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Culture, Reality


by Hugh Upsher / 18.03.2015

You are the beautiful mess that I keep coming back to. Sometimes I wish you would change, maybe shake off your Grand Slots dependency or kick hard drugs out of your toilet cubicles. But then you wouldn’t be you. It’s your many faults and oddities that make you such an attraction. That, and your R30 triple brandy and Cokes. I just thought you should know that your worth goes far beyond the Trip Advisor rank of #98 out of 103 hotels in Cape Town central.

I know some of my friends won’t go near you but that doesn’t bother me. If they can’t handle you at your worst, they don’t deserve you at your best. I have always struggled to distinguish between the two. Those beautifully ugly moments you provide on a regular basis feed my perverse fascinations.

The sloppy brandy-infused scuffles, the intrusive drunk telling you about his unfinished autobiography, the sporadic singing and dancing to R Kelly’s ‘Ignition’ (remix). These are the revealing moments that assure me we are all animals at heart. These are the behaviours that are actively avoided by the immaculately groomed, well-behaved boys and girls of Yours Truly on Kloof Street or the tattooed ladies and gentlemen of The Power and the Glory. These places embody the false mantras that not only are we better than animals, but we are enlightened little stars.


Recently you publicly denounced the craft beer movement by displaying a permanent street-facing banner claiming “WE DON’T SERVE CRAFT BEER”. This was a bold statement for a bar that caters to city bowlers – a curious tactic of defining yourself by a product you don’t sell. This would be similar to how a camera shop could promote “WE DON”T SELL SELFIE STICKS” in their front window. Personally though, I feel that if you made a banner stating “WE HAVE A PEANUT DISPENSING VENDING MACHINE ON THE BAR COUNTER” it would have the same desired effect.


What is rarely spoken of is how much of a truly beautiful old specimen you are, proven by the occasional photo shoot or film set you host. The portraits of historical villains hanging slightly above eye line make it easier to gloss over them. In the same way that most of the T-shirts I own are gifted or stolen, external forces accessorise your body, their ideas and brands draped upon you almost unwittingly. Beyond the bizarre mannequin artworks, and promotional light boxes of beverages that went out of circulation 10 years ago, your elegance always finds a way to shine through it all.

You are known for drinking with the exciting poets, writers and artists of the town, and as with any bar worth its salt you also host a collection of career drunks. Don’t blame yourself though; you are simply a safe space, a cradle for their everlasting discomfort. I talk about these characters as if they are the ‘other’ but there is no space for pyramids or ladders at the Kimberley Hotel. There is a cogent understanding that by entering its doors, you lift the burden of dignity. There is no longer any need for pretence… it doesn’t translate so well within your walls.


You have been in my life so long now that you have gone from being a social touch point to an extension of my home, a living room shared amongst thousands. I love the meandering conversations, I cherish the quiet Saturday afternoon cricket watching sessions and I adore the bewildered faces setting foot in you for the first time. It gives me such comfort to know you will always be there in some shape or form. You are that dependable old friend that, because of the low expectations, has never let me down.

*Illustrations © Hugh Upsher

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