I’ve been avoiding Victoria Yards, because I generally avoid the places where the Cool Kids go. For those of you who don’t know (i.e. the Not Cool Kids), Victoria Yards is a new-ish inner-city development in Lorentzville (which is a tiny, rundown suburb on the border of Bertrams, close to Ellis Park) where an old factory has been converted into a space with art studios (one of my favourite Joburg artists has a studio here, James Delaney, as well as South Africa’s most controversial “artist”, Ayanda Mabulu), a craft brewery, an urban garden, and other nice things (not counting Ayanda Mabulu).
The development is the brainchild of Brian Green, a war journalist-turned property developer who’s also behind 44 Stanley in Milpark. Victoria Yards has a very different feel to 44 Stanley though – it’s a lot less pretentious and it’s more gritty; as gritty as “industrial-chic” can be (I think that’s what they call it).
So, I decided to check out this Victoria Yards place that the Cool Kids have been talking about, mostly on Instagram. I knew, however, that I MUST NOT GO ON SOMETHING CALLED A “FIRST SUNDAY”, as this is when Victoria Yards hosts an open day and hoards of people descend upon it.
Obviously, I went on a first Saturday. I knew that there would be far fewer people, as many of the artists’ studios would be closed. But fewer people. I also roped in a friend to join me (so far, all my introvert posts have been done solo). Like me, Tyler is also an introvert, so we both had more or less the same memo. We arrived at Victoria Yards at around 10:30am – it opens at 10am on Saturdays, and I’d recommend that you get here at this time for total peace and quiet, but 10:30am is also good; there may be a few people milling about though. As mentioned, a fair number of the tenants were closed, but if you just want to come here to chill for a couple of hours and enjoy some coffee, it’s amazing. We decided to try Foakes, a little coffee spot near the entrance. It was basically empty when we sat down, but it gradually filled up by midday; I think the sweet spot would maybe be from 10am to 11:30am. I don’t know what it’s like in the afternoon but Victoria Yards is open until 5pm.
We sat inside and were served by Nico, a mild-mannered man wearing a hair net (hygiene always gets bonus points). I ordered my usual, a cappuccino, and Tyler had a large flat white (he recently moved back from Cape Town so I suspect that’s why he wanted to drink something pretentious). Their coffee is roasted on site, but I don’t know where they source their beans from. My cappuccino was pretty good, and Tyler said his large flat white was “very nice”, except he said “noice”. We both felt like we could chill here for a while, in peace – Tyler remarked that he could sit here all day, and that there was just a little background noise without it being distracting, which is always the vaaibe I’m looking for.
Foakes bakes their own bread daily – it looked really good but we didn’t eat anything while there. I ventured to the small outside section, which has a lot of plants, and I could definitely picture myself sitting at one of the tables on my own, reading a book. While outside, I spotted a man sitting at a table on his own, with earphones in. “Another introvert,” I said, introvertly to myself. I debated for about five minutes whether or not I should disturb this poor man, but I really needed to know what he thought of Foakes and Victoria Yards.
His name is Peter Mammes, and he’s an artist who’s currently exhibiting work at the Daville Baillie Gallery (which was closed, obvz). It was his first time at Foakes.
“This might make me sound like a douche, but I only go to exhibitions that I feature in because I can’t handle crowds,” he tells me. “I don’t go out much, I just work.” Peter is evidently a man after my own heart. He goes on to say that he was dreading the next day, as it was his exhibition opening and loads of people will be at Victoria Yards for First Sundays. Oh, I hear you, Peter. I so hear you.
“I reckon Fordsburg is a good place to go if you’re an introvert,” he adds. “You won’t bump into anyone you know, unless you’re from Pakistan or something.”
Minutes later, we bump into someone who we both know… you can’t make this shit up.
It’s getting closer to midday and it’s a bit more busy than when we arrived, so Tyler and I call it a day. Overall, Foakes is a great little spot if you beat the crowds. I’ll definitely be back.
You can find Foakes Coffee Bar & Roastery at 16 Viljoen Street (Victoria Yards), Lorentzville; there’s secure, off-street parking. Open Mon to Fri 9am to 5pm, Sat 10am to 5pm, Sundays closed (except the first Sunday of every month, when it’s bedlam). Visit the Foakes website for more info or find them on Facebook and Instagram. For more info about Victoria Yards go here.