My lockdown night out, masked and ravenous
I received my fish, a large piece of steamy, battered hake in a translucent paper bag from which I fed myself, smearing on tartare every now and then. The knives and forks seemed more liable to fall into any of the narrow crannies cars provide for losing pens, phones, any utensils. Then the cops arrived.
In my Durban varsity days there was a roadhouse a short walk from the res but all of us drove there in Barbs’ Beetle. For boerewors-and-egg rolls so hastily assembled that the egg whites hadn’t always firmed, and tasted better if the car interior light wasn’t switched on. I wonder now why we really went there. Was it for the fun of bundling into a car and “going out somewhere”, because I recognise it might not have been for the food.
Roadhouses all but disappeared, until…
Last week the posters came out on social media. Molly Malone’s, a Joburg Irish-type pub, known best to the beer crowd for sports TV and the snacks and food that go with the drinks, had decided to make something of their considerable parking lot. They were cleverly turning it into a roadhouse, since the bar and restaurant were locked down to the public.
They’d revised the menu for car-comfier food, had set up a big screen for showing movies with side screens for sport. They could use social distancing to some advantage. You’d flash your lights and get masked service with a sanitiser in one hand. There’d be no beers or other alcohol consumed on the premises of course. But hey, a roadhouse! And it was my first night out to eat since March, even if it was the coldest night of the year.
It’s not as though there aren’t other roadhouses in and around Joburg. There are the newish Kota Joe ones, famous for their more than 30 amazing milkshakes and pizzas, the Applebite Roadhouse in Edenvale for burgers, and Pure and Cool Roadhouse in Malvern that attracts the gearheads and dragsters. They are all operating as takeaway places under Lockdown Level 3. At least for now.
The Fourways sun had sunk but the sky still was still holding its mid-blues before real dark. We rounded the corner into the Molly Malone’s parking lot.
“Oh! This place is busy,” said Philip with a tinge of panic to his voice. I’d tried to make a booking for the car and had been told by a manager that it would be first-come-first-served and that if we arrived by 6.30pm we’d be assured of a parking place. It was five to six.
Every second parking lot had a number taped to the tarmac, creating a two-metre gap between cars. The people in the cars were to do their own self-distancing, sitting front and back or far enough apart. We wore our masks and so did all the security guards. There were a lot of those for some reason. One of them found us a place on the perimeter. I saw what must have been a tall man standing with his legs wide apart, his feet touching two cars across an open space and his fingertips touching both cars’ windows, thereby socially connecting rather than distancing, though I doubt he could have held that position for long.
“What can I get you to drink so long?” sounded odd and a bit tempting from the waiter, Dyson Ngwira, but we knew he meant the non-alcoholic stuff, especially as he went on to mention coffees and teas. Philip wanted a bubblegum milkshake. I suspect he was harking back to his own fond roadhouse days, but had to settle for strawberry. The funny thing, of course, about lockdown rules is that Molly Malone’s is allowed to sell liquor these days and indeed we did see a few people taking away to their homes beer and wine bottles in wrappers.
I remembered the Cape Town days when my partner would announce that we were going for what he called gunkburgers, at an old roadhouse somewhere near Salt River. I had to bring two big silver goblets “just for contrast”. He’d bring a luscious Rustenburg, made by a vintner friend, and we’d ruin it by drinking from metal. Maybe there were two bottles or he drank much more than I did because suddenly he wanted us to go and rushed all the paper napkins and containers onto the plastic tray, flicked his lights for removal and off we went, the silverware going off in the other direction with the jetsam.
Dyson’s “so long” began to mean something because he couldn’t take our food orders when he brought the drinks. There was another waiter for that and he was darting desperately around the carpark with and without trays. The food man got to us after Lady Gaga had finished the music videos and the feature, Pretty Woman, had started, somewhere after seven. I asked Philip if he knew we were on the corner of Forest Road and Sunset Boulevard.
We ordered a Molly’s Snack Board and then Bangers and Mash and a Danny Boy Dagwood burger. I wanted the latter because it featured a burger patty AND bacon AND egg AND cheese. It was the closest thing I could find on the menu to the Blondie I’d eaten, chosen as a permanent special off the mighty menu board at the Doll House in Highlands North three years ago.
I’d done a sort of Last Touch story then because the Doll House had lost its own permanence, which had seemed safe since 1940. It was to be demolished. Those Doll Houses had been a family business, social institutions, one each in Joburg, Pretoria and Cape Town.
That Blondie was a magnificently greasy wad of roadhousery, slammed between two semi-fried slices of white, stuffed with cheese, beef, egg, tomato, onions and chips, oozing both red and yellow sauces onto the paper that semi surrounded it and that left one side exposed for gargantuan chomps.
The milkshake and the coffee had long worn off when Molly’s Snack Board showed up, bearing mini porkies, spicy beef mince samoosas, chicken strips and tricky-to-balance dipping sauces. With it arrived the news that there were no more burgers, so no Danny Boy Dagwood. Okay, Dublin Bay Fish n Chips then.
While Julia Roberts disported herself, I received my fish, a large piece of steamy, battered hake in a translucent paper bag from which I fed myself, smearing on tartare every now and then. The knives and forks seemed more liable to fall into any of the narrow crannies cars provide for losing pens, phones, any utensils. However, the other cutlery set was put to coping with the plate of bangers and bacon on mash under a wealth of thick onion sauce, studded with grey-green peas.
Roberts was mentioning the Big Mistake when Philip pointed out a row of three or four blue-lights vehicles, slowing, ready to turn into Molly Malone’s.
Not long after that, one of the managers asked us to pay and leave because the cops had closed the place. “For holding a social gathering.” (Daily Maverick reported on this during the week.)
I asked Jess Bot if they’d be tempted to run a fun roadhouse instead of a pub in future. She said they’d consider doing both or maybe just having Roadhouse Nights because “the vibe is so awesome, catering to families”, adding, “people come in their pyjamas just like in the old days”.
Meanwhile, it’s more Alive Oh down off Sunset Boulevard for the masked. Flick your lights to start a lockdown night out. DM/TGIFood
Molly Malone’s roadhouse, Cnr Forest Road and Sunset Boulevard Pineslopes, Johannesburg. Molly Malone’s Roadhouse