Maboneng – 10 Things to Do in the Coolest District in Johannesburg

Located on the eastern edge of Jozi’s central business district – and voted as one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Forbes, is the precinct of Maboneng. Made up of a handful of easily walkable blocks up, down, and around the main drag of Fox Street, Maboneng is South Africa’s own version of Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Maboneng, which means “place of light” in Sotho was a once-neglected corner of Johannesburg’s eastern industrial heartland with the inner city of the early 90’s into the 00’s one of the most dangerous places on earth. The idea of walking the streets after sundown in those days? Think again.

Enter the year 2009, property developer Jonathan Liebmann and the beginnings of Maboneng’s shift from inner-city slum to a haven for the arts. Since this dawning, there has much of an evolution. As what began as a run-down city block of warehouses has undergone a brilliant transformation and evolved into a collaborative hub of culture, small business and lifestyle. This vividly palpable metamorphosis has Maboneng bringing a deliberate light to a rather dark inner city past as this precinct has indeed become a place to not only work and eat but also sleep and play.

This inner-city renaissance and the gentrification of an otherwise neglected area has been welcomed by locals who have taken themselves to task and been working hand-in-hand with developers to take the district back. When visiting this neighbourhood, there is, without a doubt, an almost immediate sense of community; a vibrant culture which immediately sets this particular community apart.

This is the place to discover quirky cafés, delis and restaurants, art galleries, street art, stirring nightlife, and second-to-none shopping experiences. Local is indeed lekker. My advice? The next time you’re in South Africa, don’t just use Johannesburg as a hop-on-hop-off to your South African Safari, but rather take an afternoon or three to really experience a space like Maboneng and get to know a new “Jozi” and allow it to solidify itself as anything but a stopover city.

Here’s, a snippet of my (first) picks of Maboneng’s latest and greatest spots totally worth checking out.


Arts on Main, Maboneng

1. Arts on Main

Open daily, Arts on Main is where it all started and is the catalyst to the ever-expanding community of the Maboneng Precinct. Once home to old-world industries and dilapidated buildings, this multi-use facility has been renovated, connected, and turned into a modern atrium of small-scale galleries, retail outlets, and cafés. The entire ground-floor space is dedicated to food and local produce, with the upstairs dedicated to local clothing and design. This is without doubt one space worth a visit. See below for more details on Market on Main for a weekly fix of sensory persuasions.


Market on Main, Maboneng

2. Market on Main

This is Arts on Main’s weekly delight. Started by Bradley Kirshenbaum of Love Jozi and design entrepreneurs Jacques van der Watt of the Fashion Label Black Coffee, Market on Main is possibly one of the most popular and most visited parts of the Maboneng precinct. And I understand why. Market on Main is best described in two words – sensory indulgence. This weekend food market (open Sunday 10 am to 3 pm) and Night market every last Thursday of the month (open 7 pm to 11 pm) carries amidst the wonted food offerings a selection ranging from African Fusion Sushi to Jamaican barbecued meat, Ethiopian staples, perfect little pastries, craft beers, dim sum and more… May the salivation begin. The design element which is housed one floor up is devoted to local crafts, original and vintage fashion finds, and the likes of designer Maria McCloy’s must-have African accessories with attitude.


Main Street Bazaar, Maboneng

3. Main Street Bazaar

A prolific Joburg ambassador and adoptee Heather Mason (of the 2Summers blog), shares one of her favourite lesser-known spots: Main Street Bazaar. “The bazaar is an empty warehouse space that has been filled with storage containers rented out by local artisans and small business people. You can shop for jewellery, locally made clothing and art, and have coffee at the coffee bar in the middle of the space. There is also a hair salon and an Internet café. It’s so cool but kind of hidden away and not well advertised.” Main Street Bazaar is located on Main Street between Maritzburg and Kruger Streets. You won’t be dissapointed.


Mr Jame's Place, Maboneng
Image Courtesy – 2Summers Blog

4. Mr James’s Ethiopian Restaurant

If you’re searching for something off the beaten track, head to the corner of Commissioner and Maritzburg Streets. At the “Maverick Corner,” you will find an unmarked doorway. If you pick up aromas of spicy deliciousness wafting through, you’re in the right place. Alternatively, a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony taking place may assist in the location of this little gem. Unsure? The guys at Whippet Cycles will be able to help in your Carmen Sandiego-like search of Mr James… This is the “other” Ethiopian restaurant; Mr Jame’s Ethopian Restaurant. Seemingly only really known to local Ethiopians, Mr James (the delightful and gracious owner of this little slice of Ethiopia) serves a daily free-form menu (vs Little Addis set piece), where you basically, order and eat whatever the staff is cooking when you walk in… Personally? My curious kid idea of awesomeness!


