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Retro diners and US-style dive bars

Diners and dive bars offer a glimpse into a bygone era of rock ’n roll, classic muscle cars and smoky pool bars. While not every entry on our list encompasses the vintage all-American feel of a 1950s diner or dusty roadside dive, the ambience they provide comes pretty close. Whether you’re looking for a spot to sip strawberry shakes and bop along to 1950s rock ’n roll or a smoky neighbourhood bar to drink draught beer and share life stories, take a look at our list of American-themed retro diners and dive bars in your area.

 

Johannesburg and beyond

The Bohemian (Westdene)

Referred to by locals as The Bo, this neighbourhood watering hole is the third oldest existing pub in Johannesburg and is known to attract an eccentric crowd of artists, writers and musicians. Smoky and cosy, the bar hosts regular live music and promises an entertaining evening for all, with pool tables and a jukebox. When it comes to snacking, they pride themselves on their cheesy pizzas, which range from R65 to R82.

Grand Slam Sports Diner (Edenvale)

Sports fans flock to this popular local diner and dive for their plasma screen TVs, cold beers on tap, and hearty grills. Pull up a bar stool and enjoy house favourites like beef trincacho (R90) and corn-crumbed chicken fillet (R89).

The Great Burger Company (Fourways)

A build-your-own-burger option means you can enjoy classic American diner food with a DIY twist. Else order the Great Classic Burger, a double-cheese beef burger with dill pickle, lettuce, tomato, red onion and their signature sauce (R81). Another customer favourite are their barbecue pork ribs with curly fries (R55 for 250g; R110 for 500g; R200 for 1kg) and jalapeño poppers with honey-mustard dipping sauce (R39).

The Great Burger Company. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

The Great Burger Company. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Gourmet Garage (Fourways)

Vintage motorcar memorabilia and road signs decorate the walls, giving the restaurant a quirky, retro feel. The menu features a great selection of burgers, including the peanut butter burger, as well as steak, ribs, chicken and some pretty interesting milkshake flavours.

Hard Rock Café (Sandton)

With aged leather diner-style seating, signature music memorabilia and legendary burgers, the iconic Hard Rock Café truly captures the spirit of an American rock ‘n roll diner. Try the Hard Rock Café Original Legendary® burger served on a brioche bun and topped with smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, a fried onion ring, lettuce and vine-ripened tomato (R109) or the New York-style Oreo cheesecake (R55).

Hard Rock Café. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Hard Rock Café. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Hell’s Kitchen (Melville)

This Melville local embodies the spirit of the New York 1920s speakeasy era and takes much of its inspiration from rock music throughout the ages. The retro décor and infamous neon “Be naked when I get home” sign add a unique charm, while the saloon-style menu and wide selection of wine, whiskey and cocktails ensure a festive experience. Their signature dishes include the HK Burger with a barbecue beef patty layered with bacon, smooth American cheese, tangy pickles and fresh rocket served on a brioche and sesame seed bun with fries (R79), and the Badass Baby Back Ribs, smoked and flame grilled and served with a side of grilled corn bread (R98). Keep an eye out for the secret poker room hidden behind the bookcases.

Pitstop Diner (Muldersdrift)

Modelled on a classic American dessert diner and dive bar, Pitstop Diner brings to mind pinup girls, motorbikes and stacks of pancakes. Pull up in your muscle car for a cold draught or one of their giant burgers (R40). Alternatively, the small menu offers foot-long hot dogs, sandwiches, shwarmas and some mouth-watering desserts. A jukebox and pinball machine add retro appeal.

Scrooge Diner (Randburg)

Big screen TVs, gaming machines and a retro jukebox add a lively feel to this fun Randburg diner. The menu features everything from flame-grilled steaks and schnitzels to loaded spuds and seafood. We’re assured that the double flame-grilled burger with fries is a real crowd-pleaser (R81).

Pretoria

Burger Bistro (Villeria)

With 50’s rock ’n roll charm and a menu of diner-style favourites, Burger Bistro truly captures the appeal of an all-American burger bar. The bistro specialises in burgers, some of which pay homage to old-school music and movies. Try the Marilyn Monroe with melted brie and strawberry, balsamic and black pepper jam (R59.50) or the Elvis with peanut butter sauce and bacon (R65.50). All burgers are flame grilled and come with a 200g pure beef patty and a serving of fries.

