Lifestyle Food And Drink

Marie-Lais Emond
2 minute read
3 May 2014
10:00 am

Other Side of the City: What’s in a name?

Marie-Lais Emond

Sir James van der Merwe – is that the guy from the Karoo that discovered he was a lord or something?

Pictures: Pawel Kot.

Or that other man – I’m sure he was Van der Merwe – who couldn’t speak a word of Afrikaans. He grew up there in London or somewhere and married a lady. You know, a titled Lady.

Sounds like a character from a Christopher Hope novel. Is he real?

Is the place for real? There’s a sign near the gate, with the name on it. It looks a little like a fiddled-with old garage sign. Actually, that comes after the entrance arches that feature pink plaster Hindu characters. Then you see a wooden fence with a lot of birds perched, staring at you. They’re not real, but they look Hitchcock-eerie. “Zis place is a somezing else,” as Pawel says when places don’t quite seem for real.

Before you hit the actual bar, Sir James van der Merwe’s Bar, we trot down a few steps; up some others, while men carrying champagne buckets hurry past.

Then we go up a whole metal staircase and immediately we see what’s destined to be a grand sunset. A balcony and the windows look out over the west.

It’s a Wednesday – the only day of the week this place is open. And only from four o’clock. People are trickling in. This is a place of enormous scale and the people look a little like toys on that scale. Maybe they are. They are the cute toys from the design district of Kramerville, come out to unwind.

Champagne buckets are carried to all the places where they settle, not necessarily full of champagnes – mostly wines and beers. People settle in groups on leather chairs around club tables; on kitchen chairs around wooden tables; on tin chairs around tin tables; on bar chairs – so many, many table-and-chair options. On the north side is a preparation and serving kitchen, made of metal ceiling sections. There are old sweet machines, a pool table, the more bizarre sorts of hunting trophies and the walls are jam-packed with old photos, paintings and advertising oddities.

One of the gourmet platters is placed before us: what Pawel calls the “beast”: the parma ham and stuff, for me; the artichoke and cheese parts for Pawel. Alongside us is another beast – or the remains of one. Just the furry head, with tusks. “Aren’t you Sir James?” I begin conversationally, sipping an unheard-of sauvignon.

Sir James van der Merwe is in another part of the same building as Katy’s Palace.

Each week Marie-Lais Emond scouts another urban reach: tasting and testing alternatives to pique our curiosity about places and people we might know nothing about.