Category Archive for Fashion

New Orleans Goth clubs & bars! Hotel Modern, Bellocq cocktails, Southern fusion restaurants.

goth hat, fringe sleeve black dress

New Orleans is one of the world’s most haunted places… so a Goth girl like me fit right in!

Let me be your guide to the spooky side of NOLA. In this post, I’ll take you to a Jack Skellington burlesque show, Krampus devil party, and boudoir bar. I’ll also tell you about the time I ate alligator, and discovered a new appreciation of grits.

Put on your devil horns, and walk this way.

devil shadow

My friend Molly and I were invited to an underground costume party at Siberia (2227 Saint Claude Avenue). This neighborhood, St Roch, is outside the quarter and home to quite a few artist abodes.

To match the evil theme of the night, I wore a Kill Star dress with trailing fringe sleeves. My pointy black hat is handmade by Blablahospital. Run by my friend Ako, the brand makes deconstructed, eccentric “medical punk” fashion.

siberia club bar, new orleans

At the door, we were greeted by a colorful, alternative bunch. The Candy Girl was a sweetheart!

goth clubs, parties new orleans

Why is everyone so “horn-y”? Because this is a Krampus party, held in honor of the holiday folklore devil. St Nicholas rewarded good children with presents, while the Krampus gave the naughty ones a good old spanking. 

krampus devil party

When I took the photo above, I thought to myself, “New Orleans surpassed my expectations.” I wasn’t able to come here for Halloween, but I didn’t feel like I missed out. The city is always up for a crazy costume party. 

(But I would certainly come back for All Hallow’s Eve. I’d love to attend the famous annual events, including the Anne Rice Vampire Ball and Witches’ Ball.)

devil horns hat

Music is everywhere in the city. That night, we saw several indie and rock performers…

sideshow performance nola

… and a painful sideshow act. Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Above, the man has Christmas lights staple-gunned to his skin, and the woman is stringing wire from her nose to her mouth.

hooves feet costume

Molly puns, “People went whole hog or whole hoof on their outfits. Amazing. This town can do costumes like nobody’s business, and for that, it has my eternal devotion.”

krampus christmas costumes

She’s right — the partygoers wore impressive handmade costumes, which represented the horned and hooved Krampus. Several went on stage for the costume contest, and this scary lady won.

green alien head mask

I went to another dark and costume-y event at the Old Marquer Theatre, also located in St Roch. This venue puts on intimate, edgy performances…

nightmare before christmas burlesque

… like a Nightmare Before Christmas burlesque show! Jack Skellington never looked so good. I love seeing local, niche theater like this. (Remember when I saw the Tim Burton musical in Portland?)

pumpkin floor painting

New Orleans could certainly be nicknamed Halloween-Town. In the French Quarter, outside the dive bar Molly’s, I stepped on this smiling pumpkin-face.

pirate's alley bar, absinthe house

I’ll say it again: avoid Bourbon Street, which reminds me of a sticky beer-coated frat party.

Goths and alternative types like to hang out in the less raucous streets of the French Quarter. When I asked for recommendations, quite a few of you suggested Pirate’s Alley Cafe, purveyors of dark spicy rum and absinthe (two of my favorite drinks), and decorated like a scurvy ship.

aunt tiki's, new orleans gothic bars

Aunt Tiki’s (1207 Decatur Street) is another favorite hangout for Gothic and metal music fans.

goth metal music bar

Death haunts the entrance of Aunt Tiki’s. Go ahead and ask the bartenders for local recommendations — they’ll steer you the right way.

the spotted cat jazz new orleans

Frenchman Street is all about live jazz clubs. Our favorite was the The Spotted Cat (623 Frenchman – try to come on weekdays, since it gets crowded on weekends).

