Explore the best of Joburg in one street

Posted by A on 31 August 2018

Jan Smuts Avenue has it all – from hip art galleries to eateries and watering holes with the finest views in town. Discover the best of Joburg in one street.

‘After robot!’ I shout from the back of a taxi as a cue to get off at the corner of Jan Smuts Avenue and Bolton Road. I’m meeting my colleague, Melanie van Zyl, for a Thursday lunch – and a headstart on our weekend activities on Jan Smuts Avenue. This 12,4-kilometre-long street stretches across 14 suburbs, from Randburg in the north to just before Nelson Mandela Bridge in the CBD.

Park Corner, or Bolton Corner as most people know it, pulsates with the energy of a bustling city. Standing across the road, I want to join that vibrant young crowd I see leaning over restaurant counters that open out onto the street, sipping and nibbling on this and that.


Drinks and a light lunch Saigon Suzy. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


I walk into Saigon Suzy and immediately fall head-over-heels for it. The menu and decor – ferns, rough brick prettied up with murals, Asian umbrellas swirling on the high ceiling – transport me instantly to a whole new world. It’s calm in here; outside, there’s a lot of hooting as cars rush past, pedestrians pass by and taxis stop to load or offload people.

Two blocks up the road, the Keyes Art Mile is making waves. It’s the latest cool kid on the block as far as art in Jozi is concerned. Former investment banker Anton Taljaard, who established this art precinct, says that although Joburg had ‘lots to offer artistically, the experience was not concentrated enough’. Opposite Everard Read, one of the oldest art galleries in the city, and next to the landmark Circa gallery, the Trumpet building went up in 2016 on Keyes Avenue, and houses two more galleries, three bars, designer stores and, on its top floor, Marble Restaurant. Anton hinted to me that there are big developments coming on the Keyes Art Mile that will bring more art spaces and activities.

Further up the road, in Craighall, Jan Smuts Avenue crosses over the Braamfontein Spruit – Joburg’s longest waterway. Non-profit organisation Jozi Trails has plans to rehabilitate the environment, maintain the trails and make the area more accessible to hikers and cyclists.

Jan Smuts Avenue is also going to be widened – the section between Erlswold Road and Bolton Road, and from Jellicoe Avenue to Bompas Road – to alleviate traffic congestion and make it more pedestrian-friendly. This will go a long way on busy First Thursdays, which take part almost entirely on Jan Smuts (extending all the way through to the Wits Art Museum and Braamfontein). According to Anton, the Keyes Art Mile alone attracts 9000 people on this one night.


Enjoying a cocktail and a taco while taking in the view of Jan Smuts Avenue. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


On Friday, Melanie and I meet in Dunkeld for the Fournos breakfast special before ambling around Hyde Square. We discover Color Café and, before we know it, we’re painting birds, butterflies and flowers on mugs and plates. I feel like a kid again. While there is plenty of art to explore on Jan Smuts Avenue – both in and outside the galleries – the creative in me is especially delighted to have my turn to play Picasso.

Later in the day, back at Bolton Corner, we meet up with a creative of another kind: bartender Julian Short at Sin + Tax, Joburg’s best-kept open secret. Unless you know your way around or ask someone, Sin + Tax is easy to miss, tucked between Coalition and Bar Ber Blacksheep. It’s still daylight outside but after a few cocktails in the dim ambience, time almost stands still.


A drink made by Julian Short at Sin + Tax. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


Julian opened the bar in 2016. Since then, he’s won several awards including South Africa’s best bartender title last year. In person, he’s as cheerful as his colourful tattoos and shirt, and his exuberant drinks. He speaks about cocktails with a genuine sparkle of passion in his eye, and it reminds me of my little brother’s excitement when he talks about karate classes. Each cocktail is a work of art. Julian offers us the drink of the day, Peach Better Have My Honey (he loves puns too).

Behind the bar, he’s like a magician cooking up potions. And he sustains this energy throughout the night. I remark that he goes through a lot of effort for a single drink, and he agrees. ‘But I love it. If you get your drink and you’re happy with it, that makes me happy,’ he says.


A view of Johannesburg from Marble. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


It’s now Saturday and I’m heading out to meet with Kim Sacks, a ceramicist who has owned her eponymous gallery on Jan Smuts Avenue for more than 20 years. She started collecting African artefacts decades ago, when they were not considered ‘fashionable’ or ‘artistic’. She established the gallery to give a platform to African art – her collection ranges from beautiful calabashes made by rural women and ceramics from all over Africa to clothing from Kenya, Ghana and Lesotho. It is incredible art – abstract and expressive, yet functional.

Later, while we’re sitting on the veranda of her store, reclining against cushions made of beautiful African fabric, she muses: ‘I like to think of this avenue as the significant neckpiece of the city, and each and every one of us – from the Bolton Collection to the Keyes Art Mile folks – with our unique contributions and offerings, make this neckpiece a unique work of art.’ I notice she also has that same sparkle in her eyes.


Painting pottery at color Cafe. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


On the surface, with the ‘aesthetic’ of office blocks and its name linked to the Old South Africa, I was hardly inspired to venture out this way for fun. But experience keeps teaching me that plenty awaits down unexplored avenues and behind closed doors. One could do worse than stop by.


