Hidden in the back of an old warehouse is one of the most enchanting bars in the world. The Art of Duplicity in Cape Town, South Africa, is also the city’s best kept secret. The bar was inspired by icon Mae West, the American entertainer and sex symbol. To access the bar with a hidden location, you’ll need to first book through the web site www.170120.co.za. You’ll be given a hint to the location once you make the reservation.
What’s up with these numbers for the web site? Any self-respecting cocktail geek will know that they refer to the painful date of 17 January 1920, when Prohibition first came into effect in the USA. We visited The Art of Duplicity with our local tour guide, Caitlin Hill, Brand Ambassador for Rémy Cointreau for Africa, Middle East and India. Caitlin was mentored by Brent Perremore in the industry, and she was thrilled to show me his new project.
If you can find The Art of Duplicity, the sly doorman will then open a nondescript door, and lead you through a dimly lit alley, to access the bar tucked in the back of the 1894 warehouse, which is fully operational during the day. To access the final door to the speakeasy, which will transport you back to another era, you’ll need a password, which of course we can’t tell you.
The Art of Duplicity is prohibition speakeasy done in the best possible way. Although many bars around the world have toyed with this popular formula, the Cape Townian bar has perfected it. The Art of Duplicity feels like an underground but fashionable bunker, with cotton sacks piled up towards the high ceiling. Glamorous waitresses, dressed in beautiful 1920s apparel serve drinks to the eager customers. The intimate 38-seat space only allows seated reservations, ensuring a relaxing experience for all.
The protagonist of the bar is the absolutely stunning back bar and a sexy mahogany bar counter, which features vintage cocktail shakers stored inside a glass display case. You’ll have a hard time leaving the bar area after your first look at these stunning antiques.
But take it all in - you’ll be in awe of the elegant crystal glassware, comfortable vintage chesterfields and the mood set just right with the soft lighting. Even the aroma, which we can’t reveal as it would tip you off to the bar’s location, will put you in a state of bliss.
The romantic atmosphere at The Art of Duplicity is complemented by live jazz performances on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. You’ll truly feel like Jay Gatsby in 1920s New York.
While you read the menu, printed on a gold metal sheet, you’ll be provided peanuts to nibble on. You’ll find peanuts everywhere around the Art of Duplicity, with emptied shells littered all over the ground, an etiquette from the old days that you’re encouraged to follow. This small detail adds to the charm of the speakeasy and also helps you from getting too buzzed on the delicious cocktails at the Art of Duplicity.
Drinks wise, head bartender and world class finalist Brent Perremore has developed original and sophisticated concoctions, designed to the challenge the palate but still be accessible to his customers. This is because Brent bases all of his recipes on classics, ensuring a unique but familiar flavour profile.
Our favorite drink on the list was the tropical and savory Coffee House Milk punch with Copeland white rum, coconut rum, cinnamon, pineapple, lime and single origin coffee beans from India.
The Hillbilly breakfast flip is a delicious sipper with bourbon, Averna amaro, espresso, smoked maple syrup, and free range egg.
Supporting the great drinks programme is a well-trained floor staff, providing personable, old style hospitality. Although we dressed in normal clothing on our visit and felt totally at ease, the Art of Duplicity’s retro vibe will make you want to dress up in your best Al Capone or Mae West-inspired outfit.
Photography Benjamin Reisner
Cause Effect is a cocktail and brandy bar, inspired by Cape Town, its vineyards, mountains, ocean and vegetation. Kurt Schlechter’s Cause Effect celebrates the best Cape Town has to offer with experimental drinks done in an unpretentious way. The bar itself is full of young college kids, similar to the crowd you'll see at the House of Machines.
I had the privilege of sitting in front of head bartender (now Bacardi BA) Aidan Powrie on the evening. Together with the energetic staff including Justin, Pascale, and Alecs, they pump out delicious tipple with presentations reminiscent of Nottingham Forest in Milano.
The best drink on the menu is the savory “Monarch", inspired by Aidan's life story - ask him about it! It features Wixworth gin, medium sherry, red pepper tomato infused bitters, “corngeat” and burnt black black butter infused olive oil.
The House of Machines is a motorcycle-themed dive bar in Cape Town, right next to the ex Outrage of Modesty. Unlike those other hipster biker-themed places, these guys actually fix bikes, so they earn respect.
