By Mia McCarthy
There is something delicious about becoming a regular at a local cafe. There’s no better feeling than arriving at the establishment, sitting at your favourite seat and, before you can even look up, having an expertly prepared flat white set down before your eyes.
Such a thing happens to me every time I visit the wonderfully charming Sonder Cafe in Observatory. Sonder was born out of an intuitive need for connection following the worldwide quarantine of 2020. It opened its doors in January of 2021 and established itself as a firm favourite amongst Observatory’s myriad students and freelance copywriters almost instantly.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Sonder such an exceptional cafe, especially in a suburb which is riddled with restaurants and coffee spots. You could pick any aspect of the establishment and become easily impressed. The coffee (importantly) is delicious. Mild, fruity, and served in beautifully glazed hand-thrown ceramic mugs. The menu is fresh, tasty, well-priced, and written with a remarkable knack for puns. You’ll get no points for correctly guessing what toppings you would enjoy on the Hamela Anderson bagel, nor for predicting what might go into a Friends with Benedicts, but that truly is the mark of a masterful play on words, isn’t it?
The decor (exquisitely curated vintage bohemian) lands you somewhere between your mum’s kitchen and the kind of trendy Capetonian coffee hub that worms its way inevitably onto Instagram, replete with macrame hangings and a gallery wall. There’s not a drop of pretension to be found at Sonder, though, which is refreshing in the Cape Town caffeine scene. Chase, one of the co-owners, is always quick to ask me how the writing is going. Mish, the mastermind behind the cafe, runs business with quiet efficiency. TK, the attentive barista, has taken care to memorise my order, a gesture which has cemented Sonder in my estimation as a coffee shop of repute.
There’s always something going on at Sonder. The gallery wall, which is as functional as it is lovely to look at, features a rotating assortment of local artists’ work for sale. At some point last year, the centre of the wall featured an enormous gouache painting by Capetonian artist Amy Lee that was worth more than a month’s rent to me at the time. It was only through the exercise of Herculean self-restraint that I was able to resist making myself homeless for art (is this not the plight of every self-respecting writer?), though I did purchase a smaller artwork of Amy Lee’s from the Sonder wall. It is one of my dearest possessions.
If you ever tire of looking at the magic walls of Sonder, you can entertain yourself with the in-house library (which takes donations from the public!) or the antique chessboards. Everything about Sonder is designed to make you feel at home, and it works. A few hours passed at the cafe will have you overhear a spirited political debate between students in Thai harem pants, identify another harried copywriter wrestling both his deadline and his excitable, leashed poodle, and watch a first date unfold between two blushing millennials.
To the backing track of a pleasant playlist which never fails to impress with its agility and range, one comes to realise that one is settling into the true meaning of sonder - the recognition that strangers enjoy lives that are as rich and complex as yours. At Sonder, every stranger has a story, and it’s been nothing short of a pleasure for me to write some of it.
79 Lower Main Rd, Observatory, Cape Town, 7925
079 094 7662