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The city that was built on gold in the late 1880s glitters with youthful brashness. Among all of South Africa’s major cities, Johannesburg—fondly referred to as Joburg or Jozi by residents—is without doubt the most vibrant and the most racially integrated, and the mix brings an exciting energy to fashion, food and fun. The fantastic weather is a definite advantage. Joburgers adore being out in the sunshine, and almost all year long they can expect clear blue skies, a dry climate and pleasant temperatures.
The pioneering spirit of the city’s gold barons lives on in Joburg’s eager willingness to embrace new trends. Though malls abound, the truly fashionable choose to hang out along the cafes, restaurants, galleries and boutiques of trendy suburbs Parktown North, Parkhurst and Greenside, as well as 44 Stanley Avenue in Milpark, a collection of derelict warehouses and office buildings converted into a retail and restaurant complex with a funky vibe, thanks to decor shops like Lucky Fish and Saint-Verde, and fashion boutiques like Lunar. For the latest from young, cutting-edge designers all in one store, the best bets are the YDE (Young Designers Emporium) shops—present in all the major malls—where there are cult labels like Notorious, Phenomenon and Cake, and The Space at The Zone in Rosebank. Look for Maya Prass’ color-saturated bohemian prints, Colleen Eitzen’s brocade suits and Amanda Laird Cherry’s nouveau-ethnic style.
Orient, one of Joburg’s hottest restaurants at the moment, is located in the Melrose Arch complex inside the stylish Melrose Arch Hotel. The eatery, at 4 The High Street, bills itself as the “spiritual home of food,” and serves authentic Asian flavors in a kind of cosmopolitan-funk setting. The interiors were inspired by the four elements: a curtain of crystal droplets evokes air, copper panels symbolize fire, a green light display means water and a wall of stones encased in mesh quadrants echoes the earth.
Bars don’t get any more hip and vibe-y than the cheekily named Colour Bar, at 44 Stanley Avenue. It attracts a trendy crowd of mostly media, fashion and design types. The bar chow is amazing, from the big fat chips to the Vietnamese spring rolls, and the music—soulful funk, jazz and African and Brazilian beats—pulsates well until dawn. And in the posh financial district of Sandton is Joburg’s most exclusive club, taboo, a multilevel, multipurpose venue located at 24 Central that opens only on Saturday nights. Sophisticated, sleek and sexy, taboo comprises a vast disco and bar on the ground floor; one level up is a relaxed, chill-out lounge with plush, private alcoves. The garden upstairs has decadent bedouin-style daybeds, a canopied terrace bar and outdoor seating areas under the stars. Sitting amid the skyscrapers, it has a Joburg-meets-Manhattan feel.
The Westcliff, at 67 Jan Smuts Avenue, is the grande dame of Joburg hotels, plush and luxurious, and The Saxon, at 36 Saxon Road, is the epitome of African moderne, all earth tones and ethnic chic. But the contemporary, sophisticated Melrose Arch Hotel, at 1 Melrose Square, is definitely the fashion crowd’s favorite. Located in the fairly new urban Melrose Arch lifestyle complex—really a city within a city, complete with shops, fine restaurants, commercial offices and stunning apartments—the 117-room boutique hotel oozes cool from every corner. Lighting is a fundamental design feature. Along the lobby, reception area, elevators, private rooms and public areas, there are LED displays and pathways that change color and create a mellow ambience. Models and celebrities like to lounge around in the neo-Colonial elegance of the veranda and watch the world go by, while sprawled on the first-floor deck is the swimming pool, with a shallow area dominated by oversized metal buckets planted with ficus trees, and ringed with tables and chairs for all-day dining.