The ultimate guide to Melville

Posted by Vuyi Qubeka on 6 July 2016

Want to explore a truly multicultural South Africa? This is where it’s at. Vuyi Qubeka brings you a guide of the best things to do in Melville, as well as places to eat and enjoy in this adored hippie village of Joburg.

 

The quite and neat streets of the hippies village. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

The quiet and neat streets of the hippie village.

I can’t remember the first time I went to Melville. I just know I’ve always loved it. I was in my early twenties, studying, discovering and exploring. I was learning about what life was like after the sun had set, the raptures of happy hour (which went hand in hand with building solid relationships with cab drivers), feminism, communicating with boys sans a school uniform, poetry and art and how to dance like no one’s watching. Now, on her 120th anniversary, I’m back in this ‘hippie village’ to be reacquainted.

 
Also read: 10 unusual things to do in Joburg that won’t cost a fortune

 
Seated at the foot of Melville Koppies Nature Reserve, Melville was established in 1896 and is cupped by the University of Johannesburg to the right and University of the Witwatersrand to its left. One of the oldest and most vibrant suburbs in Johannesburg, there’s a film school, three business schools, the French Institute of South Africa and three teaching hospitals all within walking distance. The suburb is known to attract bohemian types – artists, poets, writers and, of course, students. It’s got a huge number of guest houses (around 180, I’m told). The Victorian homes are lovely and the streets are lined with luxuriant trees – you should see it when the jacarandas bloom!

The surge of energy I feel when I know I’m in a place where I can walk everywhere is marvellous. People walk and walk, and sit in the sun at pavement cafes.

Later on they dance and eat with their hands – there’s good food everywhere. It’s a place where you can truly be yourself.

My friend Emma joins me for the night at Ginnegaap Guesthouse on 4th Ave. We spent a LOT of time in Melville in our youth and our nostalgia is strong.

 

Ginnegaap-Guest-House-Vuyi-Qubeka

Ginnegaap Guest House in Melville.

We arrive at Ruth’s Antiques for ‘thrifting’s’ sake. The house is a heritage site, the owner Ruth tells us. The rooms are filled with exquisite furniture and arbitrary yet fascinating things. There’s no shortage of second-hand shops in Melville. Bounty Hunters Charity Shop is further along 4th (it’s said to be the best – but be warned: the owner takes in stray cats and it tends to smell of cat pee).

 

Melville-Rhuts-Antiques-Vuyi-Qubeka

Ruths Antiques in Melville.

We head to Hell’s Kitchen, the new kid on the block, to quench our thirst. I like it immediately – it’s comfortable, and it feels like we’re stepping into another era. It’s the only place in the area that serves Dragon Fiery ginger beer on tap and it’s delicious.

I’m excited by how organic and genuine interactions between people of different races and nationalities are here. A while later we settle on some authentic shawarmas from Turkish Shawarma & Grill on 7th – epic. There’s a growing Turkish community here, and I love the fact that Melville’s getting even more diverse, both in food and culture. ‘Melville is what Yeoville was once:
 a beacon of a South Africa that was yet to come,’ says Eric Miyeni (famed for his breakout role in Molo Fish, and author of The Release.)

‘Now we’re here, Melville represents that the most,’ he says. Eric, whom many call the ‘mayor of Melville’ because he’s such
 a familiar face in the area, says the suburb is not an enclave of just one group.

‘There are places within 7th Street that are majority white in terms of patronage, there are places that are majority coloured, but there’s no place where I think you feel alienated. Everybody comes here: gay, straight, male, female, religious or not, to sit side by side, joke around and go home. There’s something beautiful about 
that and it’s quite representative of South Africa’s demographics.’

He adds that there is
 a harmony to the community. ‘Everybody can laugh, talk and even argue for hours and it ends nicely.’

We take a walk and he shows me what he means: a DJ plays at Lucky Bean Restaurant while a baby crawls on the floor, stretching out to Eric. He scoops her into his arms and the mother beams at him. There’s a large group of friends of all races and ages, people are chilled and the house Shiraz is divine. I observe the love: people in Melville know the car guards by name, they look into each other’s eyes and greet – it’s important to greet – and there’s a sense of contentment. I’ve always experienced it this way.

Next up is Ratz Bar, one of the centrepieces of Melville. Owner Johann Strauss is there enjoying
 a drink with friends and his mother, Ruby. Eric and the group embrace and soon we’re laughing. A block away there’s Liberation Café, and here the crowd is younger and they’re dancing. I dance. I feel accepted. I call it ‘inclusive’ and Eric agrees: ‘It’s not busy kicking out, saying, “Hey! Who are you and what are you doing here?” When everything is going funny, you come to Melville, and it’s all ok. People are good, and the world is good,’ he says.

 

27 Boxes in Melville is an innovative mall built with shipping containers housing mostly local businesses of artisan goodies. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

27 Boxes in Melville is an innovative mall built with shipping containers housing mostly local businesses of artisan goodies.

It’s Saturday morning. There’s a buzz in the air. Folks are out. I’m exploring and wander into 27 Boxes. It’s an innovative mall built from shipping containers that house mostly local businesses selling artisanal goodies. There are food shacks and juice bars. I taste a cronut
 (a cross between a doughnut and a croissant).

