There’s something deliciously decadent about staying in a hotel for the sole reason that it’s right next to the place where you intend to spend an evening sampling too much wine.
Especially when you’re so close to home that you could easily climb into the car instead of slipping into an unfamiliar freshly-made bed. But it’s that feeling of unnecessary and naughty extravagance that makes it so worthwhile.
It’s not that I need to knock back eight bottles of wine to make an evening jolly, but after only a couple of glasses of wine I know a breathalyzer will find me guilty. Yet in that terribly practical and cheapskate manner I really must learn to conquer, I always end up driving home.
Just like every other free-and-easy imbiber, making the roads around Johannesburg’s most popular nightspots decidedly risky, even if you’re the solitary stone cold sober motorist.
Since exercising abstinence isn’t my forté, it was a real treat to discover a guest house right opposite Giles, a lively suburban pub in Craighall. What bliss, knowing I can party till closing time then simply totter over the road instead of hoping the police are taking a night off in that neighbourhood. Giles is so popular with the after-work crowds that parking is a problem. I get there shortly after 5pm, and predatory cars are already prowling for parking space.
It’s odd that I’ve never noticed the driveway of the Ailsa Craig Bed & Breakfast before. The gate slides open, and inside is precious parking space for five or six cars. At weekends I bet Ailsa could rent out the parking bays and double her income.
I drop my overnight bag on the chintzy four-poster bed and go in search of the lounge. Alex the assistant is lighting a fire, then pours me a glass of red wine as I curl up with a book. I’m a few kilometres from home, but I feel utterly on holiday.
Later Ailsa wanders in and tops up my wine. We instantly hit it off and soon we’re chatting like old friends. She curses herself for eating a late lunch, otherwise she’d have joined the merrymaking over the road.
Guest houses in the night-spot suburbs could do a roaring trade as revellers stagger out of the bars, fumbling for their keys while patrolling policemen turn the roads into cop-car alleys.
It’s difficult to justify the expense, of course, because splashing out R600 for a single room when your home is 20 minutes away seems preposterous. But it isn’t about the money. It’s about that awful uneasiness when you know you’re over the drink-driving limit. Because the limit is surprisingly low.
It’s about the nerves that strike when a police car tucks in just behind you. It’s the moral dilemma of wondering whether you’d offer a bribe or take the punishment of being locked up for the night.
Then there’s that frisson of excitement sparked by doing something different. If you’re out for a romantic dinner with your partner, what a treat to tumble into bed immediately, instead of bickering over who is sober enough to drive.
Then there’s the pleasure of waking up to a leisurely breakfast you didn’t have to prepare yourself. It’s only one night, but that break from mundanity is precious.
There’s a risk that you’ll get a taste for it, of course, and carouse in the Melrose Arch bars before sleeping it off at the five-star hotel for close to R3,000. Or go celebrating in Sandton and check into the Michelangelo for around R3,400. The possibilities are as endless as your wallet.
Back at the cheaper end of town, many Jo’burg guest houses do a roaring mid-week trade with businessmen, but at the weekends they’re languishing empty.
Not any more. This decadent drinker is planning on conducting some additional intensive weekend research and turning B&B into B&B&Booze.
Lesley Stones began her journalistic career reviewing rock bands as a teenager. It took her about a nanosecond to figure out it was a brilliant way to earn a living.
After working for various newspapers Lesley left her native England and moved to Cairo, reviewing restaurants, subbing for a newspaper and finally editing a technology magazine.
In 1996 she came to South Africa, planning to stay for a couple of years. She is now Proudly South African, despite her funny accent, and loves writing opinionated pieces about travel, leisure, the theatre and life in general. She has been the Information Technology Editor of Business Day for 12 years.