street, is styled as “a lifestyle and entertainment boutique”. It was launched in 2018 by S’phelo Jalivane, who was later joined by partners Mfundo and Mshayi Mbeki. Contact: 081 414 8913.
The Wine Bar Soweto is situated on famous Vilakazi Street, a tourist magnet for its links to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. There’s a menu and a list of spirits alongside its selection of wines. Contact: 071 154 7459.
Chef David Higgs matches fine food with an equally upscale winelist at Marble Restaurant and Wine Bar. Local and international wines available. The venue overlooks Rosebank, all the way to the Magaliesberg Mountains, but bringing binoculars is likely to invite looks from jealous fellow diners. Contact: 010 594 5550.
The Alto234 bar is located on the 57th floor – the rooftop – of The Leonardo Building in Sandton. Cocktails are the rage here, but so too its selection of wines, Champagne and Cap Classiques. Contact: 087 536 0000.
Mr Pants Wine Bar was established in 2020, and that’s about all you’ll get from its minimalistic website – other than links to a telephone number, location, and Instagram account. The enterprise belongs to Shayne Holt and is sister to his Italy-obsessed Flor Wine Bar in Parkwood. The former is situated in Randburg and has a light menu too. Contact: 067 294 1673.
The swanky Proud Mary Modern Eatery and Wine Bar is situated in Rosebank’s foodie district. Established by Gary Hollywood and Warren Murley, it is inspired by mid-century New York décor and design, and features “small batch, local and independent wineries”. Contact: 010 023 3316.
Le Wine Chambre in Illovo in Sandton, offers an interesting tapas menu to be enjoyed with some of the world’s best wines. Owned by Walter Melato, an avid wine lover and engineer by trade, who left his engineering career after 25 years to follow his passion of owning his own wine bar.
Walter prides himself on excellent service and more than just a place to enjoy a good wine; he ensures an unforgettable wine experience.
The Oyster Box Hotel in Umhlanga has three bars, each stocked with an award-winning Diner’s Club Diamond wine list. They are the Lighthouse, Oyster and Chukka Bars. The hotel’s wine cellar may be reserved for intimate dining. Contact: 031 514 5000.
Simon’s Bar has an island beach feel thanks to the lush plants, distressed woodwork, vintage motorboat engines, and other eclectic items decorating the walls. Sip popular Cape wines as you watch the sun set (or rise!) over the Bitou River. Contact: 044 501 2500.
The Sandbar is as stylish as they come and clearly a popular hangout of the polo crowd thanks to its glass, white leather, marble, and oak interiors. Award-winning wines and champagnes are on the list – no less may be expected from the Liz McGrath Collection property. Contact: 044 533 2030.
Among the top destinations for visitors to South Africa, Knysna was always destined to have a place for another local favourite – wine. One venue that prides itself on its collection is 34 South, a popular restaurant-cum-market at the Knysna Quays. Its extensive wine list comprises a range that incorporates a full spread, from big-hitters to craft-scale independents. Contact: 044 382 7331.
Bird Street is the location of the Bartinney Wine and Champagne Bar. Alongside the Banhoek estate’s own Bartinney range of wines, a menu of light meat and cheese dishes, wines from its Noble Savage portfolio, and Champagne is served. Wines are available by the glass or bottle. Contact: 076 348 5374.
DeWarenmarkt is home to two prominent wine showcases. Simon Wine Bar has teamed up the local wine route and now stocks many of the region’s wines, available for tasting and purchase at cellardoor prices. The enterprise is housed in a building dating from the 18th century and is named after the town’s founding father, Simon van der Stel. Also here is the Kaapse Vonkel Cap Classique and Oyster Bar, which serves wines of Simonsig – pioneer of the Cap Classique category. Contact: 021 883 2274.
Tapas, flatbreads, and in-house beer are on offer with Brampton wines at the Brampton Wine Studio in Church Street. Contact: 071 150 8890.
There’s plenty of personality wrapped up in the Beyerskloof Wynbar, the urban ambassador of wines made by Anri and father Beyers Truter. Its limited outdoor seating makes it a great spot from which to observe the comings and goings on Ryneveld Street. Contact: 0818467997.
Not to be confused with the Windhoek venue of similar name, the Stellenbosch Wine Bar is firmly ensconced on the corner of Church and Andringa Streets. It too is the showcase of a single, renowned winery – Rust en Vrede – but also stocks a selection of Cap Classiques and Champagne. Contact: 0636463207.
Qbar is affiliated with Quoin Rock Estate and serves wines from the estate as well as from Namysto and Knorhoek, at the De Wet Centre in Church Street. There’s tapas to go with those libations and gin, for those partial to a cocktail. Contact: 078 079 9792.
Le Grand Domaine Enoteca is the brand home of the eponymous winery in Devon Valley that was founded by Bernard Fontannaz. Enoteca is a combination of wine emporium, bar, wine tasting venue and bistro. It is situated in Church Street. Contact: 021 300 3279.
The revamped Root44 centre at the intersection of the R44 and Annandale Road has a wine bar amongst its many epicurean offerings. Contact: 021 3003935.
Some 100 wines are available to taste – by the glass or bottle – at The Wine Glass in Hermanus. The focus regions are Botriver, Hemel-en-Aarde, Stanford, Elim and Agulhas. The large venue has a kitchen too and therefore a menu of platters and small-plate dishes. Contact: 082 082 0007.
The town has its share of famous wineries in the surrounding countryside, but wines may also be sampled at The Tulbagh Boutique Heritage Hotel’s cosy Karee Tapas & Wine Bar. Contact: 023 230 0071.
The Western reaches of the country may not seem like wine country, but it produces grapes for some of the biggest brands. It is also home to small, private producers whose wines may also be tasted at Thi Art Restau. Contact: 076 792 0806.