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Gandalf DJing

Antonio’s Birthday

by Hugh Upsher / 03.05.2013

Gandalf’s has been sitting on the ass end of Observatory for thirteen years now. The first time this alternative club entered my consciousness was via my older sister. She recalled the club owner kicking a guy in the head after being caught breaking into a car. But this wasn’t the curled up on the floor head-kicking-thuggery you’d associate with most nightclubs. This was a mortal-combat-style-karate-kick out in the middle of the street. I was immediately enchanted. Antonio is not your typical club owner.

Antonios Various Interests

Years later I would start collecting a handful of my own typical Gandalf’s experiences. I was by no means a regular, especially by Gandalf’s standards, but you could always rely on it for a memorable night out. I mean who hasn’t chipped a tooth attempting to a simultaneously drink beer and rock out to their heavy alternative playlist?


Last Saturday was Antonio’s birthday party, the stuff of legend amongst the student life of my generation. I consciously decided to don my Slashdogs T-shirt hoping I would get props from a local (it totally worked). Wearing obscure band T-shirts at alternative clubs and gigs is an easy way to win quick respect within the community.


I arrived back after a four year hiatus to find it almost exactly how I left it. The same bartenders, same barrel tables and same tip jars. All of which appeared battered by time and young drunkenness. The dungeon/tavern wall murals were still giving off the illusion that you are inside a 1st generation 3D shoot ’em up game like Quake or Castle Wolfenstein.


a) Same six dudes completely zoned into the foosball table
b) Same unidentifiable black gooey substance lining the floor
c) Same jumbo blue jugs of what some may describe as a cocktail
d) Same girls channeling daddy issues through their schoolgirl pigtails

There was one difference that was inevitable and unfortunate. The one thing Antonio did not have complete control over in his twisted kingdom was the drink prices. The three beers for ten Rand special was no more. I was shocked to find out it had changed to twelve Rand for three beers. Yeah, you read correctly. Of course for the high rollers there are always double vodka Red Bulls for twenty five Rand. I am going to stop the blatant advertising now.

Upstairs at ROAR the band ‘A Zombie Ate My Girlfriend’ had just wrapped up their set. I was glad to see Antonio himself front and center onstage handing out tattoo vouchers and hyping the meager crowd. I was even happier to see him step down to the front row where he stood grinning for the remainder of the next set. His top quality sound rig was blasting out the kind of metal that induces involuntary head banging.

After becoming painfully aware of the tiny white bits of lint covering my otherwise black T-shirt I head downstairs. I hate Purple UV lights in nightclubs. Back at ground zero the disc jockey drops ‘Around the Fur’ by Deftones demonstrating that he is slightly more than a conjurer of cheap tricks.

Gandalf DJing

It has now reached the time of the evening when the remaining crowd are drunk enough to deem it acceptable to dance along to hip hop and pop classics. This signals my time to leave. I don’t plan on ever returning. I never do. If logic came into play one would assume the drink prices alone would have bankrupted the place several times over by now. How does a niche club like this scrape by for so long? Is it protected by some type of dark magic? Does it exist in a parallel universe where bills and rent don’t need paying? I catch a couple of dolled up chicks lighting birthday candles that had been speared into a plate full of cupcakes. They were for a very special man on his special day.

* All illustrations © Hugh Upsher

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  1. jaime says:

    “I’m never going back there ever again!” Really means “See you next Saturday guys?”.

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  2. morgmorbid says:

    Is “URSURPER” a made-up band name

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  3. Kimon says:

    Ha ha Hugh, this is tight.

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  4. Caitlin C says:

    Man, this brings back so many memories. I love the way Hugh describes all the things that haven’t changed one bit – I would’ve put down the exact same 6 songs for the “average Gandy’s playlist”, perhaps adding Dead Prez’s “Hip hop” and Beastie Boys’ “Intergalactic”. But overall, a damn fine write-up.

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  5. Hugh says:

    Usurper is the shit. is a bad way!

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  6. ShlongDong says:

    Holy fuck this is the best thing I’ve ever read on Mahala haha. That playlist is spot on and hasn’t changed in the last 9 years, minus The Narrow and Waddy, which are relatively new (5 years or so) additions.

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  7. ShlongDong says:

    But also props to Antonio, he’s let a lot of bands (from extremely heavy to soft cock rock and really good to awful ones) play in a venue with probably the best sound in Cape Town when other venues wouldn’t let them play, for better or for worst. And he’s actually a really good dude at heart.

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  8. fku says:

    It’s not dark magic nor a parallel universe – just good old fashion police corruption. The cops confiscate stock from illegal shebeens in the ghetto, then sell it back to unscrupulous venues – how else do you think places like Gandalf’s can sell a beer at R4 a pop?

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  9. fku says:

    Nonetheless, Gandalf’s is an institution. Remember the One Ring!

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  10. Antonio says:

    LOL thanks for an awesome write-up.
    I always seem to have people commenting on the drinks prices, we not that cheap everyone else is just really really expensive.
    See you this Saturday “May the 4th be with you”

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  11. Anonymous says:

    I have grown up at gandalfs and its not the prices, the interior design or the god awful music that has made this place survive. Its all comes down to Simone and Antonio quiet literally being the best people I know.

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  12. Richard says:

    I don’t think people realise that the mark-ups on alcohol are so extreme. I know a guy who owns a bar, and he said he pays about R3-50 a beer and he can’t possibly be doing the volumes of a club for some uber bulk discount. You can often get a beer for R9/10 but some places charge as much as R15/16. Just depends on where you go.

    I’m based in JHB, and have never been to this place. Sounds awesome – props for keeping up what seems like the one last bastion against hyperinflation. :p

    (This piece makes me think of Roxy’s/Doors in JHB. Roxy’s always seemed cool, but it would when you’re 17/18. The Doors is but a shadow of it’s former self nowadays)

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  13. kim says:

    this is so awesome!

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  14. Paul van Jaarsveld says:

    This makes me think of Mystic Boer and Underground in Bloemfontein. In my 10 years I lived there, those two establishments stayed very much the same. I wonder what it looks like now?

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  15. Dan says:

    Gandalf’s is a metal club? That’s hardly a correct assumption nowadays.

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  16. Beeb(er) says:

    I feel this is a good time to apologize to that girl on the dance floor I accidentally elbowed in the tooth about 10 years ago at Gandalf’s. I’m sorry. I hope you’re okay.

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