The Bioscope, Maboneng
Image Courtesy – AFK Travel

5. The Bioscope

Located on the ground floor of the Main Street Life Building, at 286 Fox Street is the 68-seater independent cinema, known as The Bioscope. Besides showcasing both local and independent film, I am in love the themed evenings. Here you can watch The Big Lebowski, with The Dude’s favourite drink in your hand; take in a Kung Fu classic while chowing down on a portion of Noodles or even have a good old cathartic cry on “Ugly Cry Night”. What’s even cooler, besides ordering Kiff cool craft beers and pizzas next door at Chalkboard? You can take your order into the movie with you. You heard right! Check these guys out. The movies will never be the same again.


Curiocity Jozi
Image Courtesy – Curiocity

6. Curiocity Joburg

Keen to explore the inner-city for a few days? Curiocity Joburg has set the scene for many a sunset drink and sizzling braai (South African BBQ). This is more than just a hostel or a place to sleep in the district. But rather, Curiocity offers a really unique intro into the local culture of Maboneng. You are invited to daily explorations by foot or even by bike. There’s even sunset yoga or rooftop Bootcamp for those keen to get physical. For those into a bit of revelry, “word on the street” is that Curiocity is host to some of the coolest parties in town. You didn’t hear it here…


iwasshot joburg
Image Courtesy – iwasshot joburg

7. iwasshot Joburg

It all began as a community project four years ago in June 2009 for iwasshot Joburg. It was the culmination of an idea of Bernard Viljoen’s to take 15 children from the Twilight Children shelter, give them disposable cameras and allow them the opportunity to “search for beauty, composition and interesting subject matter” where there appeared none. Through its humble start as a means to give a previously voiceless child the chance to capture their story on film (and teach them a valuable and creative skill that would otherwise have been beyond their reach), iwasshot has evolved into a true force for change. Today, besides holding a permanent spot at the gallery at Arts on Main, they also produce a range of products that include mounted canvases, T-shirts, notebooks and even cushions. When in Maboneng…

Living Room jozi, Maboneng
Image Courtesy – Living Room

8. The Living Room

Part rooftop cafe, part event venue, every bit of inner-city cool. Figuratively or literally speaking. It cannot be disputed that The Living Room is every bit an urban oasis. This luscious green environment is filled with beautiful botanical blooms cultivated by the likes of Plant Artist Tiakaya. In addition, The Living Room is a perfect backdrop and complement to a stunner Jozi skyline. Seriously. If you’re looking for a cool wind down to the week, Sunday afternoons here have become a social institution where groovy DJ beats play out to a vibey crowd. And it has been dropped *nudge, wink*, “Super Cool Saturdays” are gaining traction too. Maybe you’re just a little hangry or in need of a refreshing bevi? From breakfast to sundown, this is one spot sure to leave you fulfilled.


MOAD, Maboneng
Image Courtesy – Hip Africa

9. MOAD is the Museum of African Design

MOAD, or the Museum of African Design is located between Arts on Main and Revolution House. Developed from a factory warehouse built in the 1920′s, MOAD has been turned into an incredible multidisciplinary exhibition, event and performance space. It is also the first museum in Africa to be dedicated to African design. True story. I personally love the extraordinarily high-ceilinged halls and tall steel-framed windows, which aside have allowed room for large-scale cultural exhibitions. These include disciplines from African fashion and furniture to landscaping, public art and architecture. And though the museum does not own a permanent collection, it does host a new exhibition every four months which means an ongoing exposure to all manner of African inspiration and innovation. Nuff said.


Uncle Merv's Maboneng
Image Courtesy – Ishay Govender

10. Uncle Merv’s 

Located on the corner of Fox and Kruger Street, which is essentially the main drag of the Maboneng Precinct is where you will find Uncle Merv’s. If you’re in the mood for a sidewalk-esque light snack, a smoothie or a coffee any-way-you-like-it stop, Uncle Merv’s is the spot you’ve been yearning for. Of the smoothies, the Felix King; a blend of peanut butter, soy milk, banana, honey and dates, is a go. Just do. My favourite part of Uncle Merv’s though? The signature sidewalk benches which seem to be perfectly positioned for picking up a random friendly conversation or just taking in the comings and goings of Maboneng’s busy main street. Or maybe, I just like Uncle Merv’s…

Madiba Murial
Image Courtesy – David Krut Projects

Honourable Mention

Keep an eye up for the Madiba Mural painted by street artist and activist Ricky Lee Gordan (Freddy Sam) who was commissioned by the Maboneng precinct to paint the mural of Madiba as a gift to the city. The piece – a 40-meter tall mural – was inspired by the Bob Gosani image of Madiba boxing on a Joburg rooftop and dedicated to the great man’s belief in Ubuntu: “I am because we are.”

Maboneng – 10 Things to Do in the Coolest District in Johannesburg

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