Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, there lived a 17-year old maiden. She was tall and a little gawky and awkward but was filled with the joy that can only come with finishing school, taking off ones’ tatty old school shoes for the last time and walking out of the school gates, never to look back. Freedom.
But what does that have to do with Joburg I hear you ask, knowing that I went to school in ‘n verkrampte small town in North West? Hold your horses, I’m getting there. This leads us into the last time I stayed in Braamfontein. Somebody’s boyfriend’s brother’s cousin (or somesuch) was a student at WITS and let a bunch of us stay in his tiny flat in one of the maze of city streets, so we could go clubbing and celebrate our new-found freedom after finishing matric.
That was 25 years ago. Since then I’ve watched from afar – having transplanted from Gauteng to the blissful Eastern Cape to Cape Town in those 25 years – as stories of rampant crime, degradation and sadness in Jozi’s once vibrant city streets filtered through. In the past few years, though, there have been happier stories, regeneration like only South Africa can do.
I’ve been longing to check it out, and to recapture that sense of freedom I had as a 17-year old (without having to go back to boarding school, heaven forbid). There’s nothing like city streets to do that, so when Once in Joburg invited us over, the answer was an immediate yes. And boy was it worth it.
Just landing in Joburg and catching the Gautrain (an easy way from O.R. Tambo to Once in Joburg, with one change of train and a quick taxi ride from Park Station) gives me city butterflies – there’s something delightedly delicious about the busy-ness and rush of a real city. And Joburg is filled-to-overflowing with the cool kids. Cool kids that aren’t just cool, they’re friendly too.
Once in Joburg is on De Korte Street, slap-bang in the middle of Joburg and humming with vibe. It’s the poster-child for ‘poshtels’. Yip, I said poshtel. It’s a thing. According to Wiktionary:
poshtel (plural poshtels)
I, too, when I thought of a hostel, was filled with visions of bunk beds a-jumping with bedbugs and unwashed 20-something year olds ‘discovering themselves in Africa’. Once in Joburg is the polar opposite – it’s a really clean, well-serviced and expertly run establishment which, while it does offer ‘dorm-type’ accommodation, also offers en-suite double rooms and family rooms.
The clientele, far from being unwashed and 20, range from (clean and fun) youngsters to families to 40-ahem year olds.We had a double room which was spacious and spotless, with en-suite bathroom, crisp white sheets and all the makings for tea and coffee. It certainly put the ‘posh’ in poshtel.
The hotel has everything a backpacker (and the rest of us!) would need – a board covered in activities, both offered in-house and out, and on the first floor, a communal area which includes facilities for cooking and storing food and for much socialising, like the regular weekly braai.
There’s also The Immigrant where, in the mornings, breakfast is served (go for the Shakshuka, it’s fabulous) and, throughout the day, snacks, meals and drinks, with an open balcony with twinkly fairy lights. If you’re needing a night in, here’s the spot. We joined lovely Sophie for a drink and to hear the story of ‘Once’ and how they’re making great strides in bringing business back into the CBD and encouraging all sorts of incredible small business ideas.
The area in which it is situated is vibey, noisy and happening. Through a path around the back you’ll find yourself in The Grove, a square that is filled with those cool kids I mentioned above, hanging out at the tables on the square of a couple of restaurants, music pumping. It’s fantastic.
We sat there for hours, me doing what I love best: people-watching and being filled with pride and hope for this country watching the youth that are coming up (sheesh, I sound old). It made me certain there’s definitely a happily ever after to this.
Once in Joburg has an accessible room. The bathroom is tiny (see pic above), with a shower with a lip so it’s a bit of a squeeze but, if you can walk a little, it’s fine. The bedroom (carpeted) is spacious, with plenty of transfer room and a good height bed. There are lifts, both small, so check measurements if you have a big wheelchair. Most importantly, everyone there is incredibly helpful, so just ask.
The area around Once in Joburg is fabulously accessible – the path to The Grove is ramped and the area is flat, so you can spend some time exploring without needing to get in a car. Do remember, though, this is a city like any other city in the world – don’t go wandering around at night or flash your valuables around. Even better, leave them in the safe.
Feel free to contact me if you want more info.