Located on South Africa’s northeast coast, Durban brings summer fantasies to life all year round. Famous for its golden beaches, sunny skies and perfect surf, the city also offers a wealth of eclectic options for dining and drinking. Whether you’re looking for a beachfront spot for beers in the sunshine, or a sophisticated club for date night cocktails, you’ll find it in KwaZulu-Natal’s favorite city. In this article, we look at a few of the coolest bars in Durban, designed to suit a wide range of different tastes.
Popular chain Moyo makes the most of its African theme. Expect traditional live music and Zulu dancers, and a menu packed with regional staples (in particular, the uShaka lamb bunny chow pays its respects to Durban’s Indian heritage). The Moyo in Durban has two locations — the main restaurant on the beachfront; and the Pier Bar, perched on the end of uShaka Pier and surrounded by the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.
It’s this unbeatable location that earns the bar a spot on this list. Nowhere else can you watch the sun set over the Durban skyline from such a unique vantage point. Sit back, order a beverage from Moyo’s extensive drinks menu and admire the spectacle of city lights shining all along the Golden Mile — from uShaka Marine World to Moses Mabhida Stadium. Cocktails are a highlight here, whether you opt for a classic daiquiri, or Moyo specialties with names like African Sunset.
Part of Durban’s vibrant Wilson’s Wharf complex, Zack’s is an independent café bar with fantastic views of millionaire yachts and the harbor entrance. Spend lazy summer afternoons sitting at the outside tables with a cool glass of South African Chenin Blanc, watching as harbor pilots are transferred to waiting cargo ships by helicopter. If you find yourself getting peckish, the kitchen serves a full range of pub food, including pasta, pizza and (of course) curry.
After dark, the laid-back vibe receives an injection of energy, courtesy of Zack’s live music program. Performances cross a wide spectrum of genres from reggae to rock, while regular open mic sessions give you the opportunity to check out Durban’s local talent — or to show off your own. When you tire of wine, start from the top of the cocktail menu and work your way down. Just be careful of the signature (and deadly) Zack’s Ice Tea.
Unity Bar & Brasserie
Located near Durban Botanic Gardens and popular mall the Musgrave Centre, Unity Bar & Brasserie offers a very different vibe to the majority of Durban’s surfer-style bars. Channeling casual hipster chic, the service and atmosphere are excellent, while the drinks menu is decidedly sophisticated. On the wine list, you’ll find offerings from notable Western Cape vineyards, including Morgenster Estate and Waterford Estate.
The cocktail menu is classic, featuring international favourites like the Manhattan and the Caipirinha. Ultimately, however, Unity is a beer drinker’s heaven. The focus here is on craft brews, some of which are brewed locally by the pub’s own brand, THAT Brewing Company. If you find that drinking gives you an appetite, the brasserie menu features gourmet options ranging from aged South African sirloin to miniature burger sliders.
The Chairman classifies itself as a “sophisticated world class jazz bar” — a bold statement that is nevertheless well deserved. Located on Durban Point (the peninsula that separates the harbor from the ocean), the bar’s edgy decor combines exposed brick walls, leather banquettes, chandeliers and taxidermied antelope heads. There’s an art gallery, and a pizza menu featuring uniquely South African ingredients like chakalaka and boerewors.
As for alcohol, The Chairman caters to elevated tastes with 10 different Champagnes, including Cristal and Dom Perignon. The wine list is extensive; and the cocktails are of the caliber you’d expect from London and New York. The prices are steep for Durban, but worth it. Of course, the bar’s biggest draw is its roster of live jazz, with bands keeping patrons on their feet until the small hours. The bar is open until 2:00am, Thursday to Saturday. Make sure to dress to impress.
Located north of the city center in the affluent suburb of Umhlanga, Lucky Shaker is an excellent choice for cocktail aficionados. The atmosphere is laid-back with a touch of Central American flair, while the innovative cocktails are inspired by seasonal ingredients and separated into four distinct categories — Fruity, Refreshing, Dry and Bold. If you can’t decide which you want to try, order a cocktail tasting flight instead.
Those that don’t feel passionate about cocktails need not despair — the bar also offers a limited wine list and a selection of locally brewed craft beers. Make sure to ask about the guest draught for a truly refreshing brew on a hot Durban day. The food at Lucky Shaker is equally accommodating, with quality options for vegetarians (by no means a standard in South Africa). Mexican food features heavily, and the taco sharing board is a definite highlight.
The Lighthouse Bar
For an upmarket watering hole in Umhlanga, look no further than The Lighthouse Bar, part of landmark 5-star hotel The Oyster Box. This much-beloved spot is named for the resort town’s iconic red and white lighthouse, which also doubles as the focal point of the bar’s ocean-view terrace. During the southern hemisphere winter (June to September), keep an eye on the horizon for a glimpse of the humpback whales that migrate past the Durban coast at this time of year.
The Lighthouse Bar’s signature drink is the Umhlanga Schling - a cocktail created using cane spirit, a product of KwaZulu-Natal’s sprawling sugar cane plantations. The bar also offers a full complement of liquors, wines and beers. On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings, live music turns the bar into a party hotspot, while plasma TV screens show local and international sports (with a preference for KZN Sharks rugby games, of course).