I’ve never been good at picking favorites. I can’t name a favorite movie or book or band or even country. Usually, my favorite is something I haven’t even tried yet, simply for the novelty of it. The same goes for bars and restaurants; I’ve never really had a “local hangout.” Why go to a place you’ve already tried when you can try something new? But lately, I have found myself going back again and again to one place in Johannesburg, and I think that means I do have a favorite hangout here – 44 Stanley.44 Stanley is an urban renewal development project that turned decaying warehouses and garages into a unique shopping center. The old warehouses still retain their industrial charm, but now they are home to an eclectic collection of local designers and artisanal eateries that spill out into shady courtyards. This place oozes coolness. All of the shops are edgy and hip and new. In fact, every time I go back at least one new boutique shop has sprung up. Today, it was the Lift for Orange Babies Pop-Up shop. The shop carries unique items that were donated by their South African designers, and all proceeds will go to raise funds for an NGO that works to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV. How cool is that?
There are also contemporary clothing boutiques and home goods stores, a couple of vintage shops, nail spa, a bonsai nursery (!), and an awesome little book shop called L’Elephant Terrible. So trendy it hurts.
It’s worth visiting for the food alone. Salvation Cafe is the place to have brunch in Johannesburg, trust me. Il Giardino has the charm of a Parisian cafe and the authentic food of an Italian trattoria. And of course, there is the Stanley Beer Yard, a favorite with a couple of craft brew fans like ourselves. It has a great beer selection, tasty food, and the perfect beer garden.
With its industrial look and location right on the edge of downtown, 44 Stanley is 100% urban, which is a nice alternative to the sprawling suburban blotted all over Joburg. But it also somehow manages to be very relaxing, like a secret pocket of calm in this hectic city.
It is also possible to walk to 44 Stanley from my house, which is part of the reason why I love it so. In the early days after our move here, we hadn’t yet worked out how to get reliable internet (torture!). I would walk to 44 Stanley a few times a week and set up shop under the canopy of olive trees outside L8 cafe, order one of their tasty sandwiches, and spend hours writing away.
Today the weather’s not great, so I’m writing this from inside Bean There coffee shop, a tranquil spot with delicious cappuccinos.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a sucker for anything shiny and new. What’s great about 44 Stanley is that it is always so fresh, and always full of surprises. Maybe having a favorite spot isn’t so bad after all.