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The changing face of Kloof Street



The changing face of Kloof Street

Moving on. (Photo: Lin Sampson)

Once smooth and svelte, now rough and ready. Welcome to Kloof Street, Cape Town, 2022.

Some time towards the end of 2021 when it was felt that Covid might never retreat and the South Easter seemed to have taken possession of the Cape Town City Bowl, the staff of Melissa’s food shop in Kloof Street arrived at work one day to the news of the owner’s unexpected death. I had known him as an acquaintance, a beautiful young man with intense marble-coloured eyes, sometimes swirling grey, sometimes green.

I had noticed in my last visits that the shop, once a luxurious pile of frothy and innovative products, had become empty. Shelves, once stacked, now loomed darkly, like gaps in a mouth. Melissa’s Food Shop, once the jewel in the crown, dubbing its business plan as a “winning concept” with its unique retail and dining experience for “discerning customers”, was now no more than a half empty shop with lounging staff.

It was like watching someone fade away from anorexia. I remember years ago, perhaps almost 20 as time flies, seeing a row of enormous cakes, sumptuously layered and tied with floating polka-dot ribbons. A woman carrying two large cake boxes said, “Ah they never miss a trick do they?” It was true. At its lushest it was a miniature version of London’s Fortnum and Mason and perked up the whole road for many years until it went broke, owing shedloads of money to, mainly, small businesses. 

The last years have been a sad time for the whole street, once the bellwether of all high streets, Kloof Street, has become a shadow of itself, a kaleidoscope of changing scenes.

Now, the whole street has a wavering profile, illuminated by the latest tragedy.

Cape Town has become a place that is harder and harder in which to run a prestigious retail outlet, as disposable income dwindles. This morning, walking down the street, a fire had destroyed one of the oldest buildings, a pub, with its old gable, now fragmented like burnt cake.

No longer in the pink. (Photo: Lin Sampson)

I think the rot set in many years ago when the street morphed from residential to commercial with a row of small detached residential houses, now turned into businesses, mainly estate agents. When I first lived in Tamboerskloof this area was immaculately middle class with the smell of baking and baskets of flowers hanging from the eaves. There was a fish shop and a grocer and Uwe Hansen, the German butcher who is still there selling his special biltong which people drive miles to buy.

A few months ago The Rock Café opened on the corner of De Lorentz and Kloof Streets. In no time at all it had shut down to be replaced by another small restaurant called Chapter One. A few, once lively shops, remain closed down, waiting for what? 

But some locals are soldiering on. (Photo: Lin Sampson)

Perhaps new owners will see the potential in having a shop in the middle of Cape Town or will we have to emulate the Sicilians with their offer of a house for $1? An offer which, according to an article in the British Daily Telegraph, has brought buyers from around the world.

A lot of the restaurants that survive are both cheap and cheerful like Toni’s Portuguese that serves a prawn and squid curry to die for.

Covid has cut a scythe through many of the eateries, the excellent Knead, open for all bread needs has been replaced by the Mugg & Bean. There are more and more burger joints, one called Robin Hood, for a reason we will never know. There are a slew of Chinese shops, Soy Joy is a welcomed item with its marvellous crystallised ginger and prawn dumplings. The very smart leather shop has been replaced by a Chinese food market called Little Fish which appears to never have opened; the once light sprinkle of cellphone repair shops has become a dense sparkle with such exotic extras as a shisha shop where men in suits suck at hubbly bubbly. 

The lower half of Kloof Street with its sleepers and drunks has become a sort of benign extension of the famous Long Street. Always a bit ambiguous, it has now turned into a strange accumulation of dentists’ rooms, Thai massage and vaping shops. Here the real crunchies gather, people with dirtbag demeanour, ancient women with rucksacks (I am one) and the strollers with their “gangster slop of menaced glop”, words from a poem I once wrote in my notebook.

Health has crept into the equation and the most popular eateries are plant-based like Nourish’d and The Conscious Kitchen filled with vegans smugly eating vegetables at one long table. I wondered what the smoked salmon could possibly be in a vegan restaurant and was told it was made out of carrots. I always knew that by eschewing veganism I was on the right track.

The new outlets are younger, more modern and less expensive with names that look good on the internet like Poké Co and The Noodle Box and my God, even Starbucks.

I give a silent salute to those outlets that still remain, Café Paradiso, always a favourite and a slew of startlingly good takeaways like Prashad, not to mention the brilliant 60 minute Checkers online, a lifesaver for those who live in the area; the bike borne lifesavers arriving before you snap the phone off.

If Long Street has morphed into Kloof Street, Kloof has its own adamantine secret – Kloof Nek Corner – with the famously millennial outlet The Power and the Glory, forever young and trendy and still attracting crowds, and Kyoto Garden with the best and most expensive sushi in Cape Town. However, I will forever mourn Hallelujah (now a wine bar) with its dead right décor, another product from the brilliant brain of Adam Whitehead, originator of the Power and Glory, and since his untimely death, another star extinguished.

Through the whirlwind of changes, replacements, knockdowns, only Woolworths remains the same, with its up to the minute efficiency and great staff. Without Woolworths I doubt I could go on living in South Africa. DM/TGIFood

The writer supports The Hope Exchange, a group of people who provide food for the homeless in Cape Town. Please help them here.


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All Comments 6

  • Kloof St is what Long St was a couple years ago. It’s descent into what Long St now is accurately described above.
    Anyone looking for inspiration on how to fix things should pay attention to Florida Rd in Durban. Undoubtedly the best eating out and lifestyle road in the country.

  • This trend of turning houses into businesses need to be stopped: swathes of towns and suburbs are being ruined and I can’t see the point. Long Street was once a mix of business and residential.

  • Thank you for a beautifully written and a nostalgic trip down memory lane. Having lived on Kloof street during the Zingara Group-era, I will always remember it fondly; especially for gems such as „This is Not a Post Office“ and the now long-gone little Italian patisserie (next to Manna) whose flaky, buttery croissants remain inimitable.

  • *Cries white tears* Cape Town is changing, it is (painfully slowly) becoming less segregated and Kloof St is a microcosm of the new, (slightly) more inclusive city. This is no doubt a stink in the pale noses of those who would not be able to live in a country without a Woolworths. This obsession with trying to freeze the world in the nostalgia of when life was most comfortable to us has to stop. Cities that can’t transform houses into businesses end up the route of San Francisco, so over-priced that only the elite can live there. Or is that what the author would prefer? And crikey, all that happened to our Kloof St houses was to be transformed into posh estate agencies. I suspect there’s an MSAGA (Make South African Great Again) cap on her priceless antique hat-stand? Instead, Kloof St is transforming with the times with the likes of Saggy Stone, Ayepyep, Yours Truly and Asoka especially drawing a much broader range of skin tones, much more indicative of a young, more progressive and inclusive South Africa than the likes of Melissas, a favourite of the Poetry-wearing-Carol-Boyes-collecting-Constantia-moms. Take a walk down Kloof St on any Friday night and marvel at the hip, fashionable, creative young South Africans pouring out of the gritty bars, mixed in right next to fine dining experiences old Kloof St has always been known for. Vegan restaurants instead? Yes please, it’s the future of food, not your polluting beef. But flower boxes trump inclusivity and progress, right?

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