Stop by House of Machines for a good coffee during the day or a great Old Fashioned or barrel-aged Negroni at night. With Rudi de Vos and Courtney Lawson-Peck behind the stick, you're ensured solid drinks and positive energy, with them dancing on the bar counter by the end of the night.
Courtney mixed me a killer Daiquiri and rum Old Fashioned, both made with Mount Gay rum.
The crowd at House of Machines is young but I didn't feel at all out of place despite my years. If you want to meet cool people, this bar is definitely your best choice in the Long Street area of Cape Town.
Lord Charles Hotel (Stellenbosch)
Lord Charles hotel is located in Somerset West, 50 km east of the Cape Town, and just south of the important Stellenbosch wine region in the Western Cape. As such it’s a perfect home base for visiting wineries. At the hotel GM, Basil gave us a personal tasting of some of the older bottles in his collection, including a 1998 Steenberg Catharina, named after the first owner, Catharina Ras, a spirited woman who survived several tragedies and took on all comers. She was the very first woman in South Africa to become a land owner, with Steenberg being the first registered farm in South Africa.
Although Basil admitted the bottle was past its prime, it was nice to experience an important wine from one of the oldest wineries in South Africa. Basil then went on to tell us about the difficult politics and history in South Africa that continue to have an effect on its population, including those in the wine business.
Basil explained that for many years, workers in South Africa’s vineyards were paid their salary in wine, an appalling arrangement that was outlawed in the early 1960s. Unfortunately, the practice continued for decades under apartheid but thankfully no longer happens in present day.
The large divide between the poor and the rich, the black and the white, is strongly evident in South Africa. This division is partly due to the terrible Apartheid system which began in 1948, where institutionalized racial segregation was enforced. From 1960–1983, 3.5 million Non-White South Africans were removed from their homes and forced into segregated neighborhoods, in one of the largest mass evictions in history.
Although humans rights activist Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and the apartheid legislation was officially repealed in 1991, socioeconomic problems continue to plague South Africa, with a still evident racial divide, very high unemployment (30%) and mass corruption in politics.
Recently, the lower house of the Parliament of South Africa amended the South African Constitution to allow land expropriation without compensation, to help make up for the historic abuse of black people's property rights before and during apartheid. It’s still unclear what impact this amendment will have on the wine industry, At the moment, South African wineries are not affected by land redistribution, where a white minority reportedly owns almost three quarters of the land.
I continue to pray that the people of Cape Town and South Africa can work towards a fairer, democratic system in which the many cultures can live together in harmony.
De Toren (Stellenbosch)
My favorite winery tour of the trip was at De Toren, a boutique wine producer using modern winemaking techniques to get the best of our their Bordeaux berries. The Fusion V was introduced to the market in 1999 while the Z was unveiled in 2004. Both are a blend of 5 Bordeaux varietals. In 2016, De Toren was ranked as one of the Top 10 Red Wine Producers in South Africa by the South African Wine Index
Our friendly tour guide, winemaker Martin Tourie, explained that before and during harvest, each grape at De Toren must make it past a staggering 23 checkpoints! This translates to a lower yield, but maintains the highest possible quality wines. To give you a perspective, it would take De Toren 15 years to produce the amount of wine a large wine producer would make in one day. In collaboration with the University of Stellenbosch, De Toren has access to the most advanced modern technology for studying their soil, rootstocks, vines, irrigation, grapes and barrels. Using a combination of aerial imaging, chemical analysis, and taste tests, the vineyard is organized, and harvested in sections, ensuring that only perfectly ripe grapes are picked.
De Toren has 25 different clones of the 5 varietals, which are matched to 10 different rootstocks before being planted across 15 different soil types! The harvested grapes are then matched with the appropriate French oak, to achieve the best possible complexity out of the individual wines. Wine maker Charles Williams is then responsible for blending the wines, to achieve the final bottled signature products, Fusion V and Z. I was particularly impressed with the 2016 De Toren Z. An elegant right bank-style Bordeaux blend, it tastes of dark fruits, licorice and has nice acidity.
Super Single Vineyards: Pella and Mount Sutherland Wines (Stellenbosch)
Thanks to a recommendation from Martin of De Toren, we discovered Super Single Vineyards, a quaint winery nearby. Owner and wine producer Daniël de Waal focuses on handcrafted wines from specially selected single vineyards throughout the Western Cape and the interesting Sutherland-Karoo region. More on that later.
