Nestled on the slopes of Signal Hill with a stunning view of Table Mountain lies one of the most captivating neighborhoods in Cape Town. While many people focus on the beach areas of Camps Bay and Sea Point, a walk through Bo Kaap brings many visual rewards. To start with, Bo Kaap, formerly known as the Malay Quarter, has been the traditional home of Cape Town’s muslim population since the 18th century and is largely considered Cape Town’s oldest neighborhood. Today’s residents are primarily descendants of slaves brought by the dutch from Malaysia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India and other african countries during the 16th and 17th century.
The History of Bo Kaap Cape Town
The first house was built in 1760 when Jan de Waal bought the land and built several small “houses” that he rented out to slaves. The oldest one is still standing today at No. 71 Wale street and now houses the Bo Kaap Museum. We walked through Bo Kaap during sunset and the museum was already closed but it is considered the oldest standing house in Cape Town.
After the emancipation of the slaves in 1834, now under British rule, there was a strong need for dwellings for the freed slaves, many of whom were muslim and additional houses were built. With the large muslim population moving into Bo Kaap the first mosque in South Africa was built in this community. Today there are at least 9 mosques in this tight knit community.
The charming colors of Bo Kaap Cape Town
There are as many stories as to the history of the colors of the homes of this charming neighborhood as there are colors themselves. It’s hard to know if there is one true answer. The most widely circulated story ties to the muslim heritage as the cornerstone of the community and the celebration of Ramadan – the month of fasting. At the end of Ramadan, the Eid Al-Fitr celebration takes place and it’s customary (with the Cape Malay Muslim community) to dress up in bright colors. This tradition may have passed over to housing. Many residents repaint their homes at the end of Ramadan meeting with neighbors in advance to make sure the colors don’t clash.
The Gentrification of Bo Kaap – Cape Town
As always with a unique community, at some point, wealthy investors start moving in and buying up property. Bo Kaap has not escaped this. With it’s excellent location, stunning views of table mountain, unique culture, and colorful architecture it’s now a draw for the urban elite. Inter community conflict has risen as long term residents object to the sale of buildings and eviction of long term residents. Being the oldest neighborhood in Cape Town, parts of it are under heritage protection but it’s rather unclear how that is being managed. As we finished wandering through the various side streets a peaceful protest erupted out of no where. Signs, chants, and pedestrians were slowing traffic to a crawl. It was hard to understand the exact grievance but it was definitely against additional development in the neighborhood. This seemed like the perfect opportunity to stroll a few streets down and find the perfect place for a sundowner.
No Reservations Needed
A few blocks away from the colorful sights of Bo Kaap is Bree Street. Filled with some of the hippest restaurants & bars in Cape Town yet intersected by side streets displaying the grittiness and toughness of those with no choice but to live on the street. That’s the duality of Cape Town – at once colorful, vibrant,& energetic while one street over filled with despair, hustle, and grit. We were discussing this when we walked past an open window literally halfway under the sidewalk and stooped down to peak in. This was our last night of a three week journey through Africa and our last sundowner so we needed the perfect place…we found it! The bar is titled No Reservations, seats about 8, and it was empty – this was the place!
The Perfect Street Sundowner!
There is no better friend you can have than an amazing bartender and they have one at No Reservations! He highly recommended a gin & tonic as our final drink so I was happy to skip my usual wine. He had at least 20 gins on the back bar and at least 10 different flavored tonics – mostly Fevertree. His knowledge of which of the gins would go best with the different tonic pairings was impressive! I opted for Fevertree Elderflower tonic (which he said also has a hint of rose) with a South African cucumber flavored gin). The result was a beautiful pink concoction of deliciousness (the cocktail ice cube was key). It capped off our last great South African sundowner after a stunning late afternoon walk through the colorful streets of the city’s oldest community – Bo Kaap.