Sunday, February 1, 2009

Julep in January

January 30: First Honey Hos of 2009

It’s Friday-after-five, and Long Street is already buzzing with happy revellers gathering to say hi-de-ho to the weekend. All the tables on the pavement are packed with people drinking, beer bottles clinking and blinking in the sun. Life is good.

Parking is, inevitably, non-existent, so I’m forced to go round the block and park in Loop Street. Julep is tucked away down Vredenburg Lane off Long Street, and luckily I had an idea where it was, otherwise I probably would have missed it. There’s no obvious signage until you’re right at the door. Even then I had a little crisis of confidence when I walked in and found no-one there, except the far-too-young barman and a waitress with drawn-on eyebrows. I suddenly thought, oh lordy, I’m in the wrong place, and as luck would have it, I’ve run out of airtime (actually, I had none to begin with, but that’s a boring story). But a quick check with old eyebrows that her establishment did indeed offer a happy hour put my nerves at rest – hey, I’m just early. Strange, but true. It’s cool though, because it gives me a chance to have a look around. Plus, they’re playing ‘I Fought the Law’ by The Clash and it feels absurdly good to hear the song again. Brings back old memories, it does.

So yes, first impressions: Julep is cool. In that effortless, laid-back, slightly designer-y but non-pretentious, homely kind of way. In fact, it feels like you’re sitting in someone’s lounge, as Wendy so succinctly puts it a little bit later. She’s right . The walls are painted a beautiful sage colour, with some of the original brickwork exposed in a few places. There are a few quirky pieces of art and a large vintage-style mirror with the word ‘Dream’ etched on it. A bit naff, but it’ll do. Oh, and there’s a lampshade in the corner with a weird collection of books, one of which Fi tries to read later – except that it’s in French. Seating is informal – long, comfy benches along the sides of the walls with a couple of ottomans, loads of cushions and low tables. Smoking and non-smoking are separated by two glass ‘half-walls’, which make absolutely no difference when it’s packed – with smokers -- so really, the whole place is a smoking area. And the music -- at this stage, at least -- is really good: nice and retro with a punky twist.

Yay, here’s Wends, and then Danelle, and finally I’m not Ho Alone. Now that the first Honey Hos of 2009 is officially declared open, this quickly leads to an exploration of the menu… Now, I need to divulge something before I carry on any further. I’m not really into cocktails. There, I said it. I like mojitos and capirinhas and frozen margaritas, and that’s it. None of this stuff that looks and tastes like some kid’s just dropped their blue ice lolly into a vatful of Lecol and mixed it up with a tot or two of suntan lotion. (The bits of fruit are good for snacking, though.) So when I say that Julep’s cocktail menu is truly spectacular, I mean it. It takes at least half an hour to read properly, and there’s not a paper umbrella in sight. And everything sounds utterly delicious. Of course, it’s hell on a stick for an indecisive person like me – but heaven too. I must confess to thinking, well, I’ll just have to try ALL of them. The night is young, and the happy hour (where all drinks under R40 are R20) lasts for, well, three hours.

Just to give you an idea of the variety available, Wends orders a Strawberry and Balsamic Vinegar Mojito (‘but no pepper!’), Danelle a ‘Moonshine’ (black vodka muddled with fresh basil, passion fruit and watermelon, lime juice and honey) and me, a ‘Watermelon Ling’ (gin, fresh root ginger, watermelon, and – get this – jasmine-infused sugar). It might sound like Woody Allen’s underage Asian bride --- or is it Nicolas Cage’s, I can never remember – but it’s dubbed on the menu as ‘the greatest new age cocktails of all time’ and man, oh man, it’s goooood. Gingery, but good. I immediately want another when it’s finished but remember that I’d just promised myself to try ALL of the cocktails. So I go for the bar’s namesake, a Mint Julep. Sadly, it’s disappointing and not all what it’s cracked up to be in The Great Gatsby. Damn you, Robert Redford!

