Inner-city farm, gold rush town, productive economic centre, poster city for urban decay – Joburg’s Braamfontein has seen many lives. In its latest metamorphosis, it’s the centre of cool in the city of gold.
Run down and a bit seedy in the 1980s, Braamfontein’s revival has been remarkable. It’s blossomed into a desirable neighbourhood for all the right reasons. Once home to law firms and ad agencies, the Joburg suburb was a thriving hub of economic activity on the fringes of the inner city in the 1950s before suburban office parks and shopping malls changed the game and urban decay set in.
Home to Wits University, Braam has always been a place for students, who generally don’t mind – and quite often prefer – to frequent grimy bars and out-of-the-way underground establishments. But some shiny new murals, a popular artisans market and a handful of focused entrepreneurs have together spawned an energetic resurgence of one of Jozi’s original ’hoods.
Braamfontein now attracts people from all walks of life, a kind of full-circle homage to the original cultural melting-pot spirit of the place. And Juta Street is the beating heart of the Braam, the cool capital of a cool neighbourhood. With excellent coffee, a thriving retail scene, contemporary art and terrific views across Jozi, it’s no wonder.
Kitchener’s Carvery Bar
A Braamfontein institution and decades-long favourite student haunt, Joburg’s second-oldest bar is crammed on the weekends. In its former life, Kitchener’s was housed in the grand colonial Milner Park Hotel, and right up until the end of the 20th century hosted stuffy businessmen drinking lagers at lunchtime.
A new generation of revellers moved in in 2009 when DJ and Kitchener’s owner Andrew Clements began hosting parties at the old hotel. Since then it’s been a hub for young creatives, musicians, hipsters and students. By day, a quiet cosy pub, by night a home to DJs spinning anything from soul to house to groovy Afrobeats.
Wednesday night is student night (take that as a warning or as an invitation),
011 403 0166, Facebook
The Playground Market
A space so cool, you feel cool just being there. The Neighbourgoods Market resurrected, the Playground is the place to be on any given Saturday in Braam. It’s a creative, eclectic space that serves up a wide variety of artisan market goods. Live music, heavenly food (think indulgent gourmet desserts, dripping shawarmas, vegan flatbreads), cocktails, South African fashion brands and local DJs on decks.
Equipped with its own generators, The Playground is the most interesting place to hang out during load shedding.
Uber, as parking is scarce. Open every Saturday from 10 am-6 pm.
060 890 4501, theplayground.co.za
JFF Rooftop Farm
A quiet, agri-urban space, JFF Rooftop Farm (the JFF is for Jozi Food Farmer) is one of the best secret hideaways in Braam. Part plant nursery, part teahouse, this rooftop farm is one of the few green corners in the high-rise, concrete-dominated suburb. It’s spearheaded by JFF’s Ashleigh Machete, one of a few enterprising urban farmers who have begun converting rooftops into gardens and small “farms” that grow fresh produce for local restaurants.
Tucked away above the Kalashnikovv Gallery, JFF Rooftop is accessed by a ladder (think twice about wearing heels, think three times about wearing a skirt) at the top of which are a handful of benches and tables that beg to host an afternoon of reading with a cold iced tea in hand.
Jozi residents with small patio gardens shop for aloes and houseplants here, guided expertly by Negin Monkoe, who runs the tea garden and offers advice on urban gardening.
083 895 2271, Instagram
Curated by two of Joburg’s self-proclaimed cultural instigators, Kalashnikovv Gallery hosts new and emerging artists in a hybrid space; part artist-run, part project venue, part commercial gallery. They’ve taken the fine art narrative and turned it on its head, holding space for artists regardless of traditional rankings, academic practice or saleability.
Lace up your shoes and take a street art walking tour. Braamfontein is more or less one big outdoor art gallery, and while some pieces like the giant eland on Jan Smuts Avenue jump right out, you have to know where to look to find other artistic treasures.
City Skate’s Walking Tours of the Braam’s street art are an excellent introduction to the area and will reveal exactly why Joburg is one of the leading graffiti spots in the world. The tour starts at 70 Juta Street, then winds its way through Braam’s streets past bright murals by artists from all over.
Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2pm, Saturdays 11am. Approximately two hours.
079 839 8833 (WhatsApp), cityskatetours.co.za
The Artivist & Untitled Basement
A slightly more upmarket and mature space, this effortlessly cool gallery/restaurant/bar hybrid serves good food, good cocktails and good tunes to the young professional crowd in Braam. A new exhibition or foodie collaboration fills the space each month, while the Untitled Basement below is the space used for private parties and concerts hosted by owners DJ Kenzhero and Bradley Williams. Expect jazz performances, cocktail evenings and outdoor cinema experiences this summer.
011 339 1467, Facebook
The Wing Republic
Though you can get great burgers and ribs, it’s the top-drawer wings that draw Braam locals to the self-explanatory Wing Republic. The laid-back beer garden vibe attracts a young crowd, that and the bold Instagram-worthy exterior painted by artist Karabo Poppy. Wing Republic also hosts regular live music gigs, is open seven days a week and a huge bonus is the guarded parking.
011 339 1358, thewingrepublic.co.za
A version of this article appeared in the February 2023 print issue of Getaway.
By Lauren Dold.
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