Over 6 years ago I wrote about the Mystic Boer family and how badly I wanted to be a part of it. If you have ever partied in Stellenbosch or Potchefstroom then you may have caught a bit of the Mystic magic but to the true connoisseur, you haven’t had the full experience until you’ve had a tequila in the original Mystic Boer, Bloemfontein…and you’ve had 21 years to do it!
That’s right! This Kelner Street staple has been in operation for 21 years and considering that they’re only closed 3 days a year, that’s an impressive 7 607 parties in the same place.
Around it, clubs have shut down, started up and shut down again, buildings have been demolished and the boerewors making entrepreneurs looking for arbitrage opportunities in the drunken masses have flipped faster than the patties on their grills. Yet this institution remains steadfast.
I had to find out why
Established by Johann Coertzen to commemorate his 30th birthday back in 1997, Mystic has seen enough tales to write a book on any subject. All of us have had a cousin who met their partner there, that story we hope our employer never hears of and a favourite spot on the bathroom wall.
Incredibly, it is one of the few places where institutional memory remains, yet seems less of a priority than maintaining the open non-judgemental space for even the most unrefined of patrons. When I began my party days over a decade ago, Mystic was a place of great rock’nroll and a very particular tequila. Today, both the music and tequila have changed, as has the setting, but little else.
Walking into the place, one still gets the sense of South Africana nostalgia with the plays on Bully Beef, cheese grater lamp shades and walls decorated with everything from corrugated iron to the South African flag decked out in local canned goods labels.
I began my reflections quite accidentally. Through the national Mensa network, I met, for totally unrelated reasons, Pretoria based Shaun…who happened to be one of the first ever bartenders back in his youth. His remarks to me were, “It’s so different…but really it’s the same.”
This is probably the most accurate description I’ve heard of the place; the bells and whistles have changed but it remains the welcoming venue and rendezvou point for any and all Bloemfontein residents and visitors. From those who spend 2 hours in front of the mirror before heading out to those who need only 5 minutes after getting out of the shower to buy their first beer, there’s a welcoming undertone amid the grungy alternative ambiance.
And staff tend to be more than staff; spend enough time in the place and you’ll develop a rapport with the waitresses and bartenders, be greeted with a handshake and a confirmatory inquiry into your drink of choice…y’know, in case you feel like changing it up. For me, this means I have some 5 seconds between greeting Francois and saying yes to double Jack on the rocks or shifting from my regular.
I mention Francois in particular because he’s been a consistent feature of the Mystic repertoire for nearly a decade, trains the new staff and is a major reason I tend to take guests from other places there.
C’mon, you’d also take your friends to a pub where the bar staff know you both by name and drink. It’s just more impressive and makes you look way more important. Oh and also he holds the record for the most tequilas consumed in a single evening; 64 shots in case you were wondering.
It made sense to speak with him about the Mystic experience
While there are obviously some tales I was regaled by which are not fit for public consumption, the common thread is the welcoming environment. By that, I don’t merely mean abusing the “ROAR Ts + Cs” but the active energy that goes into making the place welcoming; the music, the table games and smiles on the kitchen staffs’ faces as you drunkenly order your pizza at 02h00 go a long way in making Mystic feel, to many, more of a home than their actual homes. I mean, it was built out of a house after all.
While mentioning the staff, it’s vital to mention Selina and Emily. If you’ve ever had a Mystic pizza ever, it’s likely Emily made it for you. Selina has been around since inception while Emily joined a year in. If you thought 7 607 parties was an impressive figure, imagine the number of pizza Emily has made. Any publishers reading this should certainly offer her and Selina book deal because they would have seen some things amid the free spirits attracted to Mystic.
From a dude who once gifted Emily a sheep and brought it into the bar to a dude who talks to himself while searching indoors for the moon to the established Mystic Merchants to the sketch artist making a living off his art inside, there are interesting and welcoming characters to share company with.
Fortunately no matter how obscure the characters get, the safety of the patrons is never compromised. While there’s risk at any watering hole, the security philosophy at Mystic is profound. Instead of outsourcing their bouncer needs, those maintaining order are part of the Mystic family; recognisable and approachable.
The appearance of a cop every now and again hilariously causes a minute discomfort in most newbies but they too soon realise that this is only because of a mutualistic working relationship between the popo and staff. I’m told a couple of people have been banned for attempting to cause trouble, though such trouble was quelled.
As part of their upbringing in the Mystic family all bartenders undergo self-defense and situational awareness training as part of a rigorous development program…known to newbies as “Hell Week”. Hell Week can last for far longer than a week and it’s termination is subject to unanimous approval that the newbie has satisfied 3 tests:
- That they can speed pour accurately;
- That they can stock check simply by holding up and eyeballing a bottle; and
- That they can recite the name of every bartender and their respective knife
It’s this knife story that hits home for me. Upon completion of Hell Week, the newbie rises in rank and is issued with their own knife which they name and that knife is inculcated into their Mystic identity. Bartenders departing their vocation leave their knives in a display cabinet as a testament to their time there.
I’m told that they generally don’t stay in the cabinet long as many bartenders return, earning Mystic the internal moniker, Hotel California. Alas for the returning bartender thought, they start at the bottom rung once again regardless of how much time they dedicated to the place prior to hiatus.
Of course, amid the free canvas that Mystic offers, that freedom admits of certain exceptions and these rules add significant familial character. For example, ask for salt and lemon to accompany your tequila and you’ll be met with a typically jokingly, “No sorry. We don’t sell fish and chips!”. Truth though, there is no salt and lemon.
One also dare not get whitewashed in beer pong, pool or foosball lest one desire running around the table 3 times, generally in underwear.
The atmosphere reels one in so readily to the point that when “1, 2, 3 LAST ROUUUUNNNDD” is called, a particular sadness enters the soul that can only be matched some 30 minutes later by “1, 2, 3, BAAAARRRSSSS CLLLOOOOSSSEEDDD”.
That sadness quickly effervesces as you realise that unless the next day is Christmas, New Year or Staff Party, Mystic will be open tomorrow.
It’s impossible to imagine what Bloemfontein would have been like were it not for this institution. Where would all the cool kids gather? Where would all the bands play? Where would we go to bang our heads to everything from rock to trance? Where would we go to feel home?
As Mystic becomes old enough to drink in the United States, it’s important to reflect upon this institution and what a small house across a vacant car lot has brought to the City of Roses over 21 years. Anybody who has been has a memory of it and anybody who has not has probably heard of such a memory.
So shout out to the Mystic Boer and here’s to another 21 years of 100% goeie tye!