Vertiginous Vodka: The Best Rooftop Bars in Johannesburg

By: Keith Bain

June 10, 2013

By day, Johannesburg can feel like a money-making treadmill, beset by single-minded movers and shakers jostling to do their bit to make this vast, sprawling city Africa’s economic powerhouse. But ask anyone here with a social bone in their body, and they’ll tell you that Jozi is all about its nightlife – although the merry-making frequently straddles both sides of the after-dark divide. And the vast range of bars in Johannesburg means you’ll find something to your taste no matter what your particular poison.

Radium Beer Hall | Johanesburg

Live music at Radium © Radium Beer Hall

You can slink into sleek, sexy clubs like Taboo in Sandton or head for historic bars like Radium Beer Hall, Jo’burg’s oldest, where top live music acts frequently accompany the warm-hearted atmosphere and cheap Portuguese meals. It’s the radiant, timeless crowd that really makes it tick, though – some of the regulars have been coming for decades.

Taboo | Johannesburg

Sleek interiors at Taboo © Taboo

In the city centre, Braamfontein’s Kitchener’s Carvery Bar is the second-oldest watering hole in town, its pressed ceilings and damask wallpaper offset by DJs spinning a sharp mix of house, hip-hop, funk, and Afrobeat. Part of a burgeoning inner-city revival that’s spurred the arrival of hipsters and their disaffected friends, Kitchener’s is next door to the cleverly-designed Great Dane, another sure-bet for rubbing shoulders with a hip, yet unpretentious, crowd.

12 Decades Rooftop Bar | Johannesburg

The rooftop bar at 12 Decades © 12 Decades

Central to Braamfontein’s revived fortunes is Saturday’s Neighbourgoods Market, with artisanal foods on one vast level of a repurposed office block, and clothing, booze and DJ-fuelled beats above – the bopping party that results continues on into the late afternoon, revellers spilling into Kitcheners or Great Dane to carry on into the night.

Randlords | Johannesburg

Panoramic views at Randlords © Randlords

Nearby, though, is the scene for Jo’burg’s most astonishing””and exclusive””after-hours gathering. Set on the 22nd floor of a Braamfontein highrise, Randlords is a private events venue with occasional public openings. It’s reached via a dedicated elevator which whisks you up to a congregation of the city’s flashest scenesters sinking premium cocktails and craft beer. In winter, it’s worth wrapping up warmly for impressive views across the neon-twinkling city when the air is crisp, clear, and rain-free.

12 Decades suites | Johannesburg

Artist-designed suites at 12 Decades © 12 Decades

If you’ve had your fill of skyline views, there’s plenty of nightlife down on ground level, too, including Bassline, which is always buzzing and hosts top drawer live music acts from across the African continent.

Finally, no matter what your poison, it pays to remember that, in Jo’burg, a jol (pr. jawl) is a party (of any kind), while a joller is a party-animal. And typically, everyone here is looking for the next jol.

Virgin Atlantic operates a daily flight to Johannesburg from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Are you a Jozi joller? If you have any more bars to add to this list, do let us know!


Keith Bain

Cape Town-based writer Keith Bain has co-authored guidebooks to India, South Africa, Eastern Europe, Kenya & Tanzania, Ireland, and Italy. He also co-wrote A Hedonist's guide to Cape Town, and is the co-founder of Best Kept (, a bespoke trip-planning company that tailors holidays in India and Africa.

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