Oldest pub in SA 'The Percy' shuts up shop as lockdown takes its toll

  • For centuries, the Perseverance Tavern has served sailors and Cape Town's colourful entourage of thirsty patrons.
  • In March, the lockdown and national regulations prevented "The Percy" from trading.
  • Now comes the news that the historic watering hole is shutting its old doors for good.

Last rounds have been called in South Africa's oldest pub – as the lockdown claims more jobs.

The Perseverance Tavern was established in Buitenkant Street by Johannes Blesser in the year 1808, in the heart of "The Tavern of the Seas", as Cape Town was known.

But 212 years later, management has now announced its staff will be retrenched, as alcohol sales remain banned – with no end in sight.

"It's brutal. With every day that goes by, more and more establishments are shutting up shop," said owner James Charton of the impact of the lockdown.

He believed it to be "unfair that the hospitality industry has been so targeted" by the national government – and widespread job losses and closures were the inevitable impact.

READ | World-renowned Wolfgat counts losses as lockdown continues

Outside the famous watering hole on Tuesday, a group of homeless people had taken up new residence of the tavern's outside seating area – not long ago home to busy trade and cheer.

Charton said of the sight: "One can see just how quickly these old, historic buildings start to show signs of neglect when you are not there trading every day. The situation outside really brings to life the economic realities of the city and the country at large, and are a stark reminder of how bad things are.

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Liverpool v Barca is no small matter at Persies!

A post shared by Perseverance Tavern (@perseverancetavern) on

"At least our tables are bringing some shelter from the harsh Cape winter to those most in need, I suppose."

"The Percy", as the pub is known by many, is famous for dishes such as "Calf's Head Soup", "Bubble n Squeak" and "a bowl of flip with West Indian ruhm".


Between 1792 and 1850, whale hunting was in full cry, and whale, seal and penguin meat were favourite fare.

Charton and his partners bought the pub four years ago, when it came on the market.

"It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to own the oldest pub in South Africa," Charton said simply.

But the diktats surrounding Covid-19 took a heavy toll.

First, on 15 March, with reduced trading hours, then the hard lockdown of 27 March.

"Our message to our staff in March was we would take care of them through the initial three-week period," Charton explained.

READ | More than R300 million lost every day alcohol was first prohibited

"The UIF (Unemployment Insurance Fund) and TERS (Temporary Employee/Employer Relief Scheme) helped us extend the help to staff through the three-month period, in April, May and June.

"Our thinking was that, at the end of the three months, we'd be moving towards an on-consumption licence again. We have been holding on for that.

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Persies has its own Ale these days... The 1808.

A post shared by Perseverance Tavern (@perseverancetavern) on

"But with the latest alcohol ban, we have had to take this painful decision."

Already, waitering staff have had "brutal" knocks to their livelihoods – especially from tips. Now the UIF and TERS schemes have run out too.


Twenty staff will now be permanently retrenched, Charton explained.

And there was also a social cost, he believed.

"From what I've seen, people crave contact – while behaving responsibly. There's a deep need for humans to connect socially. A pub has always done a great job of that."

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A post shared by Perseverance Tavern (@perseverancetavern) on

Charton warned that businesses would continue to close – as they reached the end of their ability to cope.

But he retained some hope: "If we have any funds left and, if on-consumption licences are restored one day, 'The Percy' may open its doors again."

Until then, these words on the wall of South Africa's oldest pub will remain unread: "This bar is dedicated to those splendid fellows who made drinking a pleasure, who reach contentment prior to capacity and who, whatever the drink, can take it, hold it, and remain gentlemen."

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