SMOKE: Bob's Bar And Bistro

Originally published: 17 November 2004

It's been many years since I've had a local tavern to retreat to - I've got a fantastic spot up the way called Rascal's Pub but it's not my local, ie. I don't visit there like a religion every day.

But I used to have one - a place I visited faithfully every single day of my life. It was called Bob's Bar and Bistro and was situated in Kloof St, Cape Town.

These days a fat, ugly Nando's stands where it used to be, but it is still alive in a much quieter, more stately form, underneath a backpacker's lodge in Long St.

Bob's was so much a part of my life I immortalized it in a song I'd written at the time. I was having trouble with the girlfriend from hell, and the song was called The No Sex Song.

So goodbye baby - I'll miss you - but I won't shed a tear
I'd rather be with my best mates at Bob's, drinking beer
But if you're feeling lonely and you wanna have some fun
Then I'll take you to a quiet place and baby I'll give you some
I know you wouldn't mind it if I took you to the movies
I know that you'd enjoy it if I took you out dancing
But if I mention sex I know that I would have to run
From my dark-haired, six-foot Jewish girl with big tits and a gun

As you can probably surmise - she wasn't called the girlfriend from hell for nothing.

I discovered Bob's in my first year at university - it was a hop, skip and a jump away from the drama school campus in Orange St, and I was in a class of some of the most volatile, creative and unusual people you could ever hope to meet.

We all had a common aim - get pissed. Fast. As often as possible. Bob's provided the convenient and cheap option, as Bob was a businessman and realised that since students were his greatest source of income he had to keep his prices down. Students are not faithful to a brand - they go where the price is right.

Bob was of German extract with British roots somewhere along the way, and he was a kind, gentle soul. He put up with more shit than any bar owner in history, and on the one or two occasions I saw him lose it (once was at me) he was fearsome. The typical rage you get from a person who normally keeps it all bottled up inside. Pressure cooker rage.

What sold us initially, of course, was happy hour. Beers were R2 to start with, and in happy hour you got two for the price of one. So for R20 you could get 20 beers, which in student terms represented a Good Deal. The only problem was that when you purchased them they all had to be opened.

So we would scrape together R20 (a bigger challenge than you might think) apiece, and armed with smokes from the Portuguese guy at the corner cafe we would assault Bob's at happy hour.

Two people facing each other across a table would have 40 beers between them - all of them open, and slowly getting warm - and we would sit thus until the last drops had been drunk.

But the real Bob's vibe happened late at night, when the various shows that were on at the drama school campus (which had four or five theatre venues) came out.

All the students performing in plays - as well as any friends of theirs who had come to watch them - would descend on Bob's in a flurry of laughter and over-the-top attention-seeking.

Everyone - men, women, children, the barmen and Bob himself - had one goal and one goal only: to get as drunk as humanly possible. And we did. And we did.

It was a very cosy tavern and pretty cramped, and on nights when the world visited Bob's the people would be spilling out onto the sidewalks and the balcony Bob had with tables, chairs and umbrellas overlooking Kloof St.

In summer we would fall drunkenly off the balcony outside; in winter we would be kept propped up inside by the sheer weight of human bodies.

Unlike most other pubs and taverns nobody just sat around peacefully drinking - the place was a wild, wild house, although not in terms of fighting - there was only ever one fight at Bob's and it was the mother of all bitch-fights between two lesbians.

There was a lower floor and a few steps up to a higher level, and we would sometimes do stage-diving off the upper part into the throng below. We would get up on tables and be ridiculous, and we even went through a phase of screaming madly for no particular reason. Nobody ever seemed to mind, although if I were to meet me from back then I'd kick my skinny ass.

The rest of the time we would debate and philosophise and dream and boast, and I can honestly tell you that the education I received at university all came at Bob's. I was hardly ever at drama school anyway, and the skills I learned there were minimal.

But at Bob's I learned about life, girls, relationships, acting, directing and living, and came into contact with the most eclectic mix of people who all in some way helped me define who I was and who I wanted to be.

Eventually the place was taken over by new, funky owners and Bob moved down the road into obscurity. It was never the same and gradually the clan moved away, taking the heart and soul out of it.

The new owners ran it for a couple of years then sold out to Nando's, and I imagine the only place you'll ever hear about it is right here on this website.

I found love at Bob's, I had my heart broken there for the first time, and I poured out my soul into a thousand hazy ears with an intensity I never knew I possessed. I learned about myself.

And I got very, very drunk.

All Smoked Out,
Luke Tagg
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Copyright © Luke Tagg. All rights reserved. A few lefts as well.

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