PICS: Take a trip back in time at Café Riche

Published May 15, 2018


IN the heart of the Pretoria CBD, on Church Square, lies a historical gem - the grand old Café Riche - surrounded by an array of buildings of national heritage status.

Sit down with a cup of coffee and be transformed back to more than a century ago, when Church Square was an open market square, abuzz with farmers selling their wares and residents shopping on the mostly vast open farmland.

Walking through the doors of the oldest bistro in Pretoria takes one

to another world, far removed from the modern hustle and bustle of the city.

Whether you having a cup of coffee and one of the daily made fresh treats or indulge in the array of local and international beers, a calmness descends over one when you walk through the antique double wooden and glass doors.

On a good day you can expect to perhaps meet a celebrity from any local soapies or even an international star, such as John Savage, known for his role in the epic film The Deer Hunter, who makes a turn here when he is in town.

Former president Thabo Mbeki also strolled into the café one Sunday for some refreshment.

When she is in town, the warm welcome of owner Lame Ebersohn makes it even more worthwhile to drop in here.

But it is Café Riche’s rich history which makes it a venue not to be missed.

Built in 1905, Café Riche also has national heritage status, but it is mostly still in good condition. It was restored about 30 years ago, but its walls house a host of pictures of what it and the other surrounding buildings on Church Square looked like more than a 100 years ago.

Prominent city architect Albrecht Holm captured a lot of the heritage of Church Square in a booklet which is available at Café Riche.

Holm noted that Frans Soff, who hailed from the Netherlands, designed this building in the Art Nouveau style.

Sculptor Anton van Wouw sculpted the owl and the base relief of Mercury - one of the building’s landmarks.

An interesting fact about Café Riche is that a lot of the building material came from the demolished church on the square, including the impressive window frames and entrance doors.

In the olden days, patrons used to sit in the basement of the tearoom, where they could see the feet of those passing by above.

According to Ebersohn, the café had served many purposes in the past - among others it was a bakery, a pub and later a tearoom.

“If the walls could talk, there would be many interesting stories to be told,” Ebersohn said.

Café Riche has not only served as a meeting place for the legal fraternity, tourists and celebrities over the past 20 years, but it is also a philosophy café where Eberohn hosts an array of intellectual, themed gatherings.

It is open from 6 in the morning to 6 at night for an array of culinary delights.

It is closed over weekends for now, until the renovations on Church Square have been concluded.

Whether it is to enjoy “Oom Paul se kommetjie” ( a cup of coffee from a large cup, as Paul Kruger preferred to have coffee) or simply to take a break and view the 19th and 20th century buildings on Church Square, Café Riche is not to be missed.

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