“Orphanage?” my friends ask, “What kind of a name is that???” I am in the process of suggesting to them that we should all pay the (admittedly) unorthodoxly-named Cape Town locale a visit on a Saturday for their Disco Safari night. What they don’t know, is that I’ve spent hours on Orphanage’s Facebook page, waiting for the right time to make a turn at the venue known for its decadent food and sinful refreshments. They seem reluctant, but then I give them a considerable push in the direction of Orphan Street when I call up pictures of the place on the internet. However, Raymond Endean (one of the owners of Orphanage) says the name is rather befitting, “Orphanage takes its unconventional name from its location on Orphan Street, so named as the orphan children of Cape Town used to gather there in the early 1900s.” And so, a tale of a night lived in another century unfolds.
In the cab, on our way there, I casually bring up a bit of tittle-tattle about the place with Michelle (Ms Arab Swagger). I boast that Gordon Ramsay had frequented the venue when he was in Cape Town earlier on this year for the Good Food and Wine Show. At the time, I didn’t know that Belvedere had hosted a grand Mercedes Benz Fashion Week opening event there, attended by the likes of David Tlale, Malcolm Klûk and Christiaan Gabriël du Toit (insert regretful sigh here). It takes us like 15-20 minutes to get from Mowbray to City Centre, and when we arrive, I can recognize the “ORPHANAGE” sign almost instantly. My heart skips a beat for a second, because when it comes to classy establishments, I’m kind of a geek.
I’m always bragging to my buddies who are scattered in other parts of the country, about Cape Town’s vintage appeal, but this is something else. I have never before seen so much of creativity and intricacy that goes into upholding the pride and name of a place. My friends notice me gawking like an idiot at the key-shaped spy hole in the brown doorway, but I am too lost in the charm of it all to even notice myself. “The low-key brown doorway with a key-shaped spy-hole is an ‘Alice through the looking glass’ entrance into the beautifully detailed, quirky cocktail club which opened rather unusually, with a blessing by the Archdeacon—and a cocktail on the menu is dedicated to the present day Children’s Home that was founded as a result of his predecessors,” Ray explains. The cocktail that he’s speaking of is appropriately named “More Tea Vicar?”, on which he elaborates, “Whenever a patron orders our incumbent cocktail, ‘More Tea Vicar?’ we donate R15 to The St Francis Children’s Home (over R28, 000 was donated in the last year ). The altruistic libation is a delicious elixir of vanilla infused Ciroc Vodka with rooibos syrup served in a Fine Bone China tea cup. Though our assistance certainly doesn’t just pertain to the one cocktail, a percentage of all sales are donated to the charity.” I’m in love.
Of course, I can’t indulge in any of their alcoholic drinks, but my friends are ogling that cocktail menu like they’ve never seen anything like it, while I ogle the interesting chandelier hanging above us. Something out of the ordinary is dangling between the otherwise standard crystals of the chandelier – vintage keys. “Orphanage is steeped in Victorian Mother City heritage, which is what influenced the hanging of the vintage keys, which were purchased from around the world on eBay over many months!” Ray tells me, “It’s an egalitarian bar that caters predominantly with young professionals upwards of age 25: with no male or female bias.” I’ve already noticed that the patrons here seem to be a bit older than me, but I really don’t care.
We are waited on by a rather delightful waitress named Caitlin, who is very insightful and serves us effortlessly. And what of the barmen? Ray leaves me with a high appraisal and a slightly raised eyebrow. I usually always have even the tiniest bit of negative criticism for a place, but this time, I have nothing –
“As an esteemed establishment, we recently débuted in ‘The World’s 50 Best Bars’ by Drinks International magazine (known as the Oscars of the bartending world) as one of the top 9 bars in the world to watch for 2013! Another fine publication, Condé Nast Traveler, voted Orphanage Cocktail Emporium as one of “The Top 20 New Bars in the World”… Our master mixologist Nick K (The- Alchemist) represented South Africa at The Diago Reserve World Class Global Finals 2013 – the largest and most credible mixology competition in the world – competing against 44 of the world’s best barkeeps! And more hurrahs to Nick, he was selected as one of the top 5 barkeeps at the Bacardi Legacia competition. Assaf Yechiel, (our Alchemist-in-waiting), won the Olmeca Tahona Society competition in 2012, and got the opportunity to fly to Mexico to compete against the world’s best bartenders. Assaf also placed 2nd in the world at the Bombay Sapphire ‘Worlds Most Imaginative Bartender’ held in Tuscany 2013. Our brand is built on a European standard of premium products and quality service with an internal belief that we, as a business, can provide the next level of service and drinks that will put South Africa on the European map.”
I’m thirsty and hungry from all this dizzy dazzle. I order the Jalapeño Poppers and Octopus Crunch and my friends get the Chicken Tacos and Little Lamb Buns. To drink, I get the Speak Easy non alcoholic drink, because I’m a lover of passion fruit. The food and drinks arrive timeously (much to my belly’s appreciation). My poppers are divine, my Octopus is indeed very crunchy, and Michelle insists that her Lamb Buns are home-made from scratch (which Ray confirms that they actually are). Chef Jesse Bosenge cooks up the ultimate comfort food, as Ray points out, “[It is] Elevated comfort food served in a convivial style with sharing plates that create a social eating environment and go hand-in-hand with our world class cocktails.” World class, for sure.
Once we’re done dining, my curiosity gets the better of me, and I visit the loo, just to see for myself how far the perfection of this place stretches. I’m in awe by the antique toilet-roll holders and fluffy towels (see pictures below). Further on, I peer into the separated “Smoking Sin Bin”, and go inside for a peak, when I notice a stair case, where people are merrily walking up and down. I casually slip down the stairs as though I know where I’m going, but I don’t really have a cooking clue. To my surprise, it’s a whole different section, as lavishly decorated as the upstairs! Note to self : The is the stuff myths are made of. Second note to self: Surely I’m dreaming?
But no, I am not in a dream, and this is very real. I am standing in the middle of a room that makes me feel like anything is possible. And that is both dangerous, and exciting to me all at the same time. I will make no qualms about saying that Orphanage is my newly-found favourite jewel in the chest of Cape Town treasures, and I shall be wearing this one very often! You see, the night is not even over yet, and I’m already blurting out, “Please, sir, I want some more!”
Orphanage Cocktail Emporium address: Corner of Bree and Orphan Street, Cape Town
Trading hours and busiest nights:
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 5pm to 2am
Fridays from 3pm. Closed on Sundays and Mondays during winter
Tuesdays – Toe Tapping Tuesdays; Dale Parker & Friends
Thursdays – The Rendezvous Room; The Brothers Skene (Ian Skene & Malcolm Skene) & Friends
Fridays – TitBit Fridays
Saturdays – The newly introduced Carnival, which will take place on the last Saturday of every month; DJs like Circuswing to put you in the Carnival festive mood
Disco Safari (Every other Saturday night) – An array of DJ’s at the top of their game, a few recent regulars include Dean FUEL, Danalog, Nick Matthews, Matthew Loots, Chris Jack
Contact the House Master to book for a private function : + 27 21 424 2004