Molly muses, “I think bad dancing is contagious, but here, I couldn’t sit still. I felt like we stumbled into another world or era or something that was close to magic. How can that level of talent just be playing jazz in a tiny place with no cover?! The music made me want to dance all of the way home that night.”

hotel modern new orleans lobby

Between dancing with devils and jazzmen, we rested at the hip Hotel Modern (936 St Charles Ave). It’s our kind of place: we received a cocktail upon check-in, saw several film stars in the lobby, and said hello to Miss Scarlet the Eclectus Parrot.

The lobby is full of quirks, like the painting above. (My moon top is also by Kill Star, and my leather skirt is Erbert Chong.)

lee circle statue

Since The Hotel Modern is located at Lee Circle (about a 5 minute taxi ride from the French Quarter), we were close to the action, yet got a quiet rest at night. Molly says, “The staff was really good about answering all of my questions, and the bird seemed to have a good life too. Even though the rooms were simple, I really liked how the hotel felt like you were staying with people you could be friends with.”

tivoli and lee restaurant

We made new pals at Tivoli & Lee, which doesn’t feel like a typical “restaurant in a hotel.” Chef Marcus Woodham was a culinary artist, whipping up creations on the spot to suit our tastes. Molly ate here several times, and calls this her favorite restaurant in New Orleans, hands down.

louisiana fine dining restaurant

I didn’t realize I was a fan of Louisiana food, until I came to Tivoli and Lee. We dove into a “new Southern”  catfish roulade, beet salad, and the creamiest crème brûlée. Molly says, “Our waiters were super cool. It made me feel like I was having dinner in a friend’s home that happened to make some of the best food I’ve eaten in quite a while.”

bellocq cocktail bar

Bellocq cocktail bar also resides in the Hotel Modern. Molly reminisces, “I want to paint a room in a future home that shade of red… probably a bedroom. That bar was straight up sexy.”

new orleans mixology bar

I’m not kidding you — if I could teleport to any bar right now, it would be this one. The roomy, boudoir atmosphere is my type of hangout. And the drinks! The bartenders made me an absinthe cocktail, and a rum daiquiri that fit my tastebuds to a T (I love dark spicy rum, citrus, bitters). It’s probably the best drink I had all year.

hotel modern bellocq lounge

Molly and I also enjoyed the bar’s historical connection. The concept is inspired by E. Q. Bellocq, a 19th century photographer who took images of red light district workers.

court of two sisters jazz brunch

Let’s wrap this up with a few more Southern food recommendations. I ate jambalaya, gumbo, grits and more comfort favorites during jazz brunch, at the Court of Two Sisters. It felt like a scene out of a novel, dining under the canopy of trees, in an elegant Louisiana courtyard.

live jazz music brunch

Molly says, “Again, like all things in NOLA, this should have felt douchey and Disneyworld-ish, but it was delicious food in a beautiful place. Our waiters were attentive and the live jazz was fantastic. All brunch should be like this, particularly including grits.”

live piano bar nola

Kingfish Restaurant took a modern spin on casual Southern cuisine, and succeeded. I sipped a strong Sazerac (a New Orleans cocktail) and we dined to the sounds of live piano.

alligator wings, kingfish restaurant

Look, we ate grits… and alligator wings! It tastes like chicken, perhaps with a milder and sweeter flavor. I’m not kidding you, I’d eat this regularly if I had the chance.

sobou, w hotel new orleans

Sobou at the W Hotel has a hip vibe – we saw a lot of younger people hanging out here. The entrance plays with light, mirrors and rows of bottles.

ice cream appetizer, sobou

The Creole cuisine gets experimental at times, such as duck beignets topped with powdered sugar, and tuna ice cream cone appetizers. Molly says, “I want one of those now. This place surpassed my expectations, in that it was as good as the food was elegantly displayed. I was also wow-ed by how they helped us celebrate my friend’s birthday so smoothly, with a chocolate flourless cake decorated with her name.”

beignets cafe du monde

Finally, one can’t leave NOLA without sampling the famous beignets (donut-like fritters) and cafe au laits, at Cafe Du Monde. After walking for hours, we were relieved to sit down for a snack, and people-watch (Jackson Square is across the road).