Kyle Zulch was a great host when are big group arrived completely unannounced to the picturesque Canettevallei wine and lavander farm. He let us try some of the best Pella wines, harvested on site. Pella means “place of gathering” referring to the marriage of terroir and vines.
When Daniel started his search for the best single vineyards in the Western Cape, he was looking for older vines with minimum vegetative growth, therefore a good balance. The combination of old vines at Canettevallei with great soil, able to provide a slow and steady water supply during the hot summer months, was ideal for Pella’s signature wine, the Thomas se Dolland Pinotage.
Pinotage is perhaps the most famous wine from South Africa but many wine geeks have ignored it because if it’s not done right, it can smell like acetone. The Pella rendition tastes like anything but chemicals, being from one of the oldest Pinotage blocks in South Africa. The pinotage comes from a single vineyard bushvine planted in 1960, with the vineyard named after Thomas, the person who used to work with horse and plough in the old Canettevallei Farm. I enjoyed the 2014 Pinotage (the first time I can say that!), which had aromas of red fruit and a well balanced mid palate, and a surprisingly long and pleasant finish.
It’s well known that South Africa does not have cool continental vineyards like the Old World continental vineyards of Europe. This limitation prompted Daniel to search for such a cool continental terroir locally. He eventually found the perfect site in Sutherland-Karoo and planted the first vines there in 2004.
The Mount Sutherland farm is at the foot of Sneeuberg mountain range at an altitude of 1500 m and 350 km inland from the Indian Ocean, making it the highest and coldest wine growing region in Africa. The micro-climate of this terroir is defined by its low humidity and clear skies. Daniel believes that the famous European varieties will develop well in this remote area, making even better wines compared to plantings near the coast. He’s planted Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay and Syrah so far. Although we didn’t get the chance to try these rare bottlings, I look forward to sampling them, in particular the Nebbiolo, on my next visit.
Champagne at Vineyard Hotel (Cape Town)
Thanks to Gavin, I was able to attend the exclusive Wine Concepts International Sparkling Wine and Champagne affair at the lovely Vineyard Hotel. In addition to sampling some delicious champagne, it was great opportunity to mingle with some of the greats in the SA wine scene like SA wine master Allan Mullins, Vineyard hotel GM Roy Davies and Karin Visser of Great Domaines. Thanks to Karen Glanfield Pawley for the organization of the fun event and for allowing me take part.
Although I had already visited Waterford in 2017, I couldn’t pass up a chance to visit one of my favorite wine farms in Stellenbosch. Thanks to the skilled guidance of winemaker Kevin Arnold, Waterford Estate produces some of the best wines in the country. I enjoyed their flagship Jem 2010 on my past visit, and this time I was in for an amazing treat - a preview of their 2012 release, before the bottles were labeled and put on the market.
Jem, named after the owner Jeremy “Jem” Ord, best defines the philosophy at Waterford Estate, incorporating many of the diverse grapes growing on the property. The 2012 Jem includes 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Shiraz, 14% Merlot, 11% Cabernet franc, 4% Mourvedre, 3% Petit Verdot, 3% Barbera and 3% Sangiovese.
Although it’s still relatively young, the 2012 Jem has a mesmerizing bouquet of red fruit and earth. On the palate, the wine is complex with rich tannins and lively acidity. Jem 2012 received the coveted 5 stars from Platter’s guide, the industry reference in South Africa.
Other than the Jem, don’t miss the chocolate tasting, with amazing artisan chocolates paired with various estate wines.
Rostberg is a private bottling company, specializing in the bottling of wine for exporters and local distributors. Gavin kindly introduced me to the owner of Rostberg, Alfred Kirsten. Alfred showed us his bottling plant, which services both the local wine and gin industry. Alfred was kind enough to give me a gift of Geometric gin, which I will bring with me to Singapore to donate to the world’s largest gin museum, the cocktail bar ATLAS.
Publik (Cape Town)
Publik is a wine bar in Cape Town focusing on artisan SA wines and high quality meat and cheeses. Publik has a neighborhood bar kind of feel, and despite the wine nerds who could be attracted to Publik, there is zero pretentiousness here. The staff will be happy to guide you through the lesser known wines on offer. I was blown away by the Baby Bandito Stay Brave 2017 by Testalonga, an orange Chenin Blanc from the Swartland area of SA. The wine from organic wine makers Craig and Carla Hawkins has a floral bouquet and vibrant acidity. For food, don’t miss the meatballs and burrata!