There’s a party rumbling in Johannesburg (a.k.a. Joburg or Jozi), the sprawling South African city known for being rough, graffitied and weighed down by years of postapartheid tensions. The inner city’s derelict warehouses and abandoned industrial complexes have been repopulated by the young and ballsy; there’s tons of street style, art happenings, strong coffee and good music. Keep your wits about you and get moving.
The hippest address to wake up at: 12 Decades, an avant-garde hotel that anchors the revitalized Maboneng precinct. Rooms are designed by local artists who take cues from various decades of Joburg history. (The Minehaus room, for example, is inspired by Bauhaus and the 1916-to-1926 mining boom.) The hotel occupies the seventh floor of Main Street Life, a concrete building from the 1970s that also houses apartments, an indie movie theater and a rooftop boxing gym you can visit to jab away any lingering jet lag.
If it’s Saturday morning, you’ll want to head straight to Braamfontein, another district pioneered by developers and creative entrepreneurs. Jozi still has some dangerous pockets—it’s wise to make fast friends with locals who can tell you where it’s safe to go—but this area is totally, refreshingly walkable. Mainline caffeine at the Scandinavian-inspired Father Coffee, then hit up Neighbourgoods Market, a veritable daytime drinking party where enterprising Joburgers set up tables with artisanal African foods, local biltong (addictive wild-game jerky), booze-filled coconuts, ironic tees, sunglasses and the like. All the rising millennials in Joburg gather here to hang out and be photographed for fashion blogs.
From here, stroll Juta Street for hoodies and Icon hats at Supremebeing, cool kicks at Prime and fixed-gear accessories at Hunter Cycling. Then duck into the Kitchener’s Carvery Bar for a drink. The old saloon has a laid-back daytime vibe and cute girls selling vintage clothes. You’ll want to circle back here in the evening, though, when it’s jamming with bands, bar food and DJs.
Hop a cab to the impressively engineered Circa on Jellicoe or the reworked gallery complex 44 Stanley for more art, design and food. But if it’s your first time in Joburg, and if you’re not suffering from a midday hangover, the wise move is to check out the Apartheid Museum or the township of Soweto, practically a city within a city with a maze of houses, corrugated shacks, historically significant sites such as the Mandela house, and makeshift bars and food trailers where locals will happily give you a serious South African history lesson.
Come evening, you’ll need to unwind. Back near the hotel, the cutting-edge Museum of African Design, which showcases forward-thinking design from the continent, will be prepping cocktail ingredients for the Commissioner, its newly minted bar and jazz club. The night, however, is still young, and it’s worth finding out if anything cool is happening at Afrikan Freedom Station (facebook.com/afrikanfreedomstation), an experimental jazz venue for South African artists, or the booming club Bassline. On any given night the latter is packed with all kinds of people swaying to all kinds of live jazz, hip-hop, Afro-beat, reggae or other sounds from the diaspora. Sweating, drinking, dancing together—it’s the kind of vibe that gets into your bones and stays long after you’ve left the motherland.