Field Street showing Butterworth’s Hotel in early 1900.
Field Street showing Butterworth’s Hotel in early 1900.

Then & Now: Butterworth's Hotel, Durban

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Oct 31, 2020

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Durban -The picture of old Durban this week takes in the city’s Butterworth’s Hotel, which was built at about the same time as the Durban station – in the late 1890s.

The photograph of the hotel, on the corner of Joe Slovo (then Field) Street and Soldier’s Way, was posted in the Facebook group Durban Down Memory Lane, with many Durbanites reminiscing on entertainment and dining experiences at the hotel.

Butterworth’s Hotel today.

In an early advertisement, the hotel boasts it had been recognised as one of finest private hotels in South Africa. It spoke of 70 bedrooms, spacious reading, writing, commercial, billiard and sitting rooms, electric lighting and cooking, excellent cuisine and “trained servants”. It also boasted it was under the personal supervision of Mrs Butterworth.

Local historian Gerald Buttigieg writes that the Butterworth’s was quite a hotel in its day.

Another early view of the hotel.

There was the nightclub Le Macabre where the tables were coffins and the Bats were the resident band. There were several eateries: The Caprice, à la carte restaurant; the Magnolia Room for functions and wedding receptions; the Ming Chou Chinese restaurant, and Durban’s first steak house.

In a 1965 Durban directory, rooms cost R1.20 per day for a single or with a bath R1.30, or R1.05 per person for a double and with a bath R1.25.

In its heyday in the ’60s and ’70s the hotel was owned by George Kahn.

John Thompson remembered The Caprice as the best restaurant in town. “In about 1966/7 after my engagement, my father-in-law to be, gave me R10 to go and celebrate. The two of us had starters, main course, dessert and wine, plus I had a cigar. It was real silver, lace table cloth, good crockery,” he writes.

Brendan Blake remembers that as a boy, his father hand-painted all the murals for what was to be Durban’s first official steakhouse at Butterworth’s, while Marie Brown remembers it as a very posh hotel whose ballroom had the city’s first sprung dance floor and the carpets were printed with beautiful orchids.

Later the hotel’s bar was home to the city’s first legal strip joint where the entertainment was provided by Glenda Kemp and a python named Oupa. She also did a fire eating act.

Today’s picture, taken by Shelley Kjonstad, shows little of the hotel’s former grandeur. The Victorian facades have all been removed and while it still operates as a hotel, it is perceived as a venue where sex is for sale: in 2014, Durban metro police raided the hotel, arresting 55 women for alleged prostitution.

The Independent on Saturday

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