The Midnight Munch

A tribute to those trusty dens of culinary endeavour that feed the party army of the night.

By Hagen Engler

 

[This story first appeared in Obrigado magazine]

The late-night stop for coffee and a bite to eat is as much a part of the going-out tradition as the dancing, the boozing and the rock ‘n’ roll.

When we hit a late-night café, we are creatures of the night. Not for us the bedtime curfew. To us it matters not what tomorrow’s commitments are. Right now we’re out on the jol and we’re going to get a Gatsby. At Golden Dish, say. To hell with tomorrow’s client meeting. We’ll use extra deodorant.

We just don’t want the good times to end, and that’s the joy of the late-night eatery. It’s a special bonus, an extras clip at the end of the DVD that is your night out on the tiles.

Often wee-hours catering professionals are so well schooled in ordering protocol that you can be eating before you even realise you’ve ordered. Bless these warriors of the all-night party campaign!

Late-night bistros come in many forms, but they are equally magical come 1.30am when you’ve got munchies that won’t quit. Upscale, mediocre, or plain health risk, somehow these considerations have little to do with a place becoming a venue of legend.

Cadiz in Loop Street is in no danger of earning a Michelin star, but it’s one of the first late-night options that people mention.

The De Freitas family have been running Cadiz since 1970 and the place is a fixture of the Cape Town nightscape. Marcio de Freitas has been running the take-away and Tavern with his dad for the past 11 years.

“Cadiz is about friendly service and conversation,” he says. “People leave their problems at the door. There’s no discrimination here.”

“We can have cops and crooks sitting right near each other. Political rivals. We’ve had Graeme Smith and Jacques Kallis having a drink next to some oke who’s peed in his pants. Everybody’s welcome here.”

Today, Cadiz runs a tavern that closes at 2am, and the take-away serves the locals in the nearby Bo-Kaap. But Cadiz had a run of 30-odd years when it was the only 24-hour eatery in Cape Town city centre, serving night owls who’d just spilled out of the bars and clubs.

“Not a week that goes buy without someone telling me about their memories of Cadiz,” says Marcio. “There was a lady here the other day who must have been 80, telling me how she remembers smashing a greasy burger on the pavement outside, feeding the street kids…”

“Guys tell me that before they went into the army, they’d come to Cadiz for their last burger before they got on the train for basic training at 5am. It’s great that people have those kinds of memories. And the burgers still taste the same!”

“We’re unpretentious and friendly, we have regular customers and you can always find some good conversation here, day or night,” says Marcio. “We’re a definitely a Cape Town institution.”

And then he laughs. “I’m just not sure if we’re a mental institution, or what kind of institution.”

Cadiz no longer has the monopoly of the late-night trade. Some Cape Town night crawlers swear by venues like Mr Pickwick’s, Food Inn and Mohammad’s food stall on Long Street.

“There are more late-night chow spots than you can throw a bag of salmonella at,” quips comedian Martin Evans.

In Johannesburg, you might have visited the Northcliff Bimbo’s, or one of a dozen Andiccio24 outlets, but few venues have better experience of late-night catering than Johannesburg’s legendary all-hours restaurant Catz Pyjamas.

Owner Natasha Coetzee opened her doors in 1994 and has never closed since!

The 24-hour restaurant in the heart of Melville serves food all day and all night. And not just greasy snacks for the desperate, Catz Pyjamas has an attractive menu and a relaxed, upscale atmosphere that belies its status as the last word in all-hours nightlife.

“We have a rather rare on-consumption licence from the old days,” says Natasha. “We call last rounds at 3am and close the bar at 3.15am. We clear away the drinks at 4am.”

Just about everyone who’s anyone on the Joburg social scene will have climbed the steep staircase to Catz Pyjamas’ first-floor restaurant. The internationals also make an appearance. “We’ve had U2 in here,” she says, nodding at the table where they sat. “Faithless have been, and local stars like the cast of Isidingo and Strictly Come Dancing are often in here.”

Catz Pyjamas styles itself “The original 24-hour bistro” – a quality restaurant that just happens to never close. But anyone who’s spent time there after the witching hour will know that Catz is often a bit left of centre. You might meet a worse-for-wear Dutch academic determined to seduce your wife. Or a web developer eating a bacon-and-eggs breakfast at midnight!

“We were here before the all-night drive-thrus and the 24-hour pizzerias,” says Natasha. “We’ve seen the neighbourhood change and we’ve changed with it. Now we offer catering and 24-hour delivery as well.”

Down in Port Elizabeth, the very idea of such a restaurant is pure fantasy. The PE crew have never been as culinarily blessed as those in the bigger cities. Clubbing veterans remember unglamorous outlets like Rio Hamburger Hut, La Fiesta, Dagwood’s and Popo’s Snack Den.

But innovative jollers have always been able to find a creative solution to the late-night munchie challenge. “What we used to do, when we had bucks,” recalls a party artist we’ll call Anton Havenga, “was book a room at the Beach Hotel, order up room service chow and dop, then take the goeders and bail via the swimming pool!”

There are indeed many ways to skin the late-night cat. But however you do it, it will continue to occupy a warm place in your heart, if not your digestive system, for many moons to come.

French military leader Napoleon Bonaparte first noted that an army marches on its stomach. So let’s salute our nation’s late-night eateries, which keep the party army provisioned and fighting fight. You will not be forgotten. Aluta Continua!

 

Writer for television, print and digital, corporate and editorial. Editor and writer of books. Musical performance, spoken word as Inspector Ras. Guitar/vocals for The Near Misses, (Worst Band In JoburgTM). The last whitey at umsebenzi. Latest book 415 Action-Packed Neighbourhood Marketing Tips with Basil O'Hagan, out now. @hagenengler

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