The bar route

Hier sit die manne in die Royal Hotel, ek ken vir almal want ek is almal se pel …

(Here sit the guys in the Royal Hotel, I know them all because I’m everybody’s pal …)—David Kramer, Die Manne van die Royal Hotel

Nearly every dorp, town and suburb in South Africa boasts a pub, many of which have contributed to the national character. Where better to start than with the one that inspired David Kramer’s saloon anthem, The Bar of the Royal Hotel.

The Little Karoo town of Ladismith nestles in the folds of the Little Swartberg mountain range.
The imposing Towerkop, with its peak split by an angry witch flying overhead, looms above the double-storey, regency-style Royal Hotel.

The dark, smoky, wood-panelled pub, next to the dining room, is filled with a rich variety of ostrich feathers and memorabilia. Pride of place goes to a framed and autographed copy of Kramer’s hit, the inevitable photograph of Joel Stransky’s winning kick in the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup and a mounted mielie captioned “Free State Vibrator”. A sign behind the bar asks: “Do infants have as much fun in infancy as adults have in adultery?”

The Panty Bar

Dotted along Paternoster Bay on the West Coast are the quaint, whitewashed fishermen’s cottages and across the road is the world-renowned Paternoster Hotel. To the side, in what used to be the old prison, is the Panty Bar presided over by Johan Carosini.

The crowded pub is decorated with such appalling taste that it takes on an appeal of its own. Obscene signs compete for space with panties and G-strings collected from honeymoon brides, eternal Christmas decorations, rubber breasts, penis candles, posters of nudes and other indelicate pictures—mainly of rugby players who do not play for Western Province or the Stormers.

So popular is the Panty Bar that it has spawned a copy, Ronnie’s Sex Shop, in the middle of nowhere between Barrydale and Ladismith.

The Star of the West

Fortune-seekers, adventurers and miners came from near and far to join the greatest diamond rush of all at Kimberley in the early 1870s when the greatest treasure house of all was found on a hillock, Colesberg Kopje, which soon began to disappear to become the Big Hole.

As this hill was crushed and razed, so, opposite it, rose the balconied Star of the West to give sustenance to the army of thirsty miners. In the 1980s, the bar, the oldest surviving one in Kimberley, was saved from demolition by Ivan Freel who restored it to its former glory—except for the toilets that until 1986 consisted of municipal buckets and a sign, “Don’t flush. You might flood the big hole”.

Up the worn staircase are the rooms used by Diamond Lil and her ladies, and even the grooves in the Oregon pine, carved from the frantic movements of beds, have been preserved. Lil, whose portrait hangs in one of the rooms, was paid for in diamonds, and it is reputed that she became one of the wealthiest people in the city.

The Half

On the other side of Kimberley is The Half—also restored by Freel—which was built in 1875 and became the world’s first drive-in bar.

The pub, which takes its name from the Halfway House Hotel, was the midpoint between the Bultfontein and Dutoitspan mines. Cecil Rhodes and his entourage used to stop at this oasis while riding the long and dreary road between these diggings.

Originally, a rock was placed outside the bar, on to which Rhodes could dismount from his colossal horse. The problem was that when he’d had his drink, Rhodes needed assistance to get back on his steed. To save face, he passed a local by-law that allowed patrons of The Half to be served while on horseback or riding in a carriage.

Rhodes’s ordinance was never rescinded and miners continued to drive up to The Half in their cars and flash their headlights for service—much to the consternation of moral watchdogs and bureaucrats. In 1962 the authorities tried to close it down, but the Supreme Court ruled that the pub and its practice of serving motorists “had historic value”.

The Licensing Board then ordered the owners to erect a 2m wall around the property, but failed to specify that it had to be above ground. The owners responded by digging a ditch and building the wall below ground.

Today there is a slight bump when driving up to the service area.

The lowdown

  • The Royal Hotel (028) 551 1044
  • Paternoster Hotel (022) 752 2703
  • Kimberley bars — Dirk Potgieter Tours 083 265 4795