‘This is where you get to release your inner Beyoncé,’ enthuses Victory Stage, manager at Saigon Suzy – a south-east Asian eatery just a stone’s throw from the centre of Rosebank. What begins with properly delicious Vietnamese-style street food often ends up with a karaoke session in one of the private rooms where you can chill with your besties while belting out a favourite tune. ‘We have 60 000 songs,’ she adds. ‘There’s nothing you can’t find.’
Saigon Suzy sits tucked between its sister bistro Social Parkwood and a string of contemporary art galleries. Not long ago, this stretch of Jan Smuts Avenue had hit a downturn. Like much of the Rosebank area, it was caught between an ageing suburban past, and the need to match the burgeoning demand for upmarket residential, retail and business space.
The transformation has been head-turning, thanks in large part to investments of more than R20 billion. ‘Since 2016, Rosebank has been the fastest growing commercial office node in SA,’ says Chris Renecle, MD of Renprop. The offshoot is a large corporate rental base, plus a growing demand for secure short-stay accommodation. And while Rosebank now boasts three malls and a staggering 500 000 m² of commercial space, it has managed to retain its walkability and suburban charm. ‘Two key things make Rosebank an exceptional location,’ adds Chris, whose firm has developed apartment blocks such as The Vantage and The Tyrwhitt. ‘The first is its proximity to the Gautrain, the second is the choice of excellent schools, both here and in the surrounding suburbs.’
‘Today you can walk from the Gautrain, through The Link in the CBD all the way down to Jan Smuts Avenue,’ concurs Rosebank Precinct Manager Lerato Khiba of Excellerate, the firm that manages the public space on behalf of Rosebank’s property owners. In collaboration with the City of Johannesburg, Lerato’s team provides crucial services such as security and waste removal. It also has 23 ambassadors who are trained to assist visitors to the area.
‘The new Rosebank has been likened to a mini Manhattan, and I think that’s a valid description,’ adds Lerato. ‘We are exactly midway between Sandton and the Joburg CBD, which makes for a truly cosmopolitan demographic. Whether you live in one of the new high-rise apartments or are meeting clients at WeWork, people want a safe, engaging environment with plenty of options for entertainment and eating out.’
Where to eat
As Lerato accurately puts it, the various nodes of upper Rosebank have taken on distinctive personalities. ‘The Firs is quite smart, Rosebank Mall is middle of the road, and The Zone @ Rosebank is more out there; younger but uniquely African.’ But what really sets this place apart is the ability to get outdoors and grab a bite in the glorious Joburg sunshine.
In The Zone’s outdoor piazza, there’s everything from ubiquitous fast-food chains to the all-local Father Coffee. Closer to the pedestrianised Cradock Avenue, enjoy a mid-morning pick-me-up at The Patisserie or a New York-inspired breakfast at the always-busy Tashas. For lunch or dinner, Mythos is all terrazzo floors and woven ombré light shades – a Greek-isle atmosphere, good for east-coast sole and calamari.
A short Uber trip away, the Keyes Art Mile offers its own brand of dining – a stylish spin-off of the adjacent galleries and design stores. ‘The burgers at BGR are to die for!’ says Lerato of this popular spot. The new Momo Kuro offers tapas, bao, and poke bowls, which are fun for sharing. If Italian is more your thing, Sotto Sopra’s retro-mod interior and friendly service is a worthwhile stop. And for jaw-dropping vistas of the City of Gold, head to Marble – a memorable locale for after-work sundowners or high-end dining.
Nearby, the low-rise landmark of the Rosebank fire station has been beautifully reinvented. While respecting the building’s 1930s heritage, it’s now a mixed-use space, grounded by Brik Cafe at street level. Try their banana-bread oats for a breakfast boost, topped with banana and chocolate nibs.
A few blocks away, Social Parkwood has just opened for the lunchtime crowd. ‘The wonderful thing about Rosebank is that it’s so diverse,’ says owner Bruce Beattie, who also owns Saigon Suzy next door. ‘People are far more open to trying new things, and that energy has lifted the whole Jan Smuts and Bolton Road corner.’ Bruce describes Social as a ‘South African neighbourhood bar’ – ‘It’s about comfort food like burgers, ribs and deep-fried maize balls, backed by excellent craft beers and a quirky little wine list.’
Where to shop
‘Shopping-wise, Rosebank has all the offerings of Sandton, but on a human scale; it’s a lot more palatable,’ says Mikhaela Donaldson, special projects manager at Excellerate. She hits the nail on the head when she describes The Zone as having ‘a bit of Braam in it’ (the downtown area of Braamfontein), without having to immerse yourself completely in the Joburg CBD.
Fashion stores abound, with a positive number of local designers among the international labels. Take Thula Sindi, The Space, Big Blue and Candy SA – South African brands in demand by a young, sophisticated audience. Sportswear- and sneaker lovers will be right at home at Shesha, ellesse, adidas and Puma, while across the way at The Firs, couturier Clive Rundle and jeweller Veronica Anderson have been quietly delighting shoppers for more than 30 years. For gorgeous leather goods, try OKAPI in the Trumpet Building.
If you are in need of a souvenir, the daily Art & Craft Market is worth a browse, as is the Rosebank Sunday Market – a bustling set of stalls on Rosebank Mall’s rooftop. Vibey and easy-going, its vendors offer everything from vintage collectables to children’s face painting.
The Keyes Art Mile
Perhaps no street embodies the happy clash of old and new like Keyes Avenue. Home to the Rosebank Catholic Church (founded in 1936, its beautiful interior is well worth seeing), St Teresa’s School and a public library, it now boasts several art galleries, and a retail and events hub with extraordinary views across Jozi. You’ll find Mesh here too – a particularly stylish co-working space that’s membership based.
Everard Read was founded in the city centre in 1913 and moved to Rosebank in the late ’70s. A compact, light-filled gallery with garden glimpses all around, it’s a wonderful spot to while away an hour. Across the road, its sister gallery Circa has become a Joburg standout, showcasing some of the country’s top contemporary artists. While you’re on the trail, don’t miss the nearby galleries along Jan Smuts Avenue between Bolton and Wells roads. Gallery 2, Lizamore & Associates, and David Krut Projects are a welcome find on this busy stretch, with the Goodman Gallery opposite a must-visit for its thought-provoking works. When you’ve had your fix, circle back up to 54 on Bath – their rooftop champagne bar is just the ticket. Later on, you might just feel like a spot of karaoke.