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Posted on: Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Cape Towns Fringe

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Fringe District

Fringe District

Pretty is not how you would describe The Fringe. But walk its streets and everywhere there are signs that this slowly emerging design hub of the city is starting to take on a life of its own – coffee and book shops, artists’ studios, eccentric bakeries and the influx of creative business give it an urgent vibrancy.

Cape Towns Fringe has not always been called such. It was named the East City Design Initiative – not surprising then that I hadn’t heard of it. More than two words to a title and I usually glaze over. Call it something that sounds distinctly like a city funded project and I’m not interested.

Renaming it The Fringe gives it street cred. When I read that the plan is for it to evolve in to the design and informatics hub of Cape Town, I’m interested.

I find out about the area quite by chance. My copy of the latest Big Issue comes with a copy of Best of Cape Town Central City – a free what’s what in the centre of the city issued by the CCID (Central City Improvement District).

Calling it The Fringe is a smart move. It places this part of town firmly on the periphery; gives one the sense that its role is to remain unconventional, legitimately irregular, outlawed for its artistic nature; taboo is fully licensed in this neighbourhood, nothing is verboten, and in fact fresh and oddball are encouraged.

And so I find myself paying an enormous sum of money to Arthur, the Congolese whose job it is to charge me to leave my car parked just off Darling Street, intent on exploring the East City area said to be the place for emerging designers and studio space.

The Fringe lies Between Darling and Roeland, and Buitenkant and Canterbury Streets, including the strip from Longmarket to Tennant streets. Bordering on District Six, it’s already home to two of my favourite spaces when I’m in town – The Book Lounge and the Fugard Theatre – so whatever else has chosen to move in here is in good company.

Fringe District

Photographs: Left – Truth or dare at Truth roastery / Centre – Downstairs at the Book Lounge / Right- The Blend

This part of town lacks the glitz of the Foreshore and the charm of the area around Greenmarket Square. Aside from the odd national monument, like The Granary and the NG church, most of it suffers from neglect. Chinese clothing shops sit alongside  buildings awaiting transformation, the homeless rest on steps outside a building that looks a bit like a reformatory that promises lunch for 5c.

But there is also obvious revival. Contemporary coffee shops, with equally trendy clientèle, have taken up residence in amongst eccentric bakeries, artists’ studios and the odd wall mural and piece of street art. There is an energy that can only come from the innate knowledge that renewal and re-design are underway.

Plans for the area – those that I can uncover on the Internet – reveal an intended greening of The Fringe, the exposing of underground streams that run off Table Mountain and the inclusion of street art, pedestrianisation and an intended bus system to connect The Fringe with the rest of the city. A new square will combine urban park with shops, restaurants, businesses and exhibition spaces. As World Design Capital for 2014, one would not expect less. But they have a lot to do in a short space of time…

Favourites in Cape Towns Fringe:

African Home
A Fair Trade craft and design wholesaler  with a proudly South African range of gifts, home décor and accessories. Find them at 41 Caledon Street.

Charly’s Bakery
Where else are customers considered mucking afazing and the cakes wicked? Charly’s has to be seen to be believed. You’ll find the brightly painted building in the square in Canterbury Street.

An intimate coffee shop with a distinct vibe that offers a number of well known blends and home-made food. They also deliver on bikes around the neighbourhood. Find them in Roeland Street.

The Book Lounge
This bookshop, which has no less than a cult following, needs no introduction. That they’re in The Fringe is rather fitting. Find them at 71 Roeland Street.

Wild West meets Cape Town in this large, saloon-flavoured roastery that serves up their own blends of Truth coffee. Find them at 36 Buitenkant Street.

Fringe District

Photographs: Left – Just outside Charly’s bakery / Right – The Fugard Theater

The Granary
Undergoing  phase 2 of maintenance and restoration, the building in Buitenkant Street started life as a house in 1812. It then served time as a Customs House, and then a grain store in 1819.

Fugard Theatre
Located in the historic Sacks Futeran building, it uses the renovated Congregational Church Hall in Caledon Street as its entrance and is named in honour of Athol Fugard.

The roof of LibraVision Building
You’ll visit for one reason – the bees. Marine and Derek Williams have started a beekeeping project from which the bees forage on flowers on Table Mountain and The Company’s Garden.

Ons Plek – for the mural
Faith47 have painted a two-storey mural on the exterior of Ons Plek, Albertus Street. Ons Plek is an intake shelter for female street children in The Fringe.

Field Office Café
Great place to grab a coffee, sandwich or piece of cake as well as see the minimalist furniture of Luke Pedersen and James Lennard (it doubles as their showroom), Barrack Street, CCDI’s Creative Training Unit (ground floor).

Oh! café
Originally served coffee and treats to the clubbing crowd, but now also open in the mornings until just after lunch, 46 Harrington Street.

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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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