Sundowners with a view

The view from Island Bar. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


Flames is the casual restaurant at the Westcliff Hotel with the best views in town (Instagram paradise). A sundowner here is obligatory. In winter it also hosts occasional Fondue Nights, which cost from R295 per person. Tel. 0114816000

Island Bar, on the pool deck of the Hyde Park Southern Sun, is a wonderful spot to observe the skyline with a drink in hand at the end of the day. Watch the traffic fade away and see the city slow down as the sky changes into myriad colours. There are gas heaters in winter. Tel. 0113418080

Marble, on the top floor of the Trumpet building, has spectacular views – through glass walls, you can see all the way to the Northcliff Tower. Sit outside and be mesmerised by the urban forest that is Joburg. Tel. 0105945550

EB Social Kitchen, inside Hyde Park Corner’s Exclusive Books outlet, has window seats with wonderful views of the city that stretch out all the way to Sandton. It’s not an outdoor vibe, which makes it perfect for cold days. It serves literary-inspired cocktails such as The Catcher in the Rye (bourbon, mint, apple and cinnamon). Tel. 0112686039


Celebrate art for free

Goodman Gallery is celebrating its 52nd year. It’s a renowned contemporary-art-institution as far as SA galleries are concerned. Closed on Mondays.

Everard Read has been around for more than 110 years (almost as long as Jozi!). Circa, an architectural masterpiece built in 2009, is an extension of Everard Read. Both are closed on Sundays.

TMRW Digital Gallery is breaking new ground in the SA art world, fusing technology and art for a ‘virtual reality’ one-of-a-kind art experience. Closed on Sundays and Mondays.

Wits Art Museum hosts exhibitions from around Africa. It also offers tours with the artists (booking essential; free but donations welcome). Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. Artists Under the Sun claims to be ‘the largest open-air exhibition of fine art in Africa’, and is held at Zoo Lake every first Saturday and Sunday of the month. Bring friends, a picnic and a keen eye. artistsunderthesun.com

First Thursdays are when all the cool businesses on Jan Smuts Avenue stay open until later, creating a wonderful buzz.


Book a table

LEFT: Pizza at Coalition. RIGHT: The interior at Blaque Wine Bar & Grill House.


Marble, chef David Higgs’s ‘open-fire’ grill restaurant, is one of the most exciting recent additions to Joburg’s culinary (and after-work drinks) scene. I enjoyed the pork belly (R225), but also try the Cape Malay veg curry (R175). Tel. 0105945550.

Saigon Suzy does beautiful, fresh Vietnamese cuisine. It’s a nice vibe for supper and drinks with friends. I had the katsu curry (R100). You can book a private karaoke room from R800. Tel. 0113276596

Coalition serves pizza the way Italians in Naples enjoy it (minimalist). From R75 for a margherita. It’s great to hang out here with friends before heading upstairs to Sin + Tax. Tel. 0109004987

Milk Bar is a chilled-out spot on Keyes Avenue. It serves cheap beer quarts (R33). The pork-brisket bunny chow (R82) is as hearty as they come; there’s also a Frenchtoast bunny chow (R67). Tel. 0105945128

BGR (next to Milk Bar) serves some of the best burgers in town (from R60), plus there’s bottomless freshly made lemonade for R20. Tel. 0105934545

Blaque is the new kid at Bolton Corner, where wine is served by the (generous) glass. I also had a delicious rib-eye steak with spinach and pumpkin (R150). Tel. 0769894688

Fournos Bakery in Dunkeld has a breakfast special of a croissant, egg and bacon for just R25. Tel. 0113252110


Plan your trip


Boat rides on Zoo Lake cost R20. Photograph by Melanie Van Zyl.


Getting ready

There is a Gautrain station in Rosebank. You can Uber or Taxify around the area (no need to find parking), but minibus taxis travel the entire length of Jan Smuts Avenue between the CBD and Randburg – these cost R13 per trip.


Need to know

There have been incidents of petty crime along the avenue (phones snatched in a few establishments, particularly around Bolton Corner), but there are plans in motion already to beef up security, says Timothy Sammons of Capital Point, which owns many of the properties in the area.


Stay here

Once in Joburg is a great budget option in Braamfontein, a few streets from the bottom end of Jan Smuts Avenue. From R885 B&B for a balcony room (sleeps two). Tel. 0870572638, once.travel/cities/joburg

Village Green Guest House is in Parkview, and walking distance to Zoo Lake. It has a pool and nice garden. Double from R990 B&B. Tel. 0116465820, villagegreenguesthouse.co.za

Clico Boutique Hotel in Rosebank is a block away from Jan Smuts Avenue and the Keyes Art Mile, and walking distance to the mall. It has a highly rated restaurant, but there is also one self-catering room available. Weekend special rate from R967 per person sharing B&B. Tel. 0112523300, clico.co.za

Four Seasons Hotel The Westcliff is a famous five-star experience for those who want to indulge for a night. Expect fine service, fine beds and fine food. From R1,900 per person sharing, but look out for specials. Tel. 0114816000, fourseasons.com

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