By Shannon Wilson
The Cathcart Arms
The Cathcart Arms is one of the oldest hotels in South Africa, established in 1820 when the first colonial settlers arrived in Grahamstown. It has a red and black exterior; a large sign above the entrance proudly declares the name of the hotel. The black woodwork above this sign is unkempt and splintered. Although the doors are said to open at 10am, it was past 11 and I was still waiting outside. I asked two men milling around the entrance if they knew when it might actually open. They said that the Arms didn’t have a regular opening time.
The windows were coated in a fine layer of dust. The place didn’t exactly scream “clean”.
On my third try, I was successful. Six people were gathered on the steps outside the bar and it was open. I tentatively walked in. There was no one inside. The floors were wooden, faded and dusty; the paint on the cream, grey and green walls was peeling, and it was dark. I turned around and asked one of the six people on the steps to see the manager.
A man stood up and smiled. He was dressed in black, with white sneakers and a flat cap.. Lucky Helesi was his name. He runs stock checks at the bar and enjoys the occasional weekend jol at the Arms.
“Ja, it’s the place where most of my friends are,” He said.
Helesi worked behind the bar from 2009 to 2011, then left the job only to come back in 2013 to work at the bar as a stock taker.
The Cathcart Arms no longer operates as a hotel, but as a bar, with pool tables and some slot machines. The business opens at 10:30am most days and closes at 10:00pm on weekdays and 12:00 on weekends.
Behind The Cathcart Arms’ wooden doors is a lot of dust; empty beer bottles stacked high, a historical watering hole and a place in need of care and restoration.