Text & Photographs by Chris Marais
Additional Research (and designated driving) by Julienne du Toit
It’s taken me more than a decade of rootling about the utter vastness of the Karoo to snuffle out these wonderful drinking spots.
As with most lively travel stories, this piece should come with some kind of health warning. Do not operate heavy machinery while following this route.
Right, so are we packed and ready then? Let’s start up in the Eastern Cape, right here in my home town of Cradock. Then we’ll move on to the Northern Cape and Western Cape.
1. The Albert Bar, Victoria Manor, Market Street, Cradock
Overlanders heading for Christmas coastal spots in December and water athletes taking on The Fish River Canoe Marathon in October know this beloved little pub in Cradock well.
More precisely, they know Amos Nteta, the smiling face of the Vic Manor.
Tel: 048 881 1322
2. Boetie’s Pub, Nieu-Bethesda
Boetie’s Pub is snugged at the back of The Village Inn in Nieu-Bethesda. It’s possibly the tiniest bar in the Karoo, but it punches way above its weight – just ask the faithful locals.
Boetie Bester loves to tend a bar. He is also the Garlic Baron of the village and once came 17th in the World Trucking Champs.
He has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/BoetiesPub/
3. The Brewery, Nieu-Bethesda
This experience begins with a ploughman’s platter for lunch and has been known to extend well into the afternoon.
The setting is “Karoo complete” with goats and windmills. The food is simple and delicious and the range of natural ales is legendary.
Tel: 049 841 1602
4. The Graaff-Reinet Club
Home to Graaff-Reinetters and the British Coldstream Guards (their pub of choice in the Anglo-Boer War), the former men’s-only club has been going since 1875.
There are bullet holes in the counter and old hunting trophies and cartoon caricatures on the walls.
Tel: 049 892 4248
5. Pepi’s Bar, The Willow Historical Guest House, Willowmore
If you’re a fan of historic old signs, you’re probably going to spend far too much time in this Willowmore pub.
The owner, Pepi van der Merwe, has collected Apartheid-era signs, lots of “petroliana” and locomotive emblems.
Tel: 044 923 1574
6. Wolwefontein Hotel Bar
Wolwefontein is a little railway siding in the Eastern Cape, at the crossroads of the R329 to Steytlerville and the R75 between Jansenville and Port Elizabeth.
The hotel (and bar) used to be a favoured haunt with the smouse (travelling salesmen) of yore.
Contact: Marius & Malie Herselman
7. Nigel’s Pub, The Angler & Antelope Guest House, Somerset East
When you stay over at the Angler & Antelope in Somerset East, you can go trout fishing with the owner and get to brag about your catch that evening in a pub that used to be part of a Roman Catholic church.
Tel: 042 243 3440
8. Die Krip, Richmond
Owned by one Saag Visagie, this colourful pub in Richmond, Northern Cape, sports a row of saddle-barstools in keeping with the fact that you’re deep in Karoo Stud (horses, of course) Country.
Tel: 082 9449 240
9. The Occidental Bar, Old Town, Kimberley
This ornate drinking spot in Kimberley is a replica of the original Occidental Bar in the Old Town next to The Big oHole.
The restored complex is a great visitor experience – and a bar lunch at The Occidental is a recommended element of your visit.
Tel: 053 830 4418
10. Star of the West, Kimberley
The Star of the West was a ship that ran aground off the West Coast, and large sections of its timbers were reconstituted here as the bar counter.
“The Star”, launched in 1870, is one of Kimberley’s many top historical watering holes.
Tel: 053 832 6463
11. Halfway House Hotel, Kimberley
Another historic Kimberley pub, “The Half” was made famous by Cecil John Rhodes who used to stop here for a drink during visits from mine to mine.
According to legend, Rhodes used to drink while mounted. As such, it remains the only licensed “drive-in bar” in the world.
Tel: 053 831 6324
12. The Kimberley Club
This old club – now also a boutique hotel – once sported “more millionaires to the square foot than any other place in the world”, according to legend.
An evening at the Kimberley Club will recall the heady old diamond days – and the pub stories are legion.
Tel: 053 832 4224
13. The Crown & Royal Hotel, Modder River
You should stop here for a drink en route to the Magersfontein Battle Site south of Kimberley.
The Crown & Royal, more than 120 years old, was a British HQ during the Anglo-Boer War. Rudyard Kipling himself favoured a libation at this bar.
Tel: 082 663 3512
14. The Blikkies Bar, Carnarvon
The Blikkies Bar at Carnarvon’s Hotel Blikkies is sports dining facilities, a juke box, a bar and thousands of beer tins on the walls.
It’s definitely It’s the kind of place you should put on your Karoo Bucket List.
Tel: 060 370 1497
15. The Doppies Bar, Williston Mall, Williston
Welcome to the buzziest bar in the Upper Karoo, where owner Pieter Naude will entertain you with tales of his wonderfully eccentric little village.
The Williston Mall staff will feed you as well, and afterwards you can go on a tour of the courtyard, where rusted junk has been turned into timeless art with the sense of humour.
Tel: 053 391 3659
16. Van Zylsrus Hotel Bar
The sign out front says “Relax, this is Van Zylsrus”. And so you do.
OK, so now we’re out of the Karoo and into the Deep Kalahari, but it’s still an important element of your drinking list. This hotel, with its lovely bar, is a true oasis for travellers heading to and from the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park.
Tel: 053 781 0201
17. Onverklaar Bar, Tankwa Tented Camp, The Tankwa Karoo
In this crazy pub, there’s a large wooden box appropriately called Pandora and its full of dress-up items – perfect for your Tankwa Pop-Up Party.
There is good drumming, compelling music and the best thing of all is your tent is a very short stroll away.
Tel: 071 977 8946
18. Werskwinkel Bar, Tankwa Padstal, Tankwa Karoo
Not far down the pike is another amazing Karoo bar, right next to an equally eccentric padstal. Instead of burglar bars, the Werskwinkel (Workshop) Bar has pitchforks welded together.
Bar chairs were once galvanised iron tubs. There is a deconstructed windmill. A waterbuck smoking a cigarette and a Barbie doll on a braai griddle.
Perfect for the long distance overlander with an eye for the unusual.
Please Note: There is currently no available telephone number for the Tankwa Padstal.
19. The Laird’s Arms Pub, Lord Milner Hotel, Matjiesfontein
Once you’ve had your quick tour of Matjiesfontein on the red London bus, with one Johnny Theunissen as your guide, pop into the famous Laird’s Arms for a beer and a song.
The atmosphere is Victorian, the food is good and there’s even a TV upstairs for the armchair sportsman.
Tel: 023 561 3011
20. Ronnie’s Sex Shop & Road Kill Cafe, between Barrydale and Ladismith, Route 62
The most famous roadside pub on Route 62 is still going strong, and attracting more overlanders than ever before.
It’s well merchandised and fun. And still worth a place on your Bucket List of Karoo Pubs. Just take it easy – the road is long.
Tel: 028 572 1153
21. The Karoo Saloon Rock Roadhouse on Route 62
We keep the coolest for last. The roadside sensation of Route 62, one of the world’s favourite road trip destinations, is the Karoo Saloon about 30 klicks west of Barrydale. It’s big news: rock music hits the Karoo.
Visit their website for updates and info: www.karoosaloon.com
For more Karoo travel insights and attractions, here’s a Fantastic Discount Special from our e-Bookshop.