As I cross the street, I’m greeted with the warmest smile. ‘Your white dress is absolutely beautiful,’ says Bromley Cawood who is seated outside Bread & Roses enjoying his fishcakes and wine. We’ve never met. ‘Meanwhile, I was staring at your gorgeous vintage sunnies,’ I respond. We click. I sit and he pours me wine. Bromley is a movie director and has been in Melville since 1981.

 

Bread&Roses-Melville-Vuyi-Qubeka

Bromely Cawood and I met as I was crossing the street. He liked my dress, I loved his sunnies. We sat for a while and he shared his wine with me at Bread & Roses.

‘I’ve travelled London and the whole of Europe and this place is unique and it’s got its own identity. People enjoy each other’s energy and good energy attracts good energy. It doesn’t
 feel like living in the city. I get out onto the roof of
 my house and have a fabulous view of the whole Johannesburg city skyline because I live right on top
 of Melville Koppies. I don’t want to live anywhere else,’ he enthuses. 
It’s Sunday morning, overcast and cool, perfect for 
a hike up Melville Koppies Nature Reserve. The contrast of the Koppies from the intense city is rousing, and afterwards I feel as though I’m vibrating from my interaction with nature.

Later, I return to Bread & Roses to meet Marie-Lais Emond for tea. She has been living in Melville for
 20 years and ran the Melville Information Centre.
 She writes a column called Other Side of the City for the Saturday Citizen. ‘People from other countries like it here because they can walk around. South Africans aren’t that aware of walking ‒ and they love it for that and I think that’s one of the selling points,’ she tells me.

People are under the impression that Melville is unsafe, which is why she and a friend introduced e-tuktuk; there are now about 13 eco-friendly vehicles that can transport people along its colourful streets.

 

Marie-Lais Emond was part of the team that introduced e-tuktuk, she's lived in Melville for 20 years and writes a column called Other Side of the City for the Saturday Citizen. A great person, hugely knowledgeable on the village. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka.

Marie-Lais Emond: a great person, hugely knowledgeable on the village.

Next I take a Roving Bantu tour with Sifiso Ntuli. The origin of the name makes for a fascinating story. During apartheid, the then 19-year-old Sifiso was in hiding in Tanzania. One day, while enjoying a beer with his good friend Gandhi (not that one) at The Kilimanjaro hotel in Dar es Salaam, he was approached by two older ANC comrades. When they asked where he was from, he replied, ‘South Africa.’

‘I see,’ one of the men said. ‘Now you’re going to be roving Bantus’ ‒ 
a term coined by Hendrik Verwoerd’s fierce government at the time.

The tour begins in Braamfontein Cemetery and moves through Melville and Brixton. Sifiso tells the history of these places and adds his own experiences of apartheid. I learn about things I’ve never seen
 in documentaries or heard in my school history classes. Sifiso is one of the wisest people I’ve met ‒ something of a jewel ‒ and this tour is important.
 I was a student when I first started hanging out in Melville, and I’m almost 30 now, but I feel just as comfortable in the suburb.

My twin sister put it beautifully: ‘When I think about what Melville means to me, I think of it as an old friend. Or a friend you’ve known forever, almost all of your life, who you don’t see often anymore, and who’s changed quite a lot, but every time you see each other again, it’s like time hasn’t passed. They will always hold a special place in your heart because of where you come from, and where you started together.’

 

Sifiso Ntuli has always been keen on furthering the arts and his contribution in the area of Brixton is large, and an important one. The Bantu Kitchen is worth a visit for the food a weekly film or doccie screenings and conversations with bra Sifiso. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Sifiso Ntuli has always been keen on furthering the arts and his contribution in the area of Brixton is large, and an important one. The Bantu Kitchen is worth a visit for the food a weekly film or doccie screenings and conversations with bra Sifiso.

 

Sifiso had said, history very rarely memorialises woman, and the indigenous people. This mural, titled The doors of learning and cultureshall be open, celebrates singing greats like sis Busi Mhlongo and Brenda Fassie.

Sifiso had said, ‘history very rarely memorialises woman, and the indigenous people.’ This mural, titled ‘The doors of learning and culture shall be open,’ celebrates singing greats like sis Busi Mhlongo and Brenda Fassie.

 

How to get there

Take a Gautrain from the airport or from the north to Park Station in Braamfontein. From there you can take an e-tuktuk into Melville.

 

Luckily, e-tuktuk is now on hand to whisk you about town and they go as far as Parkhurst, Greenside and to Park Station in the inner city. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Luckily, e-tuktuk is now on hand to whisk you about town and they go as far as Parkhurst, Greenside and to Park Station in the inner city.

