Published in the Cape Times Top of the Times supplement on Friday February 3rd 2011.
A place for people to talk
February 3 2012 at 09:17am
THERE’S a grand old building on Strand Street that you may be tempted to stroll straight past, until you spot the royal blue antique chairs on the front stoep. Venture inside and you’ll discover the charming Alexander Bar and Café.
It’s the kind of place where the table you choose to sit at can speak volumes about your personality.
I perch in a corner beside an antique brass telephone with the number 44 emblazoned on the centre of the dial. However, when I take the time to look around I immediately want to shift over to the next table, sporting an antique typewriter, dated page at the ready for whatever musings a guest should care to leave behind.
The bar is the creative culmination of Nicholas Spagnoletti and Edward van Kuik’s search for the perfect social spot. Nicholas, the playwright behind the popular play London Road, joins me over an ice-cold glass of cranberry juice to describe their vision.
“We realised that there was really no place in Cape Town for people to talk. There are restaurants and clubs, but nothing in between. This bar is a cross-generational conversation space.”
Having visited numerous venues around the world the pair combined the best elements from their favourite places to create a space they could happily be in.
“People always say you must visualise your dreams,” he says, explaining that while they always had a strong feeling about what the final image would be, it did change as each part of the plan fell into place. The overriding feel, and one they were aiming for, is that you’ve stepped onto the set of a Noel Coward play. It has all the elements: dark textured wallpaper, gilded mirrors, antique side tables, chairs covered in rich fabrics, Persian carpets and deep red curtains.
Each table sports an antique telephone and guests are encouraged to ring other patrons in different parts of the bar, and even send telegrams to other tables. And if you fancy a game of chess there’s a table perfect for you.
“It’s so nice to watch it being used as designed,” Nicholas says. Fancy sending a drink to the intriguing young gent near the window? Just ring the bar. Want to tell the guest across the way that you like her shoes? Whip out your cellphone and send a telegram which will be printed and delivered for you. It adds a wonderful touch of fun to the traditional bar concept.
Even furnishing the space was an interesting process. Their search led them to antique shops, flea markets and Voortrekker Road. “And some of the things were donated. People have been very generous.”
Also important to Nicholas and Edward was the bar itself. Tired of perching at counters with insufficient overhangs and no corners, they made it their mission to create one that patrons could comfortably sit at for hours.
“We’re terribly fussy people when we’re in other places. We moan. Now we can finally sit here with good lighting and a proper overhang at the bar with corners.”
They have found that people who have popped in to visit out of curiosity have returned. Because they are not trying to be a restaurant they have kept the menu simple, featuring New York style sandwiches with a gourmet slant.
Their reworked menu boasts waldorf, panzanella and seared beef salads. For the slightly more peckish there are The Reuben, Muffoletta, The Great Gatsby and Gravadlax sandwiches, as well as platters of cured meats and cheeses.
They hope the bar will become known as the perfect place to pop into after a night at the theatre. With that in mind the kitchen closes at midnight.
While running a bar seems a completely different challenge to the theatrical adventures Nicholas is used to, he says there are some similarities.
“We’re having fun, but it is stressful. It’s a bit like doing a show, except this carries on. You still have opening night nerves and dress rehearsals. It’s about an audience.”