14 bars, 5 cities, 1 continent: a snapshot of Africa’s fast-emerging bar scenes

Brian Owango - 18/08/2020

Brian Owango, The World’s 50 Best Bars Academy Chair for Africa – East is at the forefront of the continent’s drinking culture. In this essential guide he gives you the lowdown on five African cities with serious cocktail credence, providing everything you need to know about the bars to go to and the essential detail to start planning a bar-focused trip of a lifetime as air routes open up


Get there: TAP, Emirates
Where to stay: Epic Sana
Currency: Kwanzas. 1US$ = 595 Angolan Kwanzas
Good to know: Angolans are fun-loving party people; they do not mince words…
Mood: Brazil in Africa – the music never stops

The bay of Luanda is the party capital of Africa. Bar culture in Angola is flashy, dripping with style and quite expensive – it’s like going out in Geneva, Switzerland, only with a significant difference in ambient temperature. If you want to keep up, revamp your wardrobe and improve your party stamina. Whisky and cognac lead the way here and the musical vibe in upmarket bars in Luanda – as in most of Africa – drifts towards afro house, but to experience the true heartbeat of the city, you have to escape to one of the Kizomba- and Semba-specific joints to enjoy some dancing.

Lookal Beach Club
LBC is a welcome escape from the hustle of Luanda life. What stands out is the bar’s ode to the region as expressed by the drinking cultures of Benguela, Lobito, Huambo, Malange and Luanda – all major cities and cultural sites within the country. This is a welcome breath of fresh air on a continent that battles daily with losing historic traditions because of the fast-paced, yet short-termist gratification of the modern world. Book a table early; LBC is a members’ club but does accept non-members.

Location: Rua Murtala Mohammed, 13
Signature drink: Malange
Average price of a cocktail: $20 - 25

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Café Del Mar

Clean lines meet Afro chic at this stunning beachside venue in Luanda’s exclusive Ilha district. For unforgettable sundowners, there’s no better spot. The Mwana Pow cocktail has been voted the best cocktail in Luanda and the venue is host to Angola’s premier bartender, Campos Black. The venue name may sound familiar, but the vibe is fully Angolan.

Location: Ilha (pronounced eel-yah) District of Luanda
Signature drink: Mwana Pow
Average price of a cocktail: $20 - 25


Get there: Emirates, Qatar, Turkish Airlines, British Airways, KLM, Ethiopian Airlines
Where to stay: Ole Sereni Hotel, Ibis Styles, Sankara Hotel, Air BnB in Westlands
Currency: Kenyan Shillings. 1US$ = 109 Kenyan Shillings
Good to know: Most major global apps work here. Get a local sim card for less than $1 on arrival and pay for nearly anything in Kenya using a mobile money app on your phone
Mood: Fast-paced drinking and singing

Nairobi is a heady mix of cosmopolitan chic colliding with a rural aesthetic. Generally, Kenyans love to congregate, share stories and eat over a long afternoon of drinks, local music and a barbecue (nyama choma) at their favourite local joint. Take some time to understand the roots of the benga music which will proved the backing track to your stay: its protest-driven and rebellious lyrics are equal parts beguiling and addictive.

This bar marries the convenience and familiarity of a busy hotel bar with the essence of escape associated with a Prohibition-style speakeasy. Walking through the doors, you immediately forget about the hotel location, the city and the time. This outlet has managed to link fantasy and reality in its delivery of colour, flair and revelry. Stroll up to the bar or grab a table and ask the resident mixologist what he’s inspired by that day, then enjoy the creative journey.

Location: Trademark Hotel
Signature Drink: Loki’s Cup
Average Price of a Cocktail: $10 -15

It’s increasingly difficult to find hideaway bars in residential areas of Nairobi but Revolver seems to have cracked it and it delivers a drinks experience to be applauded. It is one of those ‘if you know, you know’ bars, tucked quietly in the Kyuna residential estate, serving up an exciting variety of out-of-the-box libations.

Location: Kyuna
Signature drink: Cedar-Smoked Prohibition Old Fashioned
Average price of a cocktail: $10 -15

Mulberry at The Alchemist
Originally a concept built for New York City, the founder of Mulberry pushed the boat out to try his hand at bringing NYC bar flair to the Kenyan capital.  The talented cocktail-savvy team pushes a three-step menu that directs you to choose a spirit, flavour and a style, but if you really want to taste how good they are at making drinks, describe what you like and ask for something off-menu. 

Location: The Alchemist, heart of Westlands
Signature drink: Love Potion
Average price of a cocktail: $8 -12

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Get there: Kenya Airways
Where to stay: Highlands House in Ballantyne Park
Currency: Zim Dollars. 1US$ = 362 Zim$
Good to know: Zimbos are warm people. It’s easy to make new friends and do not dwell on the previous regime – it’s a buzz-kill
Mood: A place in the throes of a positive paradigm shift

Despite its torrid recent history, when you arrive in Zimbabwe you’ll quickly realise what a serenely beautiful country it is and just how hospitable Zimbos are by nature. The bars here feel very much like the bars in Kenya, in the sense that patrons tend to start off drinking beer and wine before graduating to whisky and cocktails as the night progresses. The musical offering leans towards afro house as the evening’s tempo increases but you can still find outlets belting out the guitar-led sungura music that once defined Zimbabwe.

The Jam Tree
Good people, great vibe and amazing food and drinks.  One of the things that makes The Jam Tree stand out is the on-site Artisan Wine Shop & Craft Beer, unique in Harare.

