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Cape Town's Rising Art Scene

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Photo: Dook

Creative energy is also more prevalent than ever along perennially chic Upper Kloof Street, in the well-heeled Gardens district—now positively awash in precious bio-organic cafés whose magazine racks burst with copies of Visi, South Africa’s own design bible, along with the odd issue of V, BlackBook, or Case da Abitare. Lilliputian storefronts sell designer bikinis and handmade jewelry (and, for good measure, Adidas Originals and a smattering of Japanese selvage denim).

And it’s gained much ground in the area around Heritage Square. There’s Caveau , for example, the three-year-old, warren-like wine bar with an intimate courtyard, where Rhodes, Munro, and their friends like to convene, along with Cape Town’s emerging visual artists and prominent art dealers, for generous pours and small plates. The kitchen offers dukkah-rubbed ostrich or braised springbok shank if one’s in the mood for something with regional bona fides; or more standard global fare, like seared tuna in citrus sauce or a lamb tagine (both delicious, as is everything on the menu). Around the corner is Birds Boutique Café , a favorite spot for coffee or a quick lunch: the Namibian owners, a mother and her two daughters, prepare all-organic baked goods; the younger daughter, Frauke Stegmann, one of Cape Town’s emerging graphic designers, creates the whimsically decorated ceramics on which the food is served. Just up the road is Brewers & Union , a beer bar–charcuterie opened in January by the people behind Vida e Caffé, a slick, mini-chain coffee bar with a zealous fan base. Brewers & Union’s terrace out front fills quickly in the after-work hours with small tribes of hipsters who pair the microbrewed ambers and ales with Madeira-wine salami wrapped in butterfish carpaccio and grilled chili-chocolate beef sausage.

As of last January, though, the best place for visitors to Cape Town to experience the Whatiftheworld effect may well be at the Grand Daddy , a new hotel a few blocks away on Long Street, refurbished by the owners of the city’s long-standing cult favorite B&B, Daddy Long Legs . They approached Whatiftheworld last August to create a collection of mobile “penthouses”—bespoke Airstream trailers with tricked-out interiors featuring all the modern conveniences—originally intended for use as mobile hotel rooms. But when the owners acquired the bigger, more boutique-style Metropole Hotel, which became the Grand Daddy, Rhodes, Munro, and Mooney were commissioned to create an entire “trailer park” on the hotel’s roof—comprising several new tongue-in-cheek themed Airstreams, like Afrofunked (unreconstructed teak paneling, low-slung sofas recalling a 70’s conversation pit) and Love of Lace (a Priscilla Presley–esque fantasy of quilted pink satin and chandeliers), complete with landscaping, bar and barbecue areas, and white mailboxes posted outside each of the seven trailers. “We’re not really going to be tagged to do some sleek, rich bachelor pad on the waterfront,” Rhodes says. “This hotel was great for us because it’s a public, interactive, freethinking space that’s very Cape Town.” Meanwhile, the Grand Daddy’s owners have plans for several more Airstreams, to be made available for VIP events and short-distance road trips—down the Garden Route, say, or out to the up-and-coming artist communities in the Karoo desert.

Rhodes and Munro take a measured—and modest—view of the success of their efforts, deflecting much of the credit to the people and culture they’ve chosen to be part of. “This country, from a visual, creative standpoint, is like a teenager,” Rhodes says. “It’s emerging, and not quite knowing, so this is a key moment. We work with artists and manufacturers but also sometimes with farmers who happen to have great ideas.” It’s this most of all that, to them, represents the fruits of their efforts: a community that’s a genuine meritocracy, based on good work for good work’s sake. “There’s so much talent in Cape Town; we saw that from the beginning. And everyone wants the right image of South Africa out there in the world; everyone wants the best of it to be seen.”

Maria Shollenbarger is Travel + Leisure’s Europe and U.K. editor.

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