Tink arrives and I present her with the menu, telling her eloquently that ‘it’s hectic, bru’. Then Fiona bounces in as Kate Bush’s ‘Rubber Band Girl’ blares out. ‘Save me from myself!’ Fi pleads. We dutifully hand her the menu. The drinks are starting to kick in, and the German couple across the way are watching us bemusedly (‘At least he’s stopped carrying her handbag,’ whispers Wends rather loudly). The barman’s starting to look cute. (‘I reckon if they’re less than half your age, it doesn’t count,’ says Fi.)

Cath and her sister Nicola are next to arrive (thankfully with camera in hand – as my battery’s already died), and last, but not least, Haidee, Floss and Cart. Drinks, drinks and more drinks – I taste them all as part of my research. Floss’s ‘Cranberry Fresca’ gets my vote – a vodka thingie with basil and pink stuff. (By now, I’ve stopped taking notes.) Everyone agrees the drinks are great and as Wends puts it, again so succinctly, ‘the menu is varied and evocative’. (‘Hey, I’m not going to apologise for my extensive vocabulary and knowing how to use it!’)

And now we need to forage for food. The menu is riddled with typos – but maybe we should have heeded the warning that when it said ‘pomme frite’, it really was just about one chip involved. The snacks are tasty (yummy garlic mayo with the chips), but really, and rather disappointingly, on the sparse side. Julep is strictly a drinking place – best to go somewhere else if you get the munchies.

By now, Julep is humming. Eyebrows is getting a little flustered. She’s cool, but frankly, the service is on the slow side. Happy hour’s over, but the people keep coming in. It’s a chilled crowd. Lots of young graphic designer types, but not too hip to not sing along to ‘There She Goes’ and ‘My Sharona’ when they’re played for the FOURTH time. (By this stage, the CD seems to be on permanent repeat.) There’s a fair amount of air guitar and imaginary drums playing going on, too. It’s really noisy and festive, so conversation is strictly limited to those around you, but it’s good to catch up. According to Cart and Cosmo, guys find a crowd of more than 3 girls intimidating. Well, we must have been a little scary, I guess, but there were enough eyes across the room to keep things interesting.

All too soon it’s time for the Hos to part company. For some, another bar is calling, for others it’s bed – for me, it’s the slices of fishpaste toast waiting for me at home. (I did mention the lack of food, didn’t I? Oh, incidentally, when I get home, my Beloved tells me I’m reeking. Not of booze or cigarettes, but weirdly enough, of ginger. Must have been the Lings!)

All in all, it was a really great night out. Julep is thoroughly recommended as a place to chill for a while with friends. I’m definitely keen to go back and try to try all the cocktails again. Any takers?


Parking: 0 - Cape Town style.

Toilets: 3 - tucked away behind a dodgy looking curtain. Decent enough, but there was water on the floor, which was a bit gross.

Price: 4 - but we're talking happy hour here. Go normal time, and I suppose it's more on the expensive side... Then again, some of the cocktails are pure art - and art can be pricey stuff. Food - overpriced for how much (or how little) there was.

Food: 2 - Tasty, but doesn't even touch sides. Eat somewhere else if you have a snack attack.

Ambience: 5 - Very cool vibe, great setting. It feels a little like it's only for those in the know. Mostly because it's small and tucked away, and because only cool people hang out there. It gets really noisy and really smoky, so not really the place for intimate conversation and ultimate Ho bonding. They need to do something about the repetitive CD, though.

Decor: 5 - Laidback, with personal touches. You can totally lounge around and take off your shoes - which several Hos did.

Service: 2 - OK, it was super busy. And we ordered a LOT of cocktails. But they really took their time in arriving at our table. So I'd say service is on the slow side. Plus, the waitress couldn't really handle a large order. Or maybe it was the underage barman. And someone really needs to copy-edit the menu.

Value Added: Happy Hour is actually three hours - a pretty rocking deal. Divine cocktails for R20? Bargain!

5 - a definite repeat offender