Location: 40 Bargate Road, Mount Pleasant
Signature Drink: Frozen Blue Litchi Daiquiri
Average Price of a Cocktail: $5-7

Pariah State
The Pariah State is self-titled as ‘the best bar in Africa’, with its unapologetic rustic shebeen chic vibe, authentic décor and a muzak selection that will keep your head bobbing throughout your stay.

Location: 1 Pomona Shops, Harare
Signature Drink: N/A
Average Price of a Cocktail: $5-7

Pabloz VIP & Deck
Pabloz is definitely the kind of bar that you want to finish up in at the end of an evening. It’s a bottles and brews type of place where you get your squad together for a bunch of drinks and a dance. Look out for the famous Sushi Sunday experience and book early to get a table on the deck upstairs. 

Location: Sam Levy’s Village, Borrowdale
Signature Drink: Stick with beer or go with a fresh, simple drink
Average Price of a Cocktail: $5-7

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Get there: Most major airlines into Dar es-Salaam, then hop on a ferry to Zanzibar
Where to stay: Zanzibar Serena, Stone Town B&B in Stone Town, then The Zanzibari ot Mnarani Beach Cottages in the North
Currency: Tanzanian Shillings. 1$ = 2325 Tshs
Good to know: Zanzibar is very open. It thrives on tourism but it is still a mainly Islamic Island. Ensure T-shirts and shorts are worn in Stone Town. Beverage culture is run by imported talent to Zanzibar Island
Mood: Spice with a big dash of island friendliness

Cruising Zanzibar feels like taking a step back in time while enjoying glimpses of the modern day. It’s refreshing to see that the architectural style of the island has largely been protected and it is within these old buildings that you will find some decent bars to check out. Bongo Flava is Tanzanian pop music, with an incredibly infectious sound, and most bars are proud to play it across the island. Cocktail culture is driven by all descriptions of available rum; however, you must try your first daiquiri with Tanzanian local rum – Konyagi.

6 Degrees South
This marks a perfect retreat from the heat of the day. Escape the streets, sample the Zanzibari-inspired tapas menu, grab a cocktail and watch the world-famous sunset.

Location: Shangani, Waterfront
Signature drink: Tropi-Colada
Average price of a cocktail: $5-7

When you are done with Stone Town, venture to the north of the island to experience a true taste of beach life, Zanzibari-style. Heading to Chollos is a pilgrimage visit; there was a time when there wasn’t much else in Nungwi apart from this bar and it is as special today as it was then. It’s recommended to order up a cold one here, listen to a few stories or sit in a hammock and slow down for a minute before you proceed across the beachfront to the rooftop bar at the Z Hotel to watch the sun go down.

Location: Nungwi Beach
Signature Drink: Cold beer 
Average Price of a Cocktail: $5-7

Rooftop Bar, Z Hotel in Nungwi
Sundowners are the name of the game here. The tables get occupied fairly quickly, so try to arrive by 16:30 and be prepared to transcend. The Rooftop Bar has a revolving door of cocktails through the harvest seasons. Ask your server which fruit and spices on the island are in season and make your choice (of daiquiri) based on that.

Location: Nungwi beach
Signature Drink: none
Average Price of a Cocktail: $7 - 10

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Get there: South African Airways, Kenya Airways, Emirates, Qatar, British Airways
Where to Stay: The Silo
Currency: South African Rand. 1$ = 17.5 Rand
Good to Know: A hugely creative bar scene with world-class practitioners
Mood: A mountain vibe meets the sea in this fully fledged rainbow nation

Cape Town is stunning. Her natural beauty and vibrancy provide the perfect backdrop for an array of interesting bar experiences. South Africa – once known as the continent’s number one producer of quality wine – is making waves in the craft gin world. The levels of creativity and expression are unparalleled in Africa today and its music scene is fast being exported the world over alongside its wines and spirits.

The Gin Bar
This place evokes memories of its history as a former medical facility, with hospital-style accents throughout with chequerboard floors and open spaces connecting the buildings that comprise the bar. If nothing but for pure indulgence, you must try the range of house remedy G&Ts designed specifically for: Hope, Head, Heart, Ambition and Soul. Home to over 70 local gins, this is a rightly celebrated outlet that should be on every traveler’s itinerary.

Location: 64A Wale Street, Cape Town
Signature Drink: Five House Remedy G&Ts
Average Price of a Cocktail: $10 - 15

The Art of Duplicity
This secret venue is reminiscent of the prohibition era when the desires of the well-to-do were fulfilled in debaucherous settings, hidden away from the scrutiny of authority. With some of South Africa’s bartending heavyweights brought in to curate the experience, you can expect incredible attention to detail in the drinks offering, service and overall delivery.

Location: It’s a Secret
Signature Drink: This is a secret, too
Average Price of a Cocktail: $12 - 18

Cause and Effect Cocktail Kitchen
Cause and Effect offers arguably South Africa’s most in-depth journey into the flavours of the Cape. The team has created a liquid lab and kitchen where it extracts the finest of Fynbos [a belt of heathland in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape provinces] and delivers them to your glass. Book early: the Cape Flavour Experience is popular and very much sought after.

Location: The Rocket Shed, 280 Dock Road, Victoria and Alfred Waterfront
Signature Drink: No signatures, personal pours are encouraged
Average Price of a Cocktail: $10 - 15

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