Thursday, May 27, 2010
Vincent and my dad had to pick up their official race numbers and goody bags a couple of days before the Cape Argus Cycle Tour at the Good Hope Centre (a white elephant of the architectural un-scene) in midtown, Cape Town. So we decided to go en masse, meet fellow-cyclist-friends Benita and Herbert Raubenheimer, pick up the necessary and then go on for early evening drinks to the Grand Cafe in Granger Bay. My mom and I cooled our heels in the Good Hope, thinking optimistically of the promised drinks which lay ahead while studying some of the 35,000 registered cyclists, young and old, thin and fat. We felt sedentary.
My good friend Marijke has said that she refuses to visit the Grand. It occupies the renovated boathouse that had been the last free, public slipway for ordinary (i.e. not rich) local fishermen, gentrifying an institution which had enjoyed a mostly non white patronage. It is now an expensive joint, with pretensions at fusing a South Beach, French Riviera, Cape Town aesthetic.
It is very good to look at:
...once you've negotiated the raw bones, sand parking lot. Once you've wrestled the waiter to the deck, held him down and forced him to take your drinks order. This takes about 15 minutes. Once you've held up the bar at gunpoint, 20 minutes later, demanding said drinks, of which nobody has heard. Once you've explained to an entirely new waiter what the recipe is for a Mojito. Seriously. Once you have been told, upon arrival, by the maitre d', who is freaking out visibly and rushing out the little table in the centre of the sand (and attention - brilliant theatre) ready for two VIP guests, with red roses and Moet on ice - and survived the telling - that you HAVE to vacate your deck table table in 30 minutes because a party has booked it. You don't have your drinks yet but ja well, no fine.
You think about New York, your nice 'private' McNally empire phone number, the table on Saturday night at Minetta Tavern that (you feel certain) is yours to command and you sigh loudly and long-sufferingly, and think rude thoughts. And probably look as insufferable as you feel.
But this is Cape Town. Service is extremely spotty. They fawn all over you, then they disappear. It is a disease which every restaurant seems to suffer.
A woman next to us was casing the place for a possible future party. After she'd seen the shenanigans she got up and left saying, No way.
And then it all changed.
At the appointed hour, we moved off the deck, to the sand, where many tables are set up, with candles. Being treated abominably had made us want to stay.
And Jacob arrived. From Côte d'Ivoire, he had a smile like the sun, charm to match, and fixed everything.
This is the power of one human being, and why, at their best, I love waiters (and barpersons). The previous two, lily white, limp-wristed, incompetent cretins had disappeared and Jacob brought us in quick succession, fresh drinks, menus and food. We shared a pizza, which my parents had enjoyed on a previous visit, and then went berserk and ordered steaks and a Cape lobster pasta for the carbo-loading cyclists. The steak was cooked well, if slightly underdone, and the promised French fries were Cape chips: blond and slightly slap.
I have yet to meet a decent French fry in South Africa. They just can't do it. Maybe they are not double-fried. Not sure. New York is awash in the real thing.
As the evening drew on beautifully embroidered shawls materialized for the three ladies. A naked man also materialized. He stood on the sand stage centre and was escorted out by off-guard security.
People still sat on the sand in overstuffed lounge chairs and uncomfortable-looking chaises near the water. Ships and boats passed. The lights on the other side of Table Bay came on. The VIP girl relaxed and took off her baseball cap.
Would I go back? It's a good place for a drink if you can get it. Call ahead and see if Jacob is working that day. If he isn't, don't go. If you do, you will want to shoot yourself.