Pick up a copy of the monthly Cape etc. or the annual Time Out Cape Town. Alternatively, the weekly Mail & Guardian covers all major events, as does the Argus, a local daily -- look in the "Tonight" section -- or consult Friday's "Top of the Times" insert in the Cape Times. You can book tickets to theaters and movies and most major music/party events by calling Computicket (tel. 083/915-8000; www.computicket.com) and supplying your credit card details.
The Performing Arts
Critics in the Mother City can be appallingly sycophantic, so take whatever you read in the press with a pinch of salt (reviews in the Mail & Guardian tend to be more reliable). Anything directed by Martinus Basson, Jaco Bouwer, or Fred Abrahamse is not to be missed. In summer, take in one of the outdoor concerts . Take a look at what's on at either of the city's main venues: ARTscape (tel. 021/421-7839) puts on everything from top-end Broadway musicals (Cats returns Dec 2009) to important new South African theater, while the Baxter Theatre, Main Road, Rondebosch (tel. 021/685-7880), is a vibrant hub for culture hounds. There's a mixed line-up at The New Space, 44 Long St. (tel. 074/134-6636), which opened in late 2008 and plans a second, edgier stage in the near future. If you like your entertainment light, Camps Bay's Theatre on the Bay (tel. 021/438-3301) hosts a mix of frothy comedies, musicals, and farces; On Broadway, Shortmarket Street (tel. 021/4241194), is the city's best cabaret venue.
Established by adored local funny man Kurt Schoonraad, the city's best dedicated comedy venue is Jou Ma se Comedy Club (literally "Your Mother's Comedy Club"), Albert Hall, Albert Road, Woodstock (tel. 021/447-7237; www.joumasecomedy.co.za). Sensational stand-up performances happen each Thursday (arrive at 7:30 for the 8:30pm show) and cost R70; you may battle with some of the Afrikaans jokes, but this is a top spot to get a sense of what tickles the South African funny bone.
Summer brings a wealth of fantastic outdoor concerts; tops for venue are the Sunday Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts (tel. 021/799-8783; www.sanbi.org): Bring a picnic and relax to great music, from jazz bands to Cape Minstrel troupes, popular acoustic groups to the Philharmonic Orchestra, while the sun sets behind the mountain. Concerts start at around 5pm, but get there early in order to secure your patch of lawn. Early each year, Maynardville Open-Air Theatre in Wynberg (www.maynardville.co.za) hosts a Shakespearean play against a lush forested backdrop. Performances vary from year to year but invariably put a contemporary (or local) spin on the Bard. Arrive early with a picnic basket and bottle or two of wine, and join Cape Town's culture-loving crowd on the lawns. Summer (Feb-Mar) is when the city's public spaces become venues for the recently inaugurated Infecting the City festival (www.infectingthecity.com), which draws together some exciting talent in a week of site-specific performances designed to get Capetonians talking about relevant issues. Don't be surprised if buildings, monuments, and fountains become part of the production. Free concerts are held at the V&A Waterfront Amphitheatre (tel. 021/408-7600); acts range from winners of school talent contests to good jazz. It's worth taking the half-hour drive to Stellenbosch, where you can picnic on the lawns before catching a show at the Oude Libertas Amphitheatre, Adam Tas Road (tel. 021/809-7473; www.oudelibertas.co.za), just outside the town. Even better talent is usually on the program of the Summer Season at Spier Wine Estate (tel. 021/809-1158; www.spier.co.za), which has financial pulling power that brings in great local and international opera, theater, and music acts. Note that you can make a night of it by dining at Moyo, Spier's Pan-African restaurant.
The Club, Bar & Music Scene
During the summer season, Cape Town becomes one big party venue, despite the fact that die-hard dance animals rue the end of a proper club scene. Get into the mood with sundowners at a trendy bar in Camps Bay or with a bottle of bubbly on a well-situated beach (though, strictly speaking, this is illegal, so be discreet) or the top of Table Mountain. You will want to pace yourself, however -- getting to any party before 11pm will see you counting barstools. Listings below were hip at press time, but as in most cities, sell-by dates are unpredictable. To play it safe, expect good nights out from Wednesday onward, and head for one of the following two areas: Long Street, particularly the mountain end (near the Turkish baths), is the central city's hot party area. Here there's a multitude of quite grungy bars -- most notable is Jo'burg (tel. 021/422-0142), where the heady crowd is often entertained by live local music, but the better sections are more intimate bars hidden behind discreetly located doors -- make the effort to look for them. Across the road, single-malt devotees frequent the plush leather settees of The Dubliner @ Kennedy's (tel. 021/424-1212). Far cozier is the cigar bar hidden in the back of Cape to Cuba (tel. 021/424-2330), a prettily designed upstairs restaurant (above similarly themed Che Bar) that also has a lovely terrace for early-evening cocktails. On this side of the road, all the better watering holes are in upstairs venues (seek out Neighbourhood Bar) or hidden down side streets (ask for Julep), and my rule is that those that spill out onto the sidewalk are a little dodgy. The other big party strip, catering to (generally speaking) an older, more sophisticated audience, is in Green Point, which incorporates Cape Town's "Gay Quarter," centered on De Waterkant.