Modern Southern cuisine, and an eccentric Goth scene… Now you know why New Orleans stole our hearts! More stories coming up, featuring vampires and graveyards. (All my NOLA coverage is located here.)

PS: Thanks to Qantas Airlines magazine for the Travel Insider interview! The article calls me “one of the best-known names in the blogging world, having authored three books and hosting travel segments for international television networks….”

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Oakland Cat Town Cafe, first to open in USA! ABC Nightline TV interview, Shinjuku Tokyo Robot restaurant.

san francisco Cat Town Café

So many maooos! Last December, I was honored to be interviewed on ABC Nightline, the long-running news program that is broadcast worldwide. The network flew me to San Francisco to be interviewed in a segment about cat cafes and the spread of J-pop culture to America.

If you missed this ABC Nightline episode, don’t fret — you can watch it below and on my YouTube channel. It includes footage of the psychedelic Robot Restaurant in Shinjuku, bikini-clad fembots and kawaii maid cafes!

The TV crew and I filmed at the first cat cafe to open in the USA: Cat Town Oakland (near San Francisco). Unlike Japanese kitty cafes, this one has a meaningful mission: to save at-risk abandoned felines.

Want to peek inside Cat Town and a J-pop mall in San Francisco? Then read on.

erbert chong leather skirt

First, details of what I wore on my TV appearance. There’s a mao-mao peeking out from my striped top! It’s actually a dress by Mandycat in Hong Kong. (Here’s a similar striped top with a bat on it.)

Click the items below, to build an outfit like mine!

japanese cute goth shoes

My long, leather skirt is by the young Hong Kong-based designer, Erbert Chong. Everyone is raving about his leather, edgy yet wearable designs for women. I can’t get over the materials and finish of his pieces — they’re some of my favorite items in my wardrobe right now.

My white creeper shoes, with a pirate bear, are Peace Now. This Japanese brand has unfortunately shut down…

cat silver ring

My coiled, silver 3D bracelet is from Angelica Brigade.

Everyone should have a cat ring, in my opinion! Here’s where you can get a cat-faced ring like mine.

cat town cafe, oakland

Trevor joined me for the ABC Nightline TV news shoot at Cat Town (address: 2869 Broadway in downtown Oakland, California). Not a bad job, playing on-camera with a dozen kitties. (Watch the video here).

Like the Shinjuku cat cafe, the space is creatively decorated with all sorts of climbing platforms and toys.

cat town adoption, cafe oakland

Japanese cat cafes — cute as the concept is — tend to operate a bit like petting zoos. These cafes bring in rare purebred species, like exotic shorthairs, for the customers to enjoy.

In contrast, Cat Town is a partnership with Oakland Animal Services. The cafe provides a stimulating environment for shelter cats, especially the ones who are the least likely to be adopted. Volunteers help to run the space, and the goal is to let these abandoned cats blossom and find permanent adoptive homes. 

funny cat in suit portrait

As soon as you step into Cat Town, you feel that the operation is full of heart. The humans who work here puts the needs of the cats first (and the decor reinforces their prime position!)

cat decorated cookies

The coffee shop is separate from the cat-petting area, but you can bring your latte inside and sip it while playing with cats. The cafe focuses on supporting local businesses, and sells small-batch pastries from a local baker, like cookies laced with “Cattitude.” 

cat cafe rules

Like in the Tokyo cat cafes I visited, there are rules to follow, which keep the cats safe. However, unlike in Asia, guests don’t take off their shoes before entering, nor are they required to sanitize their hands.

(Do you see the Scottish Fold drawing in the top corner? It’s the only fold at the cafe, since this round-faced breed rarely ends up in animal rescues.)

abc nightline tv show reporters

I’ve been chatting with ABC Nightline’s team for some time now, and gave them travel tips when they went to Tokyo. As a follow-up for their Tokyo pop culture stories, I appeared on the show to give background and context on maid, cat and robot cafes in Japan.

