Effusive reviews for this place all generally remark on the atmosphere or (that South Africanism) “vibe” of The Marabi Club, a combination of superb food, slick service from jauntily dressed wait staff, interiors that conjure Joburg in an earlier age and a moodily-lit stage on which a jazz band plays.
We can affirm it’s all true.
To find The Marabi Club, look first for the four enormous barrel-chested men in black standing outside a metal door on a city backstreet. Above them you’ll see a small canopy, with the word Marabi emblazoned upon it, over a single metal door. The location is the basement of Maboneng’s Hallmark House boutique hotel, a building designed by star Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye whose most recent international work includes the landmark Museum of African American history in Washington DC.
Marabi is the name for the urban culture that emerged from the slum yards of 1920s and 1930s Johannesburg, a city that sprung to life in the late 1800s on the back of one of the world’s richest gold rushes. The historic area in which The Marabi Club is located, Doornfontein, now incorporated into the greater Maboneng precinct, is the original home of Marabi.
While New York experienced the Harlem Renaissance during that era, a cultural movement that nurtured an exciting new black identity based on a flourishing intellectual movement and an outpouring of artistic, literary and musical talent, the life of Doornfontein’s urban community was being shaped by the disruptive and original sounds of jazz at the shebeens that became central to community life for the city’s black working class. Marabi – the name is thought by some to have been derived from Marabastad, a township in Pretoria – became a lifestyle that started when work was done on Friday and ended on Sundays in time for the grind of the following week to begin. It represented an escape from the hardships of city life.
The Marabi Club's interiors conjure the 1920s and 1930s in Johannesburg, a rough luxury evoked by a combination of facebrick walls, art-deco furniture, reclaimed wooden window frames behind which historical images tell the story of the urban metropolis. A low stage means the music is very much a part of your meal with tables placed right up to its edge. Warm lighting suffuses the bar and stage giving the space an intimate glow.
There is a long bar – a standard feature of early Johannesburg – at which cocktails are served, a cigar lounge that looks onto the main dining area and a private dining area for up to 20 people that operates as a VIP-style space with minimum spend and an opportunity to draw the doors across the space or to peer out at the restaurant and performance. The restaurant seats up to 100. Influenced by similar joints visited in New York the owners are determined to create a late night space in a city that is notorious for shutting down well before midnight.
Through its management The Marabi Club is linked to the luxury five-star Saxon Hotel, located in the plush suburb of Sandhurst (so polished service comes standard, valet parking included), and the live music festival Rocking The Daisies. Music is integral to the place’s DNA.
You won’t find much information online and there’s no hint of the lineup but expect some surprises in terms of who takes to the stage, as local and visiting international acts are promised.
Dinner reservations are essential. Bookings via The Marabi Club website.