One of Joburg’s most vibrant examples of inner city regeneration, the student district of Braamfontein (or simply ‘Braam’ as locals know it) is defined by edgy galleries, abundant street art, busy nightlife, shopping, café culture and an addictive creative energy that attracts a youthful alternative crowd at any hour of the day.
Braamfontein’s incredible transformation from the urban decay that defined Joburg’s late 1990s to the buzzing example of integrated African city life that it is today has seen it labelled by the international press as Joburg’s ‘hipster capital’. And once you get compared to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg or London’s East End (New York Times), you know you’ve truly arrived.
Cafe culture and cutting edge designThe easiest way to access Braamfontein by public transport is by taking the Gautrain to Park Station or if using the City Sightseeing bus hop off at The Devonshire Hotel. From here it’s a short walk to Juta Street to start the morning with the finest German pastries from the tiny Black Forest Bakery. One of Braamfontein's longest running businesses, the counter has been staffed by the indomitable Maisie for more than 35 years and many of her customers have been buying their daily bread here for just as long.
The recently restored 99 Juta building is nearby, an interior design hub housing the showrooms of leading South
African design brands Dokter and Misses and UrbanNative. Barely two years ago the building was illegally squatted and in such a poor state that everything bar the staircase and four external walls had to be stripped out. Wander around this cool pink and turquoise Miami Art deco-styled building and you quickly get a sense of Braam’s ambitious spirit and the dreamers who are reinventing the neighbourhood.
From here walk down Juta Street to The Grove (corner Juta, Melle and De Korte Streets) a colourful public square that has been carved out of a city block by local property developers South Point, which has spearheaded much of Braamfontein’s regeneration. Café culture rules with a Turkish bakery Galata, serving one of the best value breakfasts in town, a cycling-themed café Velo, and the popular pizzeria 86 Public all spilling out onto the square. On the corner facing The Grove is where you'll find Doubleshot coffee roasters, a friendly corner café, also known for fantastic home-brewed organic ice tea. Looking out over the square is Once in Joburg, a cool ‘flashpackers’ hostel and budget hotel which also has its own bar The Immigrant where you can stop for a craft beer.
Urban street stylePass through the passageway linking The Grove square to De Korte Street and cross the road to Reserve Street, another new pedestrianised development initiated by South Point. Current tenants include Relay jeans' super cool concept ‘denim bar’ and The Artivist bistro, bar and art gallery, while art exhibition spaces and quirky bars are also on their way. If you are looking for a snack or a quick and filling lunch drop into R Jana’s on the corner, a simple family-run Indian diner and takeaway that has been serving bunny chows, biriyanis and samoosas to Braamfontein’s students for decades. A few doors down sneaker junkies visit the Converse or Puma Select concept stores and X-Trend for the latest limited-edition sneaker ‘drops’.
Contemporary galleries, colourful street art and buzzing nightlifeWhere De Korte hits the main thoroughfare Jan Smuts Ave turn right and head one block up to visit Wits Art Museum. One of the city’s best art galleries WAM hosts regular temporary exhibitions by major historic and contemporary African artists and the adjoining cafeteria-style café Olives & Plates is a great value place for a quick lunch.
Leaving the museum head back down Jan Smuts Avenue in the direction of the iconic Nelson Mandela bridge and take a left on Juta Street where you’ll find yet more art galleries including Stevenson, Assemblage and Kalashnikovv, all known for their edgy exhibitions that showcase the works of exciting contemporary African artists.
At the corner of Juta and De Beer streets is Kitchener’s Carvery Bar, one of the neighbourhood’s oldest buildings. Opened in 1898 as the Hansa Bar and Hotel, during the Anglo-Boer War this was a popular drinking hole for British army officers. The pub was renamed for a crucial 1902 meeting that happened here between Lord Milner and Lord Kitchener. The building next door, now the Great Dane bar, also dates back to the Victorian era when it was used as a stable. Both venues are among Braam’s busiest late night spots, popular with an alternative, hard-partying student crowd who come to hear DJs spinning everything from house to old school hip hop.
As elsewhere in this eclectic neighbourhood the historic is strikingly juxtaposed with the contemporary. Look up to see a huge purple mural of a smiling Nelson Mandela by Shepard Fairey, while the alleway that runs adjacent to Juta Street behind Great Dane is filled with graffiti murals by artists from around the country.
Across the street there are plenty of places to make a pit stop. For healthy breakfasts, lunches or a smoothie try Unwrapped or Post. If you are after late night eats The Bannister Hotel stays open long past everybody else’s bedtime and also serves sushi.
For coffee head to hispter roastery Father Coffee where you can also buy their signature roasts (stylishly packaged)
to take home. On Saturdays the city flocks to the rooftop Neighbourgoods Market that looks over this bustling corner for an extensive choice of food stalls and craft beer stands as well as live music and vintage clothing retailers.
From here make your way back up Juta Street, passing cult streetwear stores Dip Street and Anatomy and end your stroll back near the start with a drink at Republic of 94. Choose to sit at the bar counter inside (one of the longest in the city) and catch up on sport on TV, or find a sunny spot in the huge beer garden in the rear courtyard. Whatever you do, Braam will welcome you.