The Brooklyn Guide to Maboneng Precinct – Johannesburg’s Bright New Star

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Maboneng, a Sotho word meaning “place of light”, is a fitting name for a district that has become a cultural oasis for Johannesburg’s up-and-coming artists. Mimicking the revitalisation of Williamsburg, Brooklyn’s haven of Instagram filter glory, the Maboneng precinct has rapidly evolved towards a mixed-zone neighbourhood of design boutiques, street food stands, avant-garde hotels and eclectic art venues. This comprehensive city guide will cover the precinct’s exciting spots that reward you with a unique urban experience in the heart of South Africa’s vibrant metropolis.

Personal note: since the controversial process of gentrification has an undeniable impact on Maboneng’s development boom, a critical perspective on the matter is outlined in the following article I wrote.

 

The Brooklyn Guide to Maboneng Precinct

I Arts on Main

The Brooklyn Guide to Maboneng Precinct

The precinct’s pioneer development, Arts on Main, is a complex of old industrial warehouses that stretches about four blocks between Fox and Main Street. The previously dilapidated buildings have been restored in respect of their original architectural character and connected to a mix-used creative hub of advertising agencies, exhibition spaces, independent retail stores and private studios. This flagship development is the beating heart of the precinct.

The main entrance on Fox Street draws you into a patchwork of public areas dotted with bushy olive and lemon trees. Set in the leafy nucleus of Maboneng’s multi-disciplinary centre, Canteen is a great lunch spot serving delicious deli sandwiches. The restaurant has a rooftop bar overlooking the olive grove and the surrounding cityscape of red-brick blocks shadowed by fire escapes and corrugated steel roof panels.

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From the public garden, a sculptural steel staircase leads up to a viewing tower that acts like a beacon in the centre of Jozi’s buzzing creative district. Overlooking the gravel courtyard, you’ll find Love Jozi, a quirky design shop best known for their playful t-shirt label that reflects Johannesburg’s voice of optimism.  Sharing the same space, Black Coffee’s flagship store showcases highly imaginative feminine fashion designed by Jacques van der Watt, echoing African motives with a modern verve.

Next door is the David Krut Bookstore, where you can browse through an extensive range of books on both South African and international design, literature, architecture and children’s books.

Every Sunday (from 10 am to 3 pm), Arts on Main features Market on Main, a colourful food market that celebrates Joburg’s cosmopolitan cuisine extravaganza. Food stalls offer everything from artisan bread, Ethiopian curries and sourdough pancakes to South African specialities like boerewors (beef sausage rolls).

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Thirsty as Christ on the cross? Hop heads head over to SMACK! Republic, an artisan beer cathedral smack dab in the middle of Maboneng. Sunday between 10 am to 3 pm, doors are open for hop warriors to get baptised with beer. Check the Belgian style saison ‘Maboneng Maverick’, a summer beer infused with naartjie peel and black pepper.

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Suffering from a severe case of undercaffeination? Down the road on Fox street near the flyover’s graffiti-splashed pillars, Origin Coffee serves a number of different blends and single origin brews. Bathed in natural sunlight, this caffeine haven is the right place to fix you up with a superb god shot to get the personality going.

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 II Main Street Life

Following the success of Arts on Main, another run-down industrial warehouse was converted into a mix-used development project called Main Street Life. The top floor of this seven-storey building is taken up by 12 Decades Art Hotel, a boutique hotel with a stunning view over the city. Each of the 12 rooms has been designed by some of South Africa’s top artists and represents the past 12 decades of Johannesburg’s turbulent history.

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The Main Street Life rooftop boasts an open-air boxing gym and a bar that hosts Sundays in the City, something of a Maboneng institution where locals hang out while DJ’s play underground tunes in a New York state of mind atmosphere. These weekly rooftop sessions are perfect to battle the Sunday blues and to cling onto the remains of the fading weekend.

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The ground floor of Main Street Life houses the Bioscope, an independent cinema which screens African-interest features and international films and documentaries. Adjoining the Bioscope, Chalkboard cafe is a relaxed little spot for drinks before or after a movie. Besides a great selection of local craft beers, they also serve excellent pizzas.

If African inspired cuisine is more your thing, Pata Pata is a cosy restaurant offering African gourmet dishes in a 1950’s township jazz shack decor. And with live music at weekends, it remains Maboneng’s premier jazz venue.

 

III Main Change

The Main Change is an iconic building in the Maboneng precinct consisting primarily of offices and co-working spaces for innovative start-ups and freelancers. Embracing Maboneng’s integrated strategy of stimulating creative entrepreneurship, the Main Change houses a wide variety of establishments.

The Living Room is a health food restaurant/bar situated high up on the rooftop of the converted warehouse. Filled with hanging gardens and exotic plants, this jungle oasis is a local favourite for sundowners against a spectacular urban backdrop. The Living Room also hosts the always popular Sunday afternoon DJ sessions where a cheerful crowd take in the glorious views over Johannesburg’s CBD. The botanical creations of Jozi’s unique rooftop bar are designed by Tiakaya, which you can buy in the adjacent garden shop. And Cocoon, a popular inner-city spa and yoga retreat is located just opposite the Living Room.

The-Living-Room-maboneng-johannesburg The-Living-Room-maboneng

At street level, Loin Cloth & Ashes minimalist fashion store focuses on chic, comfortable dresses and skirts with bright prints and ethnic silhouettes. An ode to South Africa’s capital of cool, 1886 Boutique Joburg has a myriad collection of everyday household objects printed with images of Joburg’s landmarks and historical maps.