Here I am with ABC News presenter Cecilia Vega, and producer / director Nick Capote. They’re so sweet, and we had a fun day together!

Oakland Animal Shelter cats

Cecilia and I wandered around Cat Town, and played with the cats. It’s great to see the strays thriving in this cat-tastic environment.

interior cat cafe oakland california

You can grab a cat toy, and they’ll pounce all over it. The walls are covered with colorful murals, including artwork of Grumpy Cat, Totoro, Nyan Cat and more pop culture icons.

first american cat cafe

The custom-built playgrounds are a tip of the hat to San Francisco’s landmarks, like the Tribune building.

cecelia vega, abc news reporter

Cecilia Vega and I chatted about the appeal of cat cafes, the spread of Japanese concept cafes to North America, and more. Watch our conversation on the ABC Nightline segment. 

oakland cat town

Peekaboo, I see you! The cats have a private room in the back where they can escape the crowds and sleep.

A few of the kitties couldn’t take their paws off our film equipment. Several took a nap in a camera bag.

adopt cats, cat cafe usa

Rescuing and re-homing cats continue to be a challenge in cities worldwide. Animal shelters do great work, but are over-crowded and stressful.

So far, Cat Town is succeeding at giving them space to thrive. 

abc nightline tokyo theme cafes

Already, adoption rates are up: customers will play with the cats and fall in love with one. All the adoptions go through a screening process, to make sure the pets go to secure homes.

cat town, first american cat cafe

The volunteers genuinely care about the cats, and do the best for them. As an example, I noticed that they feed the kitties Wellness — a byproduct-free, grain-free brand that I feed my own Scottish Fold baby, Basil Farrow. The staff told me that they turned down sponsorship offers from big-name cat food companies, since this mass-produced food doesn’t contain the best ingredients for their health. Go Cat Town!

steampunk cat tattoo

Another instance of dedication: co-founder Adam has a tattoo of their coffee partner’s logo (Bicycle Coffee), with cat-ears and whiskers. On the left, Trevor strokes a black cat, which matches his look.

san francisco cat animal shelter

For these reasons, I’ve been recommending Cat Town to everyone who visits San Francisco. It’s the first cat cafe to open up in America, and hopefully sets the standard for a meaningful, adoption-oriented approach.

Entry is by donation; you can reserve a guaranteed visitation time with a minimum $10 donation. Every hour, about 20 people are allowed into the space, and you can play with about 10-15 felines.

waraku ramen, japantown san francisco

Trevor, the ABC team and I took a quick lunch break in SF’s Japan Town. I’m still thinking about the ramen at Waraku, it was that good!

japanese street fashion couple

We continued filming for the episode at New People World, the Japanese fashion mall. (The address and a tour of the boutiques are in my San Francisco shopping guide.)

maruq store, new people world

MaruQ, located on the first floor, remains my favorite store in the Jpop mall. So much cuteness in one room, including brands like Ayammy, Omocat and Liz Lisa.

rilakkuma toys, cute japanese mall

Raise your paw if you love Rilakkuma the bear! (Sadly, this segment was cut from the ABC Nightline feature, but I still wanted to share these images with you.)

japantown san francisco clothing shops

Cecilia and I walked around the store, and chatted about the growing popularity of Japanese street fashion in America. Can you spot Trevor in the background?

cat print dress, japanese goth tattoos

Gothic tattoos and a rainbow cat dress: spooky meets sweet, that’s how we roll.

san francisco gyaru, jpop

The shop girls are adorable as ever. They’re modeling a variety of looks from Japanese style tribes.

yellow heart shaped sunglasses

Trevor couldn’t resist getting these sunglasses. “And I won’t break your heart shaped glasses.”

