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Big Apple-style anthem for downtown Cape Town

by Kim Maxwell 31 Jul 2023
Cocktail traditions

Three New Yorkers are set to open a new cocktail and eating experience in the Cape Town CBD. The enthusiastic trio plan to make a difference through creativity, collaboration and fostering community spirit.

Positivity is an infectious thing. Two New Yorkers were brimming with it on a crisp Sunday morning, when we met over hot beverages in the lounge of the Cape Heritage Hotel in the Cape Town CBD.

Elyas Popa is a New York chef, and co-owner with accomplished New York bartender and bar trainer, Tetsuo Hasegawa. Their third partner in the business is DJ Shigefumi “Shige” Kabashima (Tetsuo and Shige also co-own Japanese-styled NR Bar in New York).

Hasegawa and Kabashima were previously involved at Angel’s Share, a legendary NYC East Village Japanese bar known for craft cocktails and for producing some of the city’s top mixologists.

ORIGINS OF ANTHEM

It was Hasegawa’s idea to create Anthem, and he’s moving his family to Cape Town to do so. “I’m Japanese and my partner is Japanese. Whatever we do is Japanese-style but also New York-style. Living in New York is influenced by so many cultures."

“Ten years ago, I visited Africa for the first time. I was backpacking and I met Brent, who runs the Zip Zap Circus School,” he explains. “Now I see them at least once a year, doing fundraising auction events here. I’ve been getting to know more about Cape Town, and I was touched by it.” He adds with a smile: “I like to challenge and push myself.”

Popa will be flitting between Cape Town and New York. “As the Anthem chef, I’ll be coming over for the opening and will probably stay until the end of the year, and then go back and forth to work with the team on menu ideas.”

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Anthem
Small plates at Anthem will be designed to enhance cocktails.

SMALL PLATES

The food concept centres around serving small plates. “The idea is that you grab a few items and they balance each other out,” says Popa. “You can have a fresh, spicy ceviche balanced by an umami ‘pap’. Everything is there to support the cocktails, which are the main show.”

As far as possible, the dishes will contain South African ingredients, with Japanese preparations and techniques. Small-plates style and focused on fresh ingredients using crudos, ceviches and dynamic pickles, Popa says.

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Cocktails at NR Bar
Craft cocktails at Anthem will continue traditions started at NR Bar in New York.

LOOP STREET LOCATION

While food is an integral part, the bar will be the hero. “We found a space we loved on the corner of Loop and Hout streets. It’s a great area, especially with First Thursdays taking place once a month … The venue is currently being renovated and people are asking us when it’s opening. It feels nice to know there’s already a low rumble,” says Popa.

Anthem’s street-level location has old wooden floors leading into the restaurant/bar, while a second floor will become something else later once the trio has tested the market.

“As two very creative people, we love to go with the flow in business. We plan for about 60 % of what’s going down and leave 40 % up to organic discovery,” laughs Popa. Hasegawa adds, “We have some creative ideas for Anthem’s second floor. Elyas always has great ideas, it’s very inspiring.” Hasegawa has designed the bar himself (he’s a painter too), and Popa was in the art world before becoming a chef.

The décor is loosely inspired by a style called kominka, which is a traditional Japanese house. They’ve sourced customised glassware and plateware from New York and the East, that will be combined with beautiful pieces of antique glassware and furnishings found during their travels.

SMALL PLATES

The bar-restaurant will only be open at night and will offer live jazz and blues. The emphasis is on beautiful cocktails, but the small plates will also share centre stage. “They work together, you can easily just have a cocktail and it will be amazing, but you really want to do it all. We recommend two to three cocktails, and five to seven dishes, for a really good night,” says Popa.

The food is “sort of” Japanese-inspired but pulling influences from all over. “From his travels, my travels, and recontextualised in our new South African life”, according to Popa. He adds: “There so many layers to Japanese food, there are curries and ramens that are deep and rich in flavour, just as much as there is clean and bright Japanese food.”

“We’ll also have some different pickles – spiced pickled red grapes, to emphasise that we’re in wine country. Fruity flavours along with rich flavours, some spicy, some smoky, some fruity, citrusy, refreshing … That applies to the cocktails and the food.”

“I plan on doing a lot of infusions with indigenous plants as flavour bases and maybe even showing them in the cocktails – but I will apply Japanese techniques. For example, Japan has a long history with sushi and crudo – raw fish, tartares, things like that. I’ll use different dressings, oils, and spices to inject more flavour, but also using ingredients standard in South Africa, for example ‘pap’, but playing with corn meals from other countries, too.

“I’m Romanian and the interesting thing about ‘pap’, it’s such a staple in South Africa, but in Romania it’s also a staple. Corn pops up in Japanese meals too. So, in ours, we may add miso to the base.”

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Tetsuo Hasegawa L and Elyas Popa at the future site of Anthem in Cape Town
Tetsuo Hasegawa and Elyas Popa at the future site of Anthem in Cape Town.

SENSE OF COMMUNITY

The team has altruistic ambitions too. “We love meeting people and developing a community wherever we go. Some of our bartenders from New York will come here and guest-spot, and maybe even some of our South African bartenders might do the same.

“The restaurant industry has a reputation for being really cut-throat, a mean sector in which to work. We want to change that dynamic: make it an empowering place where people can do better and get better. We definitely want it to be a positive, community building experience,“ says Popa.

Adds Hasegawa: “This is a lifetime project. We’d like to be a bridge from Africa to Japan, Africa to New York.”

Anthem: 63 Loop Street, Cape Town. Instagram @anthembar

IMAGES: KIM MAXWELL, SUPPLIED