Alternative Lower Main Road, in Observatory, Cape Town's bohemian suburb, is a good place to hang out if you're into a grungier atmosphere -- from Café Ganesh (tel. 021/448-3435) to over-the-top baroque Touch of Madness (tel. 021/448-2266).
And, finally, if you're into edgier electronic music (such as psytrance) in a '60s-revivalist idiom, you'll want to read about the "love parties".
Live Music -- The best venue for live bands, some of them set to take the world by storm, is Assembly, a massive converted warehouse space on Harrington Street that kicked off the revival of Cape Town's once-deserted-after-dark east. There are masses of varied, interesting places to air out or to dance, and the owners have thoughtfully included foozball machines and arcade games so you don't get bored while waiting for the bands to start rocking the house; great bar service, too. Expect to see many students, but the grownups of the music fraternity come here to see the next step in the South African music evolution (tel. 021/465-7286; www.theassembly.co.za). Back in the center, Zula Sound Bar (tel. 021/424-2442), on cosmopolitan Long Street, is a much smaller but no less vibey music venue with eclectic live music, featuring something for everyone depending on the day of the week (or hour of the night) you arrive. Across the road, a less crowded venue where you can catch intimate performances, often by emerging bands and solo artists, is the Waiting Room, where you feel like you're watching a show in someone's lounge. In Zonnebloem (near District Six), Mercury Live & Lounge, 43 de Villiers St. (tel. 021/465-2106; www.mercuryl.co.za), is hardly the most slick or sophisticated venue, but it's still the only place in the city where you'll find a regular lineup of original South African bands. Downstairs in the broom-closet-size lounge, catch a cutting-edge selection of up-and-coming local acts. In a totally different league, though, will be the international-caliber concerts hosted at the new Green Point Stadium.
It's off the beaten tourist track, but it's worth the effort to catch regular Cape jazz sessions featuring hot artists at West End, College Road, Athlone (tel. 021/637-9132). The Green Dolphin Restaurant, at the V&A Waterfront (tel. 021/421-7471), caters to the supper-club jazz enthusiast, attracting a good lineup of local and international performers (the food is pretty mediocre and pricey). Manenberg's Jazz Café, at the Clock Tower Precinct, V&A Waterfront (tel. 021/421-5639), serves up an array of jazz geared toward tourists.
The Love Parties -- Anyone visiting the Cape and looking to tune into the future of dance music should make a point of lining up at least one outdoor trance party as part of their sojourn in and around the Mother City. It's probably the best place to catch Capetonians at their unabashed, sweaty, unpretentious best -- they'll be dressed down, barefoot, and up to all kinds of mischief, but united in their heady pursuit of the most intoxicating beats and tunes, spun by world-class DJs. Parties -- in some of the most luscious locations you'll ever lay eyes on -- can go for 1 night or up to 4 days, and many dedicated pups set up camp, or just keep stomping for hours on end. While there's music day and night, the scene is more sociable while the sun is out, and there's no better way to witness sunrise than with a crowd of fresh-faced party animals. Bars, food stalls, and hippies selling healing crystals are plentiful, but you're welcome to bring all your own supplies (a cooler box with plenty of ice is a good idea) -- just remember to take everything, except your ego, home with you. This may be an attempt at a '60s revival, but there's a strong mix of old, young, and in between -- the youngsters tend to fizzle out and leave early, leaving the best part of the party to a more "mature" crowd. By far the best parties are organized by Vortex Trance Adventures (tel. 021/531-2173; www.intothevortex.co.za). It's also worth asking to be on Alien Safari's (firstname.lastname@example.org) mailing list. Or just keep your ear to the ground, as there's always someone who knows someone who knows what's going down and when.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.