For more info on where to get Goth, vintage, alternative and kawaii clothing, check out my San Fran shopping guide.

furry rainbow backpacks

A million “arigatos” for the ABC Nightline team, for having me on the program!

new people world fashion mall

Please take a moment to watch my interview on ABC Nightline! The segment includes crazy footage from the Robot Restaurant in Japan (with robot-women performers), maid cafes, and cat cafes in Tokyo and California.

scottish fold cat cafe

Have you ever been to a cat cafe? Would you want one to open in your hometown?

Shop my ABC TV outfit below…

Alternative Art in New Orleans: Goth cute fantasy paintings! Royal Street galleries, French Quarter.

new orleans mardi gras street

New Orleans, you’re my kind of place! The photo above says it all — NOLA is full of eccentric characters, flamboyant costumes, and live jazz in the streets.

I dove into the “American Horror Story” side of the city, and felt the magic from the very first day. Together, let’s explore the alternative art scene, including the galleries on Royal Street and a “kawaii” portrait painting.

long blue plaid skirt, vintage fashion blogger

What I wore in New Orleans…

Deconstructed top/jacket from my friend Ako, creator of Japanese punk label Blablahospital.
Black crop top like this one, a versatile garment that can be worn under layers.
Checkered skirt from Alice’s Pig. Winter is the perfect time to rock a long plaid blue skirt.

Shop this look:

french quarter iron architecture

New Orleans has been on my “Goth bucket list” ever since I was a teenager. Thanks to the CVB, I got to visit the American South for the first time.

Louisiana was colonized by both the Spanish and French, which gives the architecture a feeling found nowhere else. I couldn’t resist taking photos of the curving iron railings, balconies and doors.

horse head posts new orleans

As long as you avoid Bourbon Street, there’s a ton to love about the French Quarter. I recommending strolling along and near Royal Street. This part of the Quarter feels far more authentic — you’ll come across gems like antique shops, art galleries, street performers, and these horse head posts.

french quarter street performers

Can you tell the difference between the street artists, locals, and tourists? Molly, my travel companion and photographer, remarked: “I loved that you could see a performance artist for a dollar on the street, in front of housed galleries where pieces sold for thousands.”

– My dark purple purse is this one by Paule Ka (click to buy)
- Tip: wear good shoes, since NOLA has cobbled streets and is a walking city. My studded ankle boots are by Japanese brand Yosuke; Jeffrey Campbell’s boots look just like mine.

Lisa Victoria Gallery

That morning, Molly and I had an appointment at Lisa Victoria Gallery (616 Royal Street). The masked figures on the door were a sign we were at the right place.

nola mardi gras beads

We stepped into the most charming little courtyard. The focal point is a lion fountain, strung with Mardi Gras beads. 

new orleans fountain courtyard

Not a bad workspace, don’t you agree? Here, I met local artist Kevin Thayer. We first connected through Instagram!

kevin thayer art, paintings

K Thayer’s paintings resonated with me because they’re haunting, ethereal, and have a touch of Japanese “kawaii.” He says his art is influenced by everything from Mardi Gras, to the films of David Lynch and Art Deco.

big eyes kawaii girl art

One of Kevin’s signatures: big-eyed, long-lashed, doll-like portraits. 

live portrait painting girl

Kevin invited me to sit down for a live painting. We chatted while he worked, and the whole process felt easy. In only 30 minutes, the image came together.

blue purple red dyed hair

What do you think? So cool how Kevin Thayer captured my new blue-purple-red hair color and vampire bangs (my stylist is Stephanie Hoy at Vancouver’s Stratosphere Hair).

la carmina portrait

Kevin started with a colorful background wash, and painted the layers on top, letting them flow together. He adds the final touches, and “more purple!”

kevin thayer new orleans artist

What a cool experience, and I got to take home personalized canvas from a New Orleans artist.

