Not so long ago, beating the city streets on foot at night would not have been highly recommended. Now it seems people can’t get enough. And far from being the drunken revellers of say, London’s Leicester Square, these people filling Cape Town’s streets are, it appears, art lovers.
What began in 2012 with only six participating art galleries has expanded into one of the biggest cultural events in Cape Town, with the first Thursday of every month seeing thousands of locals and tourists venturing between art galleries, exhibitions, speciality shops and craft markets in the heart of the city.
I began my evening on Church Square, which was humming with live music and performance art and people buzzing around the food trucks. It’s a great place to start off the evening and get some dinner before getting lost in the crowds.
From there it’s an easy stroll to Church Street, which according to the map (available online or from any of the galleries) has the largest concentration of participating venues. It is particularly lively in its pedestrianised section, with restaurants spilling into the road and multitudes of people moving in every direction.
Some of the most popular venues tend to be the quirky places such as Chandler House on Church St, Luvey ‘n Rose on Loop, and the Youngblood Gallery on Bree. At these places the mood is loudly social amongst the wine-sipping crowd that spills out onto the pavement. In between are quieter gems, such as Mervyn Gers’ Ceramics on the corner of Church and Loop Streets.
There are many noteworthy exhibitions on a night like this, but I found the UCT Architecture Master’s exhibition on Spin Street particularly interesting. The students exhibited a wide range of artworks, each of which could be bid on. Although architecturally inspired, they had a fresh artistic touch, with streetscapes drawn in fine detail and a series of iconic buildings of Cape Town, printed in a pop art style.
From Church Street, the crowds dispersed into various bars and restaurants along Bree Street, with the largest gathering at La Parada. I headed upstairs, where the South African Market (or SAM) hosts a diverse range of Capetonian-made clothes, accessories and crafts. And the paella served outside is delicious.
Avoiding the rowdy crowd downstairs, we ended off the night much further down Bree, with some dark chocolate truffles and a G&T at the cosy Honest Chocolate and their not-so-secret gin bar in a courtyard at the back.
First Thursdays has certainly become a ‘to do’ event in Cape Town. And although it has become a part of the nightlife in town, it is still essentially a cultural event, showcasing the vibrant and artistic side of Cape Town.
First Thursdays takes place every first Thursday of the month from 5pm to 9pm.