Braamfontein today is largely unchanged from 30 years ago. It seems like it's always just been this way, but it started off as a farm around 1853 and became a residential suburb from 1890s lasting right up to the 1970s. During the economic and building booms of the 1930s and 1950s, businesses relocated to the area, and blocks of houses and old churches were demolished to make way for commerce. The expanding JHB train station swallowed the old Wanderers club and sport grounds in the 1940s. The Civic Centre development in the late 1960s took up a whole grid of suburban houses.
Slowly but surely the suburb became a business hub that also included residential flats and other businesses to cater for students at WITS and the legions of office workers that filled the buildings during the day.
There has always been an element of nightlife in Braamfontein. From the late 1980s to early 2000s there were venues like The Dirtbox, Wings Beat Bar, Dukes and Therapy.
Braamfontein's recent nightlife revival started around 2009, when Andrew Clements began using and hiring out the old Milner Park Hotel as a DJ venue. Kitcheners has led the way to establishing Braamfontein as a left-of-centre clubbing and bar destination. Venues like Great Dane
and The Orbit Jazz Lounge
have recently found homes and crowds in the old suburb.
Milner Park Hotel, or Kitcheners as it is known today, is considered the second oldest bar in Johannesburg. It is certainly the oldest building left in Braamfontein and is among one of the few remaining Victorian buildings in Johannesburg built before 1900. It stands on the corner of De Beer and Juta streets which, in the 1890s, had a very strong German community with thriving German owned businesses (and was even know as 'Little Germany'). According to Mike Bosazza's piece in the Johannesburg Heritage Journal, it was built in 1898 and was originally known as the Hansa Bar and Hotel. Unfortunately the plans for the hotel no longer exist, making it difficult to verify. Looking at dated plans from buildings and other hotels close by, the date is plausible.
The piece below is from 101 Beloved Bars of Southern Africa. We now know the name 'lost in the mists of time' that it refers to.
"In 1899, southern Africa slipped into the cataclysmic Boer War, also known as British high commissioner Sir Alfred Milner's 'Little War'. At the end of the conflict in 1902, Milner had a meeting with the strong-willed commander of the British forces General Lord Kitchener of Khartoum, at a small, newly built hotel in what is now Braamfontein. This inn, whose name is lost in the mists of time, served as a watering hole for British troops and as a stopover for postal riders between Johannesburg and Pretoria.
It is not clear if Milner had by then won Kitchener over, or what they discussed. What is known is that they met in the hotel's carvery bar: an intimate room with a small, leather padded elbow-rest wooden bar, pressed-steel ceiling, smoked-glass-partioned kiosks, sash windows, heavy drapes and velvet-patterned wallpaper. Soon after, this establishment changed its name to the Milner Park Hotel, and the pub to Kitchener's Carvery Bar in acknowledgment of the honour bestowed on them. Today this hotel and pub are respectively the second oldest in the city after the Booysens Hotel and the Guild Hall..."
It appears that at least in the Carvery Bar, nothing has changed. It is this old world charm and history (combined with some great parties) that make it such an unforgettable venue.