A Brief History of the Radium Beer Hall
The Radium Beerhall is the oldest surviving bar and grill in Johannesburg, with a genuinely historic ambience that's just as enticing as the good food on the menu; as authentic as the foot-tapping live jazz that makes the embossed tin ceiling vibrate in sympathy. The walls are covered in memorabilia, from photos of pre-war soccer teams and jazzmen who have played there, to vintage posters and press clippings that record the Radium's history.
Opened as a tearoom by the Khalil family in 1929, the Radium had a double life as a shebeen. It sold liquor to black customers who were barred from drinking "white man's booze" in that day and age. After 13 years, a wine and malt licence was acquired and the Radium Tearoom became the Radium Beerhall. The ancient scarred bar, which is now more than 100 years old, was rescued from the demolition of the Ferreirastown Hotel. During the 1922 Rebellion on the Reef, striking miners were egged on by passionate speeches delivered by a fiery female activist who stood on that very bar, brandishing the weapon which got her the nickname "Pick Handle Mary."
In 1944, Joe Barbarovich -- one of the players in the Thirties soccer photos on the Radium's walls -- took over the wine and malt licence. The Radium began to develop a legendary reputation; it was a community pub, an Orange Grove landmark at the corner of Louis Botha and Ninth St. Many tales are told of this era, about the exploits of eccentric customers and obstreporous barmen.
The spit-and-sawdust era ended in 1986 with the advent of Manny Cabeleira, a colourful character who added some Portuguese flair and replaced the billiard room with a restaurant. It was a new Radium, anticipating the New South Africa by quite a few years with a vibrant cosmopolitan mix of new customers, included blacks -- and women, who had been banned during the macho epoch. Then came live music, TV shoots and the start of a Radium Tradition -- the Fat Sound 19-piece jazz band on the first Sunday of every month.
Now the Jazzed-Up Radium has live performances by different artists four nights a week. Since 1994 it has won an international reputation, featured in overseas travel guides as a genuine South African experience, and a "must" for tourists passing through Johannesburg.
- thanks to Tom Learmont