Watering holes

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John Taylor - Beaches, bioscopes & milkshakes

By John Taylor - July 2008

I read with interest Dave Baird's reminiscences of eateries in Durban in the 70's and 80's.

In the late 60's I was employed as an articled clerk in a firm of accountants, whose offices were situated in what was then the JBS building on the corner of Field and West Streets.

I was not cut out to be an accountant, and together with a number of fellow articled clerks, we hated the routine of checking clients' accounting records during the day, and attending lectures in the evening at the University of Natal City Buildings, situated across the road from what was then the market at the south end of West Street. To combat boredom, any opportunity to quench our thirsts was very welcome.

There were a number of places that we visited in the Durban CBD. The Central Hotel in West Street had not yet been demolished, and apart from the somewhat seedy men's bar, there was a "beer garden" at the back of the hotel that served cold draught beer and fiery Natal curries. The Riviera Hotel on the esplanade had an upstairs lounge featuring a live band that often played during "cocktail hours".

Our favourite was the Al Fresco Terrace, also on the Esplanade, at which the Flames played (the Flames were an extremely popular band comprising the three Fataar brothers and Blondie Chaplin), and the peculiarity taking into consideration the apartheid laws of the time, was that they were non-white! When we felt the need for a bit of class, we visited the Royal Hotel, which was then not the developed (and somewhat fading) monolith of today, but still in its earlier format. We either went to the Ulundi Bar, or to the Cellar where we consumed vast quantities of beer and cheese platters (or was it the other way around?). We stayed away from the nearby Playhouse Lounge, which was frequented by the rough element and featured regular brawls.

If we were in the Berea area, there was quite a choice - the Los Angeles Hotel (or "LA") which was well known known to most young Durbanites of the 60's, 70's, and 80's; and the Caister, Osborne, and Milner Gardens Hotels.

When audits were conducted in the Umbilo area, I recall that the Willowvale Hotel also served a good curry, and the barman at the Outspan Hotel was forever pointing out that its bar was the longest in Durban.

One of the hotel groups that we audited belonged to the Gooderson family, and this provided the excuse to forego lectures and move directly from work to the Bullring at the Lonsdale. I recall sitting in a lounge at the Claridges Hotel trying to audit their books, and being subjected to Four Jacks and a Jill rehearsing for most of the day in the Cookie Look (or had the name changed by then to the Cat's Whiskers?).

I didn't realise that it was necessary to play bits of "I Love You Timothy" for six or seven hours at a time, to perfect the song, and it nearly drove me mad. I seem to recall that the other group that played there was Alain D. Woolf and the Stereos. Anyway, it was a place that we didn't go to very often.

The Edward Hotel had a men's bar that was a pricey, but very festive at times. I can't recall its name**, but I remember that they had a waiter / general assistant called Tiger. Tiger was a huge Zulu, who often demonstrated his ability to carry a tray loaded with draught beers in one hand, which was a tremendous feat of strength.

Other bars that we regularly visited were the Cumberland, and the Blue Waters - the tiny bar at the back of the Blue Waters hotel is probably the only one still operating. I'm sure that many Durbanites in my age group will have fond memories of the good times and camaraderie that were enjoyed in these watering holes!


** 16 January 2011: Reader David Vickery has written in to say that the bar where Tiger worked was called the El Gaucho.

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