Burger Bistro. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Burger Bistro. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ed’s Diner (Moreleta Park)

Founded in 1989 by Vasili Lazarides, Ed’s Diner offers a memorable experience with award-winning gourmet burgers, a killer cocktail menu and old-school music. The décor has a touch of nostalgia and the menu features everything from shakes and pizza to cheese fries and Ed’s original gourmet burgers. Their current bestsellers are the original burger (R75) and the Big Kahuna, which arrives topped with double cheese, bacon, gherkins, mayo and onion rings (R105). All burgers are available with a beef, chicken or deboned rib patty. Look out for their new branch, which is set to open in Centurion by the end of April 2015.

Ed’s Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ed’s Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Lucky Rodrigo (Lynnwood)

This American-style diner and bar offers a cosy, quirky space for both sit-down dining and late-night festivities. The menu offers classic diner fare like all-day breakfasts, spare ribs, hot dogs, hamburgers and shakes. Highlights include the blackened Cajun-style club steak (R75), mini American corn dogs with mustard and sweet chilli sauce (R45), and the Steri Stumpie milkshake (R28). Management is also working on including large pizza slices on the menu.

Lucky Rodrigo. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Lucky Rodrigo. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Durban and beyond

Billy the Bums (Morningside)

While this local watering hole may not be your typical American diner or down-and-dirty dive bar, its unique retro feel and menu give it a place on our list. Tuck into house favourites like the Johnny Chunk Dog burger with bacon, avo and cheddar and a Cajun jalapeño sauce (R80), or the fillet grande stuffed with cheese and jalapeños and topped with a honey, mustard and mushroom sauce (R130 for 200g; R160 for 300g).

Bud’s Bay Shak (Bayhead Road, Durban)

This eccentric wharfside diner is defined as “a dodgy spot in the docks where long lazy lunches, cold beer and a sense of getting away from it all is the order of the day.” While the restaurant section has been glammed up a little, the bar still offers a relaxed, tavern-like atmosphere, which has the appeal of a local dive bar. The menu features everything from the famous prawn curry and prawn bisque to pub grub like T-bone steaks and pot pies. The menu is currently undergoing a revamp, so no prices have been provided.

Bud’s Bay Shak. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Bud’s Bay Shak. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Cape Town

Franky’s Diner (Sea Point)

Waitresses wearing poodle skirts serve up breakfasts, burgers, double-thick shakes and foot-long hot dogs at this authentic 1950s style diner that’s open 24 hours a day. Slip into a red vinyl booth, bop to some rock and tuck into some good-old fashioned American diner fare. Favourites include the 12-inch cheese ’n chilli dog served with fries, onion rings and coleslaw (R71.50) or the infamous Chubby Burger, which consists of six beef patties, bacon, cheese, jalapeños, fires, onion rings and coleslaw (R165). Devour the Chubby Burger in ten minutes or less and you get it for free. (Read about rugby personality Tank Lanning’s attempt .) Victors will also get their names inscribed on the wall of fame and receive a T-shirt to demonstrate their endurance.

Franky’s Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Franky’s Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Joe’s Easy Diner (Blue Route Mall, Canal Walk)

Joe’s brings 1950s America to life with its retro décor, dime-selector jukeboxes and open kitchen. The menu is extensive, featuring everything from cheese fries and club sandwiches to hot dogs, burgers and double-thick malts. Try their Slick Dog hot dog topped with bacon or macon, cheese sauce and homemade barbecue onion relish (R57), or the ever-popular Big Bubba’s Bacon ’n Cheese Burger with sweet-cured bacon or macon and American cheese (R75).

Lefty’s Dive Bar (Zonnebloem)

Modeled after a traditional, smoky American dive bar, this Cape Town gem is renowned for its ice-cold craft beers and Southern-inspired dishes. Try their famous sticky barbecue pork ribs with fries and coleslaw (R95) and fried chicken and waffles (R75). Their menu changes frequently, so be sure to give them a call to see what they’ll be serving up next.

