- Ryan Kretch
An honest assessment of Cape Town's gay scene along with a few places to check out when you are in town!
I always knew Cape Town was the gayest city on the continent of Africa, but I hadn't actually formed any expectations. Living mainly in Berlin, any gay-life would be a downgrade from what I consider to be the freest city in the world. Prior to our arrival, my friend forwarded me a calendar that hurt my eyes to look at for Pride month, which happened to overlap perfectly with our stay in Cape Town; our last weekend would even be the Pride parade and related parties. Anyway, we went in with a relatively open mind and would just see how it went.
Someone get a graphic designer in the room please! My eyesss!
Our first taste of gay nightlife was in the form of a club called Pink Candy, located at the edge of the Central Business District (CBD). It was unfamiliar in every sense, from the tacky decorations, to the super camp music, to the cleaners mopping the floor next to you if even a drop of your drink fell to the floor while you danced. The crowd was incredibly sexy but I noticed a much more reserved quality to the people that I don't see as much in Europe, from the higher amount of clothing to the nervous body language. You can tell that people wanted to talk and strike up a conversation based on the glares, but seemed apprehensive to do so. In fact, I think we only managed to talk to foreigners the whole night, who seemed to feel the same as us. Nevertheless, it is a fun place to dance to nostalgic hits until 4 am, long past the closing time of most other places.
Mid-way through the week, we met up with a new friend at a place called Cafe Manhattan (or just Manhattans) in De Waterkant, an area known for being the gay haven of Cape Town. The place served up some nice cocktails (go for a brandy and coke 🙃) and food and was a good place to make up for the lack of conversation we had at Pink Candy. This seems to be the place to go when you want to have a mid-week drink or get your weekend started, as it closes relatively early. For me, it had pretty good vibes and I stopped by a few more times during my trip.
As the days went on, we began to realize just how small the community was, often seeing people that we had seen in Pink Candy or Manhattans around town, especially at the gym. The more people we talked to, I couldn't help but notice a bit of a reserved-ness in actually calling it a community. Many guys on Grindr kept discreet profiles as not to be spotted around town and when I mentioned Pride events, some guys were just completely unaware that anything was going on. On top of it, like many other gay-centric places around the world, I felt like the focus was often having the most ripped body, but alas, this is more of a problem in the gay world as a whole and not just Cape Town.
At one point, we ended up at a street event called Buddies, where it seemed like the entirety of the Cape Town gays were squashed together in a few square meters, the only thing breaking the awkwardness and overwhelmingness of it all being alcohol. Even our local friend, cringed at the thought of having to be there and mingle with past partners in such a close proximity, but felt obligated to go.
We were definitely happy when our girls showed up to alleviate the awkwardness of the Buddies event
There were some redeeming qualities to the gay-life in the city though. I think my favorite place had to be Zer021, which gave inclusiveness vibes all around. While the other places people exchanged looks, here gays of all backgrounds co-mingled together and watched some hectic drag performances. The club was tiny, but it gave off the community vibe I expect from a more progressively gay city.
The weeks went by and Pride came around on our last weekend. We ended up at a friends place for pre-drinks and then made it to the party at Green Point, next to the stadium. I have to say that event rescued my feelings towards the Cape Town gay scene. In a country blighted in discrimination in many forms, it felt like all the progressive optimists of Cape Town and the world, regardless of race, class, sexual orientation, gender came together in a place and could laugh and dance and be themselves. I'll always remember when the rain started pouring (a first in my whole month in Cape Town) as the performances were happening and ultimately a double rainbow emerged through the clouds.
Obligatory pride kissing photo ❤️
So my overall assessment of the gay scene in Cape Town? I have to admit I didn't love it. From the reserved nature of the guys to the smallness of it all to the overall feeling that there wasn't really a bonded community anywhere, it just wasn't what made South Africa or Cape Town memorable to me. While this may be the freest place in Africa for gays to live, there is still a lot of homophobia and discrimination. One guy I spoke to at a random bar, blatantly said to Fabio and I that, "There is no place in South Africa for homosexuality." Hearing things like this are proof the scene has a long way to go before it can rivals places in Europe and even the US.
Regardless, it is getting there and that is ultimately what is most important. For a big country on a massive continent with loads of problems, it is a relief to see that there is a safe-haven for the LGBTQ+ community that is only continuing to grow and I think time will work wonders on the Cape Town gay world!