 

Things to do in Melville

1. Picnic at the Melville Koppies Nature Reserve

Enjoy a picnic in Melville Koppies Nature Reserve with over 150 species of birds. Explore the heritage site with guided hikes on Sundays from R50 for adults and R20 per child.
Tel 0114824797, mk.org.za

 

2. Go for a walk in Johannesburg Botanical Garden

Go for a walk in the Johannesburg Botanical Garden which dates back to 1866, when it was
 a private farm, and has seven distinct gardens, including a rose garden.
Tel 0117820517, jhbcityparks.com

 

3. Take a tour with the Roving Bantu Kitchen tours

The Roving Bantu Kitchen offers worthwhile tours and their kitchen serves local dishes. Tours are from R250 per person per hour. Tel 0722232648, or find it on Facebook.

 

4. Dance at Liberation Café

Liberation Café offers a good vibe to burst a move. It caters for a younger crowd. It’s a great place to dance (there’s even
a jukebox).
Tel 0110266217, or find it on Facebook.

 

5. Go for a drink at Hell’s Kitchen

Hell’s Kitchen is a good place to enjoy a drink in Melville. It’s edgy, with
 a 1920s speakeasy feel, and there’s a secret door to a private lounge.
Tel 0799809591, hellskitchen.co.za

 

6. Taste cocktails at the Six Cocktail Bar

Six Cocktail Bar offers some of the best cocktails in Johannesburg. An institution in Melville, Eric Miyeni says it ‘has got to be the best cocktail bar in South Africa’.
Tel 0114828306, or find it on Facebook.

 

7. Drink and dance at Ratz Bar

Ratz Bar has a gay-friendly atmosphere and towards midnight the tables are removed and Eighties pop booms.
Tel 0114822414, ratzbar.co.za

 

Melville-Hells-Kitchen-Vuyi-Qubeka

Hell’s Kitchen on 7th Avenue in Melville.

 

Places to shop in Melville

1. Ruth’s Antiques

This is a retro dreamland with really unique once-off items.
Tel 0110536533, or find it on Facebook.

 

2. Love Books

The store is one of the best independent book shops in SA. There’s
 a wonderful selection and the decor and vintage chairs are great.
Tel 0117267408, lovebooks.co.za

 

3. Bounty Hunters Charity Shop

Bounty Hunters Charity Shop is an adventure and a half. It has heaps of garments to rummage through
, and finding a treasure is guaranteed.
Tel 0114826094, or find it on Facebook.

 

4. Reminiscene

You will find large stocks of high-quality vintage clothing. It’s been here for a long time and is a bit of an institution.
Tel 0117267905, vintageclothing.mahoonas.co.za

 

5. 27 Boxes

27 Boxes has local boutiques, food co-ops and a night market every Wednesday.
Tel 0860109237, 27boxes.co.za

 

Melville-Love-Books-Vuyi-Qubeka

The LoveBooks store in Melville for the book lovers.

 

Where to stay in Melville

1. Ginnegaap Guesthouse

On 4th Avenue is quiet and a five-minute walk from 7th Street. You can enjoy breakfast in the garden or self-cater. Staff members are gracious. From R445 per person sharing B&B.
Tel 0114823507, ginnegaap.co.za

 

2. Motel Mi Pi Chi

The motel is decorated in white with bright accents. Glass separated my bathroom from the small en-suite garden and I felt like I was bathing in the open. From R445 per person sharing B&B.
Tel 0117268844, motelmipichi.co.za

 

3. 12 Stars Lifestyle Apartments

Offers 12 self-catering options, each with a large kitchen, bedroom and lounge. They are right above Lucky Bean Restaurant and minutes from 7th Avenue. From R650 per person.
Tel 0114827979, 12stars.co.za

 

Motel Mi Pi Chi. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Motel Mi Pi Chi.

 

Best restaurants in Melville

1. Bread & Roses

Bread and Roses has 
a bright interior of African prints with retro chairs and accessories. The salads are fantastic!
Tel 0114821858.

 

2. Lucky Bean Restaurant

Modish arty types hang out at Lucky Bean Restaurant, and there’s usually a DJ on weekends. It’s well known for its wine selection and traditional food.
Tel 0114825572.

 

3. Café De La Creme

Café De La Creme is one of the oldest institutions in Melville and has 
a good restaurant and bakery.
Tel 0117267716.

 

4. Service Station

Located on 9th Street, Service Station makes delicious food ‒ the lunch buffet of healthy salads and roasts are fabulous.
Tel 0117261701.

 

5. Bambanani

Bambanani, which has an Asian-influenced menu, has to be the best family restaurant, with child-minders on hand.
Tel 0114822900.

 

6. Turkish Shawarma
 & Grill

Turkish Shwarma grill serves delicious traditional meals and the owners are lovely.
Tel 011482112.

 

Visit Service Station for the fantastic lunch buffet and general good vibes. Photo by Vuyi Qubeka

Visit Service Station for the fantastic lunch buffet and general good vibes.

 

What you need to know

You don’t need a car to enjoy Melville, and an e-tuk-tuk is a great way to explore the surrounding areas such as Westdene, Greenside, Brixton, Braamfontein and Rosebank. It costs R20 to R50 on an e-tuk-tuk around Melville to these places. e-tuktuk.co.za

Tip: If you’re driving, park your car on 7th ‒ it’ll be safer.

 

This story first appeared in the April 2016 issue of Getaway magazine.

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