TGIFOOD

PEOPLE’S JAZZ HAUNT

Groovin’ in the Cathedral: Dining in The Crypt on Tutu’s hallowed turf

Groovin’ in the Cathedral: Dining in The Crypt on Tutu’s hallowed turf
With its vaulted ceiling and soft lighting, The Crypt is just the place for a jazz club despite its unlikely setting. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Struggle, jazz and worship have always gone together at the Cape. And what better personifies this than St George’s Cathedral, where an evening in The Crypt on the cathedral premises is all about the atmosphere – and the music.

‘If you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know’ – Louis Armstrong

What is it about a baby grand piano in a jazz club that makes you want to put on a slinky red dress and lie on top it, channelling Michelle Pfeiffer making whoopee in The Fabulous Baker Boys?

The Crypt – literally “an underground room or vault beneath a church, used as a chapel or burial place” – is attached to the world-renowned St George’s Cathedral in Wale Street, in Cape Town’s city centre. It used to be a tea room some years ago, nothing fancy to speak of. In April 2013 it opened as a jazz club, with live music six nights a week (although it feels like many years longer than that).

A portico, red carpet and velvet ropes are at the entrance, and a doorman clad all in black, from his shiny shoes to his dapper hat. He leads you through a small space to the dimly-lit club where blue and red lights favour a sultry ambience.

St George’s Cathedral is known as the “People’s Cathedral” for its role in the resistance against apartheid, and most journos who have worked at nearby Newspaper House have waved at The Arch (Desmond Tutu) once in a while down the years. As per the website: “St George’s Cathedral is the oldest cathedral in Southern Africa and the mother church of the Anglican Diocese of Cape Town.” The area through which you have just walked is “The Crypt Memory and Witness Centre” which “seeks to be an inspiring space for reflection, dialogue, hope and healing, with a social justice forum where humanity in its fullness is celebrated”.

The hostess who greets you is Lutho, beautiful and sassy. She’s wearing a T-shirt which has on its front a crown and the words “I’m that goose”.

The entrance to The Crypt, St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town. Photo: Bianca Coleman

Inside, we meet co-owner Riaan du Plessis and it becomes clear that the owners are passionate about their club and the jazz and speak enthusiastically about that night’s performers: Titled Classics in Jazz, it’s led by arranger and pianist, Adolf Thelen, and described as “from baroque Bach to swinging Gershwin, the performance is a unique combination of classical and jazz in a classic-fusion style that mixes classical chord progressions with swing and funky riffs”. This is indeed a special performance, and when we’re asked  to keep our conversations down, nobody objects. The sheer talent of this trio (keys, double bass, drums) on that tiny stage is staggering. Mike Rossi joins them on his wind instruments for some numbers. The man is outstanding and we marvel at his ability to breathe through all of it.

A not-so-classic Caesar salad. Photo: Bianca Coleman

The weekly offerings at The Crypt range from jams on Mondays, to stuff for the serious jazz nerds to party nights over the weekends, complete with a bit of dress-up in wigs and masks. It turns out there are as many genres of jazz – pop and nu-jazz to bebop, light jazz standards to Afro-jazz and old jazz favourites, Brazilian and Caribbean to South African sounds, R&B and jazz hits, reggae and Makkosa to Afro Jazz and Congolese Rumba – as there are versions of the classic Caesar salad, which is what I had for supper.

It’s described as classic on the menu but tomatoes and sliced radish indicate a departure from that. I doubt anyone has ever had the same Caesar salad at any two restaurants. The promised bacon lardons on the menu turn out to be streaky bacon (very delicious streaky bacon, it has to be said), and the grated cheese and lovely oily croutons are in abundance.

250g Swiss Chalmar beef rump. Photo: Bianca Coleman

The menu is small and aimed at easy-to-eat pub-style dishes. Under main courses are three burgers, fish and chips, a veggie pasta, and steak and fries. The salt and pepper squid can be ordered as a starter or a main course. The steak is 250g of Swiss Chalmar rump, which my friend orders, substituting the chips with salad. She is delighted with how it’s prepared. She drinks a margarita purely because it says “to jazz it up” on the menu. 

The menu also offers a small selection of starters (from which my salad comes), and three desserts. The signature burger has BBQ basting, melted cheese, relish, garlic aïoli and beer-battered onion rings. Spying it coming out of the kitchen, it looks as amazing as it sounds.

With a new management and marketing team, The Crypt is undergoing some tweaks and changes, from the menu to the music line up. A Big Band series is planned, and there’s an exciting partnership with espAfrika, which presents the annual Cape Town International Jazz Festival, which celebrates 21 years in 2020. It’s a big deal – nay, a huge deal – on the local jazz scene as well as the international. It happens over the last weekend in March, and there’ll be some awesome collaborations, ticket giveaways, and intimate gigs between The Crypt and espAfrika. The best way to keep up to date with this is to sign up for the club’s newsletter. 

Still to come this week at The Crypt are Out of Town (Friday, February 21, 2020), featuring Tich Jean Pierre on guitar and vocals, Camillo Lombard on keys and vocals, Lionel Beukes on bass and vocals and Denver Furness on drums. They’ll be performing R&B and Jazz hits from the Seventies and Eighties. 

Cape Dutch Connection (Sixtet) play on Saturday, February 22, led by pianist Derk Blaisse (and original founder of The Crypt), together with the dynamic horn duo virtuoso Willie van Zyl on Sax, Prof William Haubrich on trombone/trumpet, Denver Furness on drums, Wesley Rustin on double bass and Erika “Ella Fitgerald” Lundi. DM

The Crypt Jazz Restaurant & Cocktail Bar, St George’s Cathedral, 1 Wale Street, Cape Town. Call 084 232 4125, or go to www.cryptjazz.co.za

Secure parking is available at a flat rate of R10. Bookings are essential to avoid disappointment. No load shedding.

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