On a Roll (Mowbray)

Cooking up everything from signature gourmet hot dogs and all-day breakfasts to beefy burgers and shakes, this retro diner embodies the spirit (and taste) of the 1950s rock ’n roll era. Try the bestselling Batman gourmet hot dog (named for the owner’s French bulldog) with bauernbratwurst sausage, camembert cheese, caramelised fig, and baby leaves with balsamic glaze (R66).

On a Roll. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

On a Roll. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Rock Star Diner (Table View)

Drop by for CBC and Stellenbrau craft beer on tap and a selection of burgers, pizzas and shakes. The side orders are also a hit with extra-hungry customers and include potato fries with bacon and cheddar dip; sweet potato fries with sour cream and chives dip; and beer-battered onion rings with a sweet chilli relish. Check their Facebook page for some amazing Monday and Tuesday night specials.

Starlight Diner (Bellville)

Open 24 hours a day, this American-themed diner serves everything from burgers and pizzas to gourmet sandwiches and oxtail. Try the blackened pork wrap with Cajun pork strips, guacamole, green onions, cilantro, sour cream and salsa (R66.95) or the bestselling barbecue ribs served with French fires and coleslaw (R74.95 for 400g; R98.95 for 700g; R136.95 for 1kg).

Three Feathers Diner (Woodstock)

It’s all about burgers, shakes and muscle cars at this American-themed diner in Woodstock. Said to provide the “ultimate man-cave experience”, the joint features rough brick walls with blow-up retro cartoons, vintage motorcar memorabilia, a pool table and selection of craft beers. British vlogger Ben Brown included their burgers – all named after American muscle cars – in his list of best burgers in South Africa. Try the Corvette with a 200g beef patty, grilled bacon and a fried egg, or the Camaro with a 200g beef patty and a mushroom and pepper sauce (R80). For best results, pair your burger with one of their milkshakes (R28).

Three Feathers Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Three Feathers Diner. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Mpumalanga

Duck ‘n Dive Saloon (Malelane)

Established ten years ago, this saloon-style pub has become somewhat of a town landmark, with local and international visitors arriving in droves for a hearty meal or cold beer. Thirsty travellers can choose from three draughts on tap or a variety of bottled beers, spirits and wines while those with an appetite can tuck into one of their wood-fired pizzas, pastas, grills or weekday specials. Arrive on a Monday for a R50 special on selected pizzas or kick off the weekend with their tempting Friday deal – a 200g beef burger, chips and a pint for R59. While their upstairs dining area, The Upper Duck, offers a quieter ambience, the downstairs pub area is lively and loud with a long bar, pool table, five flat screen TVs and a big screen for live sports events. The venue also offers live entertainment two Saturdays a month.

Duck 'n Dive Saloon. Photo courtesy of the restaurant

Duck ‘n Dive Saloon. Photo courtesy of restaurant

Overberg

Diesel & Crème (Barrydale)

Situated on the iconic Route 62, Diesel and Crème evokes a 20th-century American roadside diner. A collection of vintage cars, motorbikes and old petrol pumps decorate the entrance and attracts bike enthusiasts from all over the country, while the menu offers diner-style fare for hungry passersby. Try the Jack Daniel’s burger with a beef patty drenched in smoky Jack Daniel’s sauce and topped with blue cheese, beetroot, red onion, cucumber, tomato and olives (R70). A decent selection of craft beers and creamy shakes is also on offer.

Diesel & Crème. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Diesel & Crème. Photo courtesy of the restaurant.

Ronnie’s Sex Shop and Road Kill Café (Barrydale)

This landmark Route 62 pit stop is a sought-after destination for international tourists and peckish travellers alike. Grab a cold one in the bar and you’ll find an impressive collection of ladies’ bras hanging from the rafters. Settle at a table to enjoy American diner-style favourites with fascinating (if a little unsavoury) names. Try one of their famous ‘Roadkill Burgers’, grab a fry-up or satisfy large appetites with a quiche or serving of bobotie with turmeric rice. The cafe also offers a selection of alcoholic milkshakes with flavours like peanut butter and Jack Daniels, coffee and rum, banana and rum, Turkish delight and vodka, and lime and Jagermeister

If you like grub of the American persuasion, also check out our list of where to find southern-style soul food.

While we take care to ensure the accuracy of our information, please note that some details and prices may change without our knowledge.

Have we missed a good diner near you? Let us know in the comments below.

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