299 Lower Main: Cape Town says goodbye to landmark venue

ROAR LIVE new look 2017

Cape Town, South Africa: the weekend passed saw Capetonian metallers amassed at this cities landmark nightlife address, 299 Lower Main Road in Observatory, for one final sendoff. Better known as Gandalf’s (downstairs) and ROAR Live (upstairs), 299 Lower Main served as a gathering place for Cape Town alternative sorts for the better part of two decades. Following an announcement in March, the venue is finally closed permanently.

The Legacy of 299 Lower Main Road

Gandalf's ROAR
Ian McKellan posing at 299 Lower Main Road. Photographer: unknown
The venue address is so iconic that even British actor Ian McKellan, who played the role of Gandalf in Lord of the Rings could not resist a picture whilst on a Cape Town visit in 2010.

Gandalf’s opened at around the turn of the millennium. With it’s Lord of the Rings themed name and medieval-style decor, the nightclub became an instant hit with the Gothic, Metal, and all-round Alternative crowd. Before long, Lower Main Road was bustling with Gandalf’s, The One Ring and Mordor; all linked to the same owner, Antonio Manuel, and catering to the underground.

These eventually consolidated to the singular address of 299 Lower Main Road. Upstairs from Gandalf’s for a time was Mordor; an exclusively metal nightclub which featured live music on the rare occasion. Consequently, Mordor closed and reopened as ROAR, fully refurbished as a live music venue in 2006. The rest is history!

Another attraction which shared this address was Gotham, which for a time served the Gothic and EDM crowd in the adjacent building.

2006 – 2018

Live entertainment was blistering hot! Friday night hosted a slew of Cape Town’s punk bands including longstanders Half Price, Alive At Midnight and Crossfire Collision to name a few. Saturday night was all about the Metal! Headlining was the might Infanteria led by Chris Hall. Incidentally, both Infanteria and The Warinsane date back to the same year as ROAR‘s opening at 299 Lower Main Road, making the bands a most appropriate choice. Also on board were Zombies Ate My Girlfriend, Peasant and With Dawn; all performing to a packed house for a monumental farewell.

Social media is alight with sentiments shared and expressed. One by Bulletscript frontman (and formerly All Guns Full Ammo) summed up beautifully in short what many others have said:

“The final night at Gandalf’s was amazing, but so bitter-sweet. It may sound silly, but were it not for Gannies, I would be a very different person and certainly a far lesser performer. The alternative world has lost a reliable, safe place for all the people who never fit in anywhere else and it will be sorely missed. Antonio Manuel, thank you for all the years of effort and sweat you put into keeping that welcoming space alive. We all owe you a debt of gratitude.” ~ Brett Bruton

It seems that the main reason for closure is the sale of the building by the landlord; reflective of the rising value of property prices in the area. In the meantime, former business owner Antonio Manuel continues his other business nearby in Station Road with Trenchtown. Trenchtown also serves as a homely hangout for alternative people, focusing more strongly on food in a sort of cosmopolitan/alternative pub & grill environment.

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Bulletscript: image courtesy of Laura McCullagh
Bulletscript: image courtesy of Laura McCullagh