Eateries at the Main Change include colourful House of Baobab, specialising in traditional Pan-African dishes for the adventurous palate. Don’t miss their Sunday African Buffet or drumming evenings on Mondays. Blackanese Wine & Sushi, one of the newer establishments in the Maboneng precinct, fuses African flavour with Japanese cuisine. Sushi and noodles can be enjoyed throughout the week while big ass prawns are prepared on the braai during weekends.

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IV Fox Street Studios

Fox Street Studios is a four-storey building on the corner of Kruger and Fox street that has been converted into flats, offices and ground floor retail. Design store Serai interiors offer African-made furnishings and ceramics while Ozlo Clothing Store is home to fashion label OZLO and stocks a range of locally based designers. Simple and slick urban wear for ladies and gents with accessories to match.

Offering a great view of Maboneng’s bustling streets, kosher deli Eat Your Heart Out  serves Israeli shakshuka, latkes, bagels and hot pastrami on rye. This funky little spot also has vegan and gluten-free options. Go for brunch or lunch. Another Maboneng classic is Little Addis, a traditional Ethiopian eatery serving their famous injera platters: pancake-like flatbread topped with a variety of Ethiopian delicacies like doro wat (slow cooked chicken stew) and kik alicha (yellow split pea stew). Time to get your hands dirty.

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V Revolution House

A residential development named Revolution House is another Maboneng rejuvenation project. Amenities include tattoo studio Savil Row and the Revolution Barber shop. After a sharp cut and a clean shave, refuel your sensitive skin at Terres D’Afrique. They offer sustainably developed organic skincare products infused with  African herbs and plants.

In its minimalist store, NewBrow stocks garments adorned with the graphic artwork of flourishing local artists. Everything is manufactured and sold within a five-kilometre radius, so the exclusive pieces truly deserve their ‘Made in Maboneng’-label.

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By now, you’ll be probably hungry as a wolf. Just around the corner of Kruger Street, in all its smoky glory, Sharp! Braai Corner lures you to its converted shipping container. Like a typical township braai, Sharp! serves street food straight from the butcher counter with a choice of steak, chops and boerewors rolls along with chakalaka (spicy tomato bean relish), pap (porridge) or coleslaw. Get a real taste of the world renowned South African braai culture while Sharp!’s sound system blasts mad township beats through its speakers.

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VI Maverick Corner

Maverick Corner is Maboneng’s bright new star with funky retailers housed in repurposed shipping containers. On the corner of Commissioner and Albrecht streets, Whippet Cycling Co. specialises in customizing fixed gear bikes and restoring vintage components. The company stocks an extensive range of second-hand Italian bicycle frames in its container-based workshop, ready to reconstruct one of a kind bikes to customer’s specific requests.

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Stitch & Steel stocks handmade ladieswear with African wax prints. Each item can be tailored to a costumer’s wants and needs. Embracing Maboneng’s philosophy of sustainability, Anomali is a jewelry store that focuses solely on recycling materials, specifically silverware. For men, five8ths hand-tailors meticulously crafted shirts and accessories – such as neckties and bowties – which are made from biodegradable, non-synthetic materials.

On the streetfood front, the fellas of Fabulous Burger Boys got you covered. From the zesty chili sauce to the delicious patties, everything is home made and all burgers are cooked right in front of you in an open kitchen. Highly recommended is the savoury wide-mouth burger eccentrically named ‘Swart Gevaar’ (a beef burger marinated in milk stout). Around the corner is James XVI , an authentic Ethiopian eatery popular with Joburg’s Ethiopian expats. Serious caffeine addicts are also at the right place, as they brew freshly ground Ethiopian bean coffee.

Crazy for fro-yo? Check Cocobel, two girls in an old converted mint green Chev truck serving the creamiest frozen yoghurt in town. Toppings include fresh fruit, caramel, chocolate and jelly bears. They also have delicious granitas. Next door is Soul Souvlaki, a little Greek treasure located in a double-storey shipping container. Take your lamb souvlaki up to the open deck on the top floor, a superb place to see the world pass by and watch the sun set over Maboneng.

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VII Artisan lofts

Maboneng’s renaissance is taken place at warp speed. The redevelopment project Artisan Lofts is breathing new life into a vacant industrial warehouse down on Market Road. The former run down building is now crowned with a mural by Steve ESPO Powers and has become a striking landmark in the precinct.

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Adjacent to Artisan Lofts, the Museum of African Design – or MOAD – showcases the work of Africa’s cutting edge designers. The museum hosts two exhibitions simultaneously and changes on a quarterly basis. In its basement, there’s a superb little coffee bar called The March Hare. The bar is completely built out of books and the dimly lit interior is decorated with window frames and doors are used as tables. At night, the rabbit hole becomes an occasional speakeasy where Joburg’s urbanites gather for liquor-laced convos.

MOAD

If you want to escape Johannesburg’s burning hot summer sun, right behind the MOAD-complex is Poolside, an afternoon aperitivo bar next to an odd-shaped pool. Surrounded by white washed walls and comfy loungers, it’s a great place to unwind over a drink and splash into the pool for a refreshing swim.

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Down the road, you can’t miss the Zebra Inn, a black and white striped building that has a bar that looks like a taxidermist shop. Crammed with dozens of stuffed wildlife busts, this late night bar attracts a motley crew of locals downing beers and cocktails. To visit the Zebra Inn, knock on the battered metal gate, pass through the ground-floor carpentry workshop, climb the stairs, and enter the smoky trophy room.

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