Queer life in Cape Town is booming. And like many teenagers, it’s bold, bawdy, conflicted, and in a constant state of reinvention.
Stunning physical beauty abuts gritty urbanism, a contrast that makes the city both laid-back and neurotic. Flat-topped, cloud-covered Table Mountain plunges into sandy, Speedo-rich Clifton (its picturesque “third” beach and nearby Sandy Bay nudist area being the most gay-popular).
Gabled Cape Dutch-style buildings tussle with glass-and-steel condos in the city bowl. While appreciating the fascinating intricacies of its multi-ethnic society -- black, white, Cape coloured, and Afrikaner, with a total of 11 official national languages -- is tough in one visit, witnessing its ever-growing inclusiveness only takes a night out. With fits and starts, missteps and optimism, this city has steadily grown into the queer capital of the Rainbow Nation, if not all of Africa.
Here's a list of some spots to visit.
THE DRINK M Bar
38 Long St.; +27-21-424-7247
The second floor of the gay-owned Metropole Hotel epitomizes modern African chic—red ostrich skin, deep chocolaty wood, and ice cubes in the aquarium-walled urinal.
The Friendly Society
125A Waterkant St.
Slide shows of chilled-out regulars smile down on an early evening scene true to its name, especially on Saturdays, when 'fro-hawked drag maniac Odidiva takes the stage.
The Loft Lounge
24 Napier St.; +27-21-425-2647
A sophisticated crowd sips martinis in a retro-modern, positively soaring space. Settle in to the second-floor couches for gorgeous Table Mountain views.
THE PATSY Beaulah Bar
30 Somerset Rd.; +27-21-421-6798
It may be lesbian-owned, but you wouldn’t guess that by the heady mix of hipster guys and gals of all shades swaying to killer electro in the smoky boudoir-like space.
Bronx Action Bar
22 Somerset Rd.
Weekends throb with ripped bartenders and thumping house at this smallish gritty anchor to the Pink Block, where shirts are shucked with an easy-cheesy familiarity.
THE MUNCH Royale Eatery
273 Long St.; +27-21-422-4536
Cheek-straining milkshakes and the city’s best haute hamburgers—beef, lamb, fish, ostrich, and veg, doused in saucy toppings -- fuel nights at the Waiting Room, its tri-level '70s retro-pop upstairs lounge.
121 Castle St.; +27-21-426-2368
Eclecticism epitomized: Sinfully red walls offset inventive pancontinental cuisine that pairs South African ingredients like springbok (antelope) with Asian spices for high-wire fusion results.
THE FASHION Iron Fist
45c Kloof St.; +27-21-422-4017
Local skate punks, surfers, and blazing alt-rockers browse in-your-face hoodies and T-shirts at the downtown outpost of this brash South African brand.
Scar Hair and Clothing
22 Kloof St.; +27-21-422-5900
Orgasmic head massages and locally designed duds make this fashionably trendy salon-boutique a one-stop makeover shop.
THE BED The Glen
3 the Glen; +27-21-439-0086
The city’s only true gay hotel tarts up a tony Sea Point mansion with slick design, unique layouts, private terraces, an in-house spa, and sexy staff.
West Quay Rd.; +27-21-410-7100
Widely regarded among the continent’s best sleeps, understated luxury and sublime service drip class all over a private quay just a hop-skip from the bustling Victoria & Alfred Waterfront.
THE CRUISE The Hot House
18 Jarvis St.
Admire a sunrise from this bathhouse’s Italianate terrace before losing yourself in a full-moon maze of hot ’n’ slippery friskiness.
THE DAY TRIP Western Cape Winelands
Pinotage, please! Sip serenity and enter foodie heaven with over 200 vineyards nestled in the verdant valleys of Franschhoek, Stellenbosch, and Paarl -- a mere 45 minutes from downtown.
Prod penguins and zoom by zebras on your way to Africa’s ruggedly stunning westernmost tip, where the Indian and Atlantic oceans meet.