With Kevin, sitting for a portrait is fun, quick and natural. You can keep track of his current exhibits and art on his site and Instagram.

new orleans balconies

After, Kevin took us to some of his favorite galleries in the French Quarter. Oh, these genteel iron balconies! I imagined Madame Lalaurie and the Coven witches peering over me.

AFA gallery, new orleans royal st

AFA Gallery is dedicated to dark, fantastical art. (809 Royal Street New Orleans, LA).

american horror story art

I talked to the gallery owners, and was glad to learn that New Orleans has a dedicated community of artists. The local art market is not just about selling wares to tourists.

kathie olivas paintings

AFA represents artists with dark inclinations, like these cute-melancholy paintings by Kathie Olivas…

metal octopus sculpture

… and a giant metal octopus sculpture.

french quarter balcony railing

We continued our walk. What a treat, to feel sunshine in December! New Orleans is a fantastic place to escape during the winter, and it’s a quick and inexpensive flight within the USA.

The French Quarter has a “frat party” reputation, but as you can see from our journey, you can avoid this touristy scene altogether.

new orleans Cornstalk Hotel

Such charming architecture. We stopped to take photos at the distinctive front gate of the Corn Stalk Hotel.

alice's pig skirt, british vintage

This elegant, Victorian-style house is supposedly haunted, as many places in the Quarter seem to be. (My wood sunglasses are from Moat House. Other outfit details above.)

southern courtyard fountain

Can’t get over the Southern elegance of the gardens and fountains.

la madama bizarre art

Onward to La Madama Bazarre gallery (910 Royal Street, NOLA). American Horror Story fans, you might recognize the above work from AHS Freak Show.

weird scary art gallery

Molly and I wanted to take home everything in the gallery. La Madama Bazarre often has special exhibits, with themes like “The Opulence of Darkness,” where “beauty and strangeness abound in equal doses.”

marie laveau sculpture

Owner Jennifer poses with SideShow Sirens of the Swamp,” a series of music boxes featuring voodoo queen Marie Laveau, a two-headed person and other oddities. (And yes, that’s a coffin case on the right.)

goth art gallery, new orleans

Kevin Thayer’s art is a natural fit for this gallery, and several of his pieces hang on the walls. What a wonderful space they have created, to showcase morbid, lowbrow and outsider art.

mardi gras wigs

We continued down the road to the fabulous Fifi Mahony’s (934 Royal Street). Masks, wigs and glitter aren’t reserved only for Mardi Gras.

fifi mahony's new orleans

The shop supports local alternative events, like Goth Con, a Hedwig and the Angry Inch performance, and its own Wig Show. Kevin’s lightning-girl sits above the counter.

new orleans drag queens

In the back room, the salon offers makeovers. You can be as flamboyant as you want to be, in New Orleans. Nobody will bat an eye if you walk down the street looking like Cher.

jackson square art market

Now, let’s visit two outdoor art markets. Every day, locals with permits display their works at Jackson Square. Molly reflects, “One of my favorite aspects about Jackson Square was the mix of artists working from their own experiences and those selling more traditional images of Mardi Gras. I got a sense of a strong artist community that respects and supports its members.”

new orleans crazy costumes

We had a chat with Eden Gass (left), whose illustrations took on a different focus after she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Molly says, “I was struck by the authenticity and personal nature of her paintings. I loved her raw, honest approach to her canvas and her warm demeanor.”

Just a typical day in NOLA here — artists stopping to greet each other, decked in bows and feathers.

frenchman street art market, crafts

We also loved the Frenchman Art Market, which opens up in the evenings. Here, local and regional artisans sell handmade jewelry and crafts. 

antieau gallery new orleans

I’ll leave you with some more night-time scenes. Antieau Gallery had a tribute to James Brown in the back.

phantom limb, chris Roberts-Antieau

Quite a few galleries have a spooky aesthetic, like this “Phantom Limb” installation.

pastel wig store window

At night, Fifi Mahony’s wigs have a ghostly feeling, peering out the window.

antique furniture shop, royal st

I walked by impressive displays of antique furniture.

louisiana haunted house, hotel

The Corn Stalk hotel has an upside down keyhole to confuse vampires and ghosts, and hopefully prevent them from entering.  

corn fence new orleans

I think it’s obvious why New Orleans is one of the spookiest cities in the world! Did you know that the city had such an edgy art scene? 

