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

ct alexander 1Find the space that best suits your mood at Alexan­der Bar and Cafe.

Terri Dunbar-Curran

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.”

ct alexander 5Lap up the vin­tage charm of Alexan­der Bar and Cafe in Strand Street.

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.

ct alexander 4

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.”

ct alexander 3Edward van Kuik and Nicholas Spag­no­letti com­bined ele­ments of their favourite places to cre­ate Alexan­der Bar and Cafe.