Culture + Style

Woodstock Revealed: Exploring Cape Town’s Creative Experiment

There is no better place for visitors to grapple with how Cape Town fits into the modern world than Woodstock. This gritty yet inspiring neighborhood has become a laboratory where Cape Town experiments and iterates on what it means to be a global African city, tries on a variety of different outfits, and decides whether or not it likes what it sees in the mirror.

You’ll find urban decay and the unpleasant side of gentrification, but you’ll also find world-class chefs, innovative entrepreneurs and a whole lot of optimism.

Tap into the trends that are reshaping this neighborhood at a handful of inspiring hangouts, where you’ll also discover the local talent behind the scenes.

The Woodstock Exchange

Today this four-story urban-industrial landmark is home to a mix of independent eateries, boutique retailers and coworking spaces, where many a successful startup has been incubated. It was once the Woodstock Industrial Center, and its tenants weren’t fintech startups or designer studios. They were mostly textile workshops, before South Africa’s clothing industry started feeling the effects of fierce competition from Asia.

But with change comes opportunity, as every entrepreneur will tell you. And that’s exactly what three property developers saw when they began transforming both this building and the iconic Old Biscuit Mill, home to The Test Kitchen, into the creative hubs that they are today.

Woodstock is going through a similar evolution to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Williamsburg. Some call it urban renewal, others gentrification. It happens for many reasons, and most people agree that its accompanying growing pains are inevitable.

If you want to delve deeper and hear the story of how Woodstock became the hub for Cape Town’s thriving startup ecosystem, check out the downloadable audio tour in VoiceMap’s smartphone app.

You’ll hear from a handful of residents who are feeling the effects of this changing landscape, as well as from one of The Woodstock Exchange’s oldest tenants, who created this audio tour for visitors and curious locals.

Revive yourself with a fresh coffee at Rosetta Roastery, which sources single-origin coffee beans across the African continent. Or if you’re a cyclist, pop into Starling & Hero Bicycle Café for juices and healthy meals with a 10 percent cyclists’ discount. You’ll even find a public workbench with bike tools for your convenience.

World-Class Street Art

Explore the neighborhood’s street art scene on foot, including murals by European, Asian and African graphic artists. There’s an evolving array of art down several alleyways around The Woodstock Exchange.

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Take a street art tour through the neighborhood. (Photo: Alamy)

Ask a local to show you the art for a prearranged fee, or download VoiceMap’s Woodstock Street Art Tour via their smartphone app for a couple of dollars. A local artist’s voice guides you to each artwork using your GPS location, with a royalty paid to them for every download.

Keep an eye out for a few inimitable photo opportunities along the way. Could there be a more archetypal Woodstock composition than a bright slice of mural art, Table Mountain and the scaffolding of tomorrow’s skyscrapers?

The Old Biscuit Mill

Housed in — you guessed it — an old biscuit mill, The Old Biscuit Mill is one of Woodstock’s most popular hipster hangouts. You’ll find day and night markets selling everything from fresh vegetables to pseudo–street food for the health conscious (think gluten-free vegan pizzas or sugar and lactose-free ice cream).

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The Old Biscuit Mill is a must-visit hub. (Photo: Alamy)

It’s also home to a charming array of designer stores and boutiques where you can pick up a handcrafted souvenir, original art or an inspired new outfit. You’ll also find a handful of coworking spaces and trendy restaurants — among them, The Test Kitchen.

The Test Kitchen

This celebrated restaurant opened its doors in 2010, paving the way for Woodstock to take its place on the international gastronomic stage. TTK (as it’s known to insiders) was ranked 22 in The World’s Best Restaurant Awards in 2016 and has since been served up a smorgasbord of awards, propelling local chef Luke Dale Roberts’ growing portfolio of restaurants to cult status.

Picture a moodily lit, lounge-style space with low chairs, wooden counters and a touch of brass: the Dark Room. You sip on an herb-infused stinging nettle cocktail, nibbling at British-style pork scratchings dipped into a metal mug of foamy milk stout. There’s a knock at a brass door, and you’re ushered into the Light Room.

Here, TTK’s culinary art unfolds before your eyes as a team of graceful chefs works its magic in an open kitchen, center stage, taking this sensory escapade to another level. They say that the proof is in the pudding. (In this case, it is petit fours with lemongrass gummy bears.) But in order to ensure that you actually get to taste TTK’s proverbial pudding, you’ll need to book at least two months in advance.