Thanks to Molly for the photography. Next, we’ll show you how we kissed a Sphinx, and ate alligator wings

Shop my outfit of the day below:

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10 Things I Love about Cape Town: Wine, jazz, drag queens! South Africa travel show episode.

I’m leaping in the air because our Cape Town video is out!

In this latest episode of my travel show – published on Business Insider Travel — I encounter lions, drag queens, penguins…

…street art, and color everywhere.  (Above, I’m posing with the rainbow homes of the Bo-Kaap district – outfit details and more here.)

Please take a few minutes to watch our episode above and on Business Insider.

It was hard to edit all the fantastic footage into a short video. I could go on for hours about why I love this city — but I’ll boil it down to 10 things I love about Cape Town.

Stellenbosch winery cape town

 1. South African Wine Tastings

South Africa’s wines have been getting attention in recent years, especially those from the Stellenbosch region. I’m no wine expert, but I can tell you that these are some of the best I’ve tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot).

Our driver took us about an hour outside of Cape Town to Steenberg, a modern vineyard and farm. The staff poured us a selection of white and reds, including the smooth and complex Magna Carta. I wish I had a glass of it in my hand, as I’m typing this!

petting a big pig

Outside, we ran into Pumbaa the warthog! This rotund creature really looks like the African pig in the Disney movie, The Lion King. Of course, filmmaker Melissa had to sing Hakuna Matata and pet his bristles.

girl and warthog pig

Somehow, the Asian peace-sign pose is appropriate here. Pumbaa was the only animal who didn’t bite her during our journey. (Remember she got nipped by a peacock, penguin and dassie… and I got pecked by an ostrich.)

publik wine bar, cape town

2. Cape Town Wine Bars

Another glass? Yes please. I got tipsy at Publik, a laid-back bar that serves local wines along with cheese, rye with quince, and smoked free-range meats. If you usually dislike a certain varietal, they might surprise you with a delicious version that makes you think twice. The goblets and high counters make this an easygoing experience — there’s no snobbery here.

jazz safari, Hilton Schilder

3. Jazz Safari with Local Musicians

I love getting to know locals wherever I go. One night, we joined a Jazz Safari tour that took us inside the homes of local musicians. We ate dinner together, and then listened to a private home performance.

african Mouth Bow instrument

Musician Hilton Schilder’s wife prepared us a hearty curry with rice, and it was one of the best meals I had in Cape Town (along with Faldela Tolker’s Cape Malay cooking). Hilton plays multiple instruments, and performed experimental pieces on piano, guitar  and this African mouth bow. I enjoyed hearing about his inspiration, such as how he composed a 15 minute song called “Rebirth” by visualizing a keyboard on the ceiling, as he was lying in bed recovering from an illness.

township jazz musicians, cape town

Next, our guide Michael drove us to one of the townships. We saw some metal shacks on the outskirts, but most of the residents lived in small houses. Not nearly as ominous as you might imagine.

TA Blaques performed energetic compositions on trumpet, with his friend on guitar. Cape Jazz is a local style that mixes Western and African influences, with plenty of improv. We tapped our feet along as they played a mix of “Pata Pata” and “In the Jungle.” What a memorable night.

beefcakes cape town gay club

4. Beefcakes Gay Bar & Drag Queen Show

Now, for a very different type of nightlife… What is the gay scene like in Cape Town? I must say, pink and fabulous! The gay bar Beefcakes has a double meaning: it serves burgers, and the waiters are all beefed-up studs!

