7th Street Melville: Joburg at Play

Urbanjoburg’s “Joburg Streets” series zooms in on one of the stalwarts of Joburg’s social scene – 7th street in Melville. Article first published by urbanjoburg.com.

For decades one of Jozi’s most social arteries, 7th street in Melville remains abuzz with an eclectic mix of establishments.  It boasts some famous staples of Joburg’s restaurant scene and nightlife (with several of its bars and restaurants having lasted a decade or more in their current locations, which is no mean feat) and can always be counted upon to provide an interesting browse, a very good night out, and the richest of pickings for people watching.

But 7th street is far more than a restaurant and bar strip – from well-known secondhand bookstores to a homeopathic pharmacy and a shop dedicated to leather and S&M gear, its eclectic retail offerings cater for a wide array of tastes.  Its pavements are assemblages of rickety restaurant tables, public benches and colourful beadwork being informally made and sold.  Its purveyors are of all colours, creeds, ages and nationalities, some of them long-staying Melville veterans, others just passing through.

Indeed, the sheer diversity of its offerings is probably the main reason 7th street has remained such a Joburg stalwart for such a long time.  Its different establishments are open at different times of the day and night.  The people who browse its shops by day only partially overlap with those who frequent its bars and restaurants as the sun sets.  It draws ordinary bread, milk and beer shoppers as much as it offers trinkets for tourists and items for collectors. As a result, it is busy at all times of day, always noisy, always moving, always alive and always interesting.

Of course, popularity and a reputation for catering to all tastes has its downsides, and Melville residents are not always equally enamoured with 7th street’s noise and litter, or with the drunken antics of its late-night patrons. Indeed, some have expressed concerns, in recent years, that the balance of 7th street’s offerings is tilting too much in favour of nightlife, with the result that the daytime crowds have dwindled, which risks robbing the street of the delicate balance which has sustained it thus far.  These fears seemed to be materialising when, in the tough financial times of recent years, several of the street’s establishments closed and stood empty (we are happy to report, though, that they have since been filling up again, with an equal amount of everyday daytime and night-time newcomers).

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Indeed, doom prophets have long been predicting the decline of 7th Street, fearing that it will simultaneously fall from grace and out of fashion, leaving only grime, crime and decay in its wake.  On the other hand, rumours of the street’s gentrification, complete with pedestrianization, parking garages and dedicated security, continue to surface from time to time, yet never quite materialise.  But 7th street knows better, it would seem. It continues unfazed, forever teetering, just afloat on the tides of fashion, defying both those who wish to see it clean up and those who await its downfall the way it has always done -with a mix of chic and grime, cutesy and gritty, run-of-the-mill and extraordinary. Long may it last.

For more insights on Johannesburg visit urbanjoburg.com.

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