Lucky Totsi Shebeen & Bar
A South African speakeasy sets down on Oxford Street
During apartheid, black South Africans weren’t allowed to own bars or make alcohol, so they set up shebeens – speakeasies where they subversively served their own homebrewed beer, cultivated a community vibe and slagged off the government. So considering today’s political climate, maybe it’s a timely fortune to see Darlinghurst inherit its own shebeen, smack bang on Oxford Street.
Launched by two South Africans and a “token” Aussie, and featuring a Kenyan chef, Lucky Totsi is the place to bring your homesick Springbok mates. The tables are adorned with African beer labels, and there are multi-coloured walls and a corrugated roadhouse exterior – all of it striving to be faithful to the shebeen look. Plus there’s jazzy kwela and pulsating kwaito music, spanning Senegal to Zimbabwe.
Don’t have any African friends? No dramas. Simply come for the unique, frugal comfort food. Nothing breaks the $20 mark, including a half rack of ribs, slow-cooked 6 hours to fall-apart, smoky bliss. There’s more interesting eats in a ‘bunny chow’, an Indian dish comprising of a bread roll filled with… no, nothing furry and cute, but rather a chicken or vegetable curry. Other dishes include the samp and beans, a kind of grits stew that’s said to be Nelson Mandela’s favourite; and a boerewors ‘slider’ featuring two small versions of South Africa’s prized beef sausage.
All that noshing will certainly stir up a thirst, so maybe turn to the several African brews on the list, from Namibia’s Windhoek lager to South Africa’s Castle, Black Label or Hansa. There’s also a one-pager wine list that includes some 17 wines by the glass and a dozen bottlings from South Africa’s wine lands, include the unique varietal pinotage: a crossbreeding of pinot noir and hermitage that’s seldom found anywhere else in the world. The medium-bodied wines are often smoky and savoury.
There are also dry African ciders and even a few shooters with names like Soweto long drop and Springbok. Whatever your poison, it should get you in a fine mind to talk about the federal or state governments. But this is a friendly, local establishment, so maybe save any expletives for the nightly news in the safety of your own home.
Where: 245 Oxford St, Darlinghurst
Hours: Tue-Thu 5pm-midnight, Fri-Sat 3pm-midnight, Sun noon-10pm
Phone: (02) 8354 1306