south africa gay bar, beefcakes

Beefcakes has frequent “boogie nights” that bring in LGBT and alternative performers. The bar is a favorite destination for girls nights too. We saw a bachelorette doing a “body shot” off a waiter’s six pack.

fat drag queen

But that evening, all eyes were on drag queen Champagne le Roux. She took the stage, and made snide but light-hearted comments about people in the audience. At one point, my cutesy lion backpack was the subject of her interrogation.

beefcakes drag show

After some song-and-dance numbers, it was time for “Bitchy Bingo.” Champagne ordered a “ball boy” to come on stage and pick out bingo numbers.

cape town theme bar

Our friend Vicky won! She had to go onstage to dance with the queen, and then got awarded prizes like a Beefcakes calendar and a bottle of warm beer.

beefcakes muscle men waiters

“Macho macho man…” Crazy to think that I’ve seen drag queen shows in so many parts of the world now, from Israel to Tokyo. (Photography by Melissa Rundle, Eric Bergemann and La Carmina.)

eat african animals menu

5. African Cuisine

Speaking of meat, Cape Town Tourism organized some outstanding meals for us. At Africa Cafe, I tried pap for the first time — a mushy, gluey staple carb made from ground maize. The menu offered African exotic meats, including springbok, impala, crocodile, and warthog (alas, poor Pumbaa!).

Cap Classique bubbly wine champagne

6. Drinking Cap Classique

Alcohol is a big part of my Top 10 list, isn’t it? At Hallelujah, I tasted a selection of Cap Classique “champagne,” a bubbly wine from South Africa.  It was apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette and European royalty.

hallelujah asian restaurant, cape town

Hallelujah also serves outstanding Asian street food at like prawns with hot steamed buns and coleslaw. Melt-in-your mouth dishes designed for sharing, inspired by dim sum and Asia comfort foods. I didn’t realize Cape Town had such hip restaurants and bars.

house of machines bar

7. The House of Machines

A lot of locals recommended a bar called The House of Machines. Once we got there, we saw what all the buzz was about. This space is a mix of motorcycles, men’s fashion, art and cocktails.

cape town hipster bars

They make a mean dark and stormy cocktail, and the music (indie rock, dance, local) is spot on. The next time I’m in Cape Town, I’ll be heading straight here.

8. Handmade Local Fashion

Missibaba is a women-run leather studio that stays true to its Cape Town origins. Many of the accessories take inspiration from African art, such as purses with tribal patterns.

A devotee of “slow fashion,” Missbaba employs local craftswomen who make almost all of the designs by hand.

Lead designer Chloe Townsend is passionate about “slow fashion” and supporting South African women. Her workshop employs craftswomen from an underprivileged township, and she donates a portion of proceeds to local empowerment programs.

9. Young Design Studios

Remember my trip to Woodstock Exchange, a modern art hub? You can’t leave Cape Town without exploring the cool studios inside.

I interviewed designer Atang Tshikare of Zabalazaa about his urban illustrations, which he custom-creates on skateboards and other surfaces.

He shares a space with Jasper Eales, a product designer who won awards for his eco-friendly design solutions, like a clever surfboard storage rack.

10. Powerful Political Art

Cape Town has a tumultuous history that is often contemplated in its local art. Ralph Ziman’s photos symbolize the devastation caused by arms trading. He photographed street vendors holding AK-47 guns, created out of African beads and wire.

His team showed us “Resistance”, a 100-meter long installation of a broken gun made from wheat paste. The weapon is wrapped in world currencies, symbolizing the international complicity in the arms trade.

If you’re intrigued by this art scene, take a look at my post about the street art in Woodstock. And don’t forget to view our Cape Town travel video, to see it all in action.

africa warthog, pumba

I leave you with this smiling warthog from the vineyard. He seems to be humming Hakuna Matata.

Did this post open your eyes to South Africa’s wines, LGBT nightlife and restaurants? Please let us know your feedback on the video, and where you’d like us to see us travel next!