The work of a single property development company, the inner-city district of Maboneng began life in 2008 when local developer and entrepreneur Jonathan Liebmann bought up dozens of rundown industrial warehouses and factories on the eastern edge of the inner city and set about transforming them. He was inspired by his travels to other cities where he had enjoyed the vibrancy of 24/7 urban life.
The name Maboneng is a Sotho word meaning “place of light”, and the growing precinct aims to transform an area that was once blighted by urban decay and crime into a safe, happening and inspiring place to live, work and play.
Frequently compared with trendy, rejuvenated neighbourhoods such as London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Brooklyn, this pioneering precinct draws the inner-city public, as well as the chic, outgoing and partyloving crowds of the city’s northern suburbs.
Fashionable and affordable places to stay such as the 12 Decades Johannesburg Art Hotel and Curiosity Backpackers, and a City Sightseeing bus, link have helped make this exciting, artistic urban oasis one of the most popular destinations for visitors to the city.
Market on Main is the Sunday heartbeat of Maboneng, and food and design are centre stage at this happening weekly market. There is a wide selection of gourmet street food to enjoy, lots of craft beers courtesy of the on-site Smack! Republic Brewing Co, and rails stuffed with vintage fashion and Afro-chic accessories upstairs, plus salsa dancing on the rooftop. The perfect place from which to launch your exploration of the neighbourhood, the atmosphere here is addictive.
Populated by artists, designers and creative thinkers, Maboneng is a fantastic place to enjoy the city’s cultural scene. Start with a visit to Arts on Main, one of Maboneng’s first buildings, which is home to a number of artist studios and small galleries.
World-renowned South African artist William Kentridge was one of the first tenants to buy a space in the Arts on Main building, while other organisations such as the Goethe Institute and local print studio David Krut Projects also have spaces here (the David Krut Bookstore is a must for its wide-ranging collection of artist and art books and books about Johannesburg).
Another top art destination is the massive Museum of African Design that showcases contemporary African fashion, photography, art and sculpture from across the continent. For cutting-edge drama and comedy, there’s the POPArt Theatre, which regularly stages new plays by up-and-coming local playwrights and also hosts a comedy club every Sunday. The POPArt Theatre has reinvented theatre-going with its onehour long shows and its approach of allowing theatre-goers to quaff wine while they watch. Next door is The Bioscope, an independent cinema screening arthouse films and documentaries.
Youthful, hip and energetic, the young guides from MainStreetWalks, based at Curiocity Backpackers, host walking and cycling tours of the inner city that take visitors to Maboneng’s newest and coolest hangouts. Don’t forget to bring your camera – MainStreetWalks are experts in finding the perfect angles from which to shoot Maboneng’s many impressive graffiti murals and street-art installations.
Within just a few city blocks you will find a plethora of quirky little restaurants and cafés selling all kinds of food from around the world. Take your pick from traditional Ethiopian platters, West African cuisine, a retro-styled South African braai stand, Afro-fusion sushi, excellent pizzas, Argentine steaks, authentic Mexican tacos, Greek wraps, Israeli breakfasts and glutenfree snacks.
Top it all off with Russian vodka at Lenin’s Vodka Bar or a sundowner on the ecofriendly Living Room rooftop.