SurfaRosa’s Richard Liefeldt talks reviving a restaurant with local music at its core and spills on the several deals they have running

There are literally hundreds of bars and restaurants in Cape Town, each with their own vibe and offerings.

For the fancier folk, the longer the waiting list, the higher the status – think Test Kitchen, Shortmarket Club, Chef’s Warehouse, etc.

For the students, musos, and the rest of us average folk, hell, all we need is a burger special, and a 2-4-1 tequila to wash it down with.

We’re spoiled for choice, overwhelmingly so, so if you’re anything like me, you’ll stick to your local dive once you’ve found your vibe – possibly for the rest of your Capetonian existence.

I popped by SurfaRosa, 61a Harrington Street, for a lunch date with Richard Liefeldt, GM and all around vibe police of the psych-rock themed dive bar, to find out what myself, and a lot of other complacent Capetonians, had been sleeping on.

I walk down a dimly lit passage, the light at the end being the bar that spans the length of the first room. Liefeldt excitedly grabs me by the hand and leads me to one of the booths, where the wall has just enjoyed a fresh lick of paint. At first I don’t see the big deal but then I notice his name painted next to that of the partners and owners.

He’s over the moon and flashes me a cheeky smile, “Jissus bru, I still can’t believe it. I’m still kinda shaking. I didn’t think they were gonna do it.” I take it all in alongside him and then just as excitedly as when I’d arrived, he takes me to the bar. We grab a drink and then a seat, so he can tell me all about how he earned his wall space.

“So basically my role is that I’m GM. So in the Harrington’s Academy, which is what they call this building now, we have District, Harrington’s, and SurfaRosa – Surfa is mine,” he says with the conviction of a true boss! “I am pretty much left to it.”

While he takes on all the classic managerial duties one would expect from a GM, he gets excited about his extra list of to dos, “What’s also been added now is setting up events, handling a bit of marketing, and all kinds of stuff – I’m really just trying to make the bar happen.”

He gives me a bit of background on the venue and the changes it’s undergone, and tells me how this is the kind of responsibility that really tickles his pickle, “I really wanted something that was going to be mine, where I could choose the identity. It’s been really great, ‘cause I’ve never been given this much freedom.

He thinks about it for a second or two before adding, “Freedom to fucking fail, to be honest. Like if I plan an event and I spend a lot of money and it fails, that’s on me, but at least I got to think about, create it, and do it. And I’ve really been pushing [the brand]… We’ve had our best six months that we’ve had in years.”

Music is Richard’s first love – he sings vocals and plays guitar for band, Retro Dizzy – what marvelous misfits – who have been owning the psych-rock scene for over six years now, and also fronts his solo project, Dr. Lovefield.

It makes sense, then, that incorporating music into Surfa Rosa’s culture is so important to him – it is an extension of himself. Previously, Surfa Rosa gave off a punk vibe. Now, under Liefeldt’s shot-calling, it exudes psych-rock.

It’s quite a compact venue, but I’ve heard about live music kicking off there, so I ask about gigs, “So we’re gonna be doing more gigs this year, it’s like a very big thing for me. But what I wanna do is broaden the range of the genres at Surfa, not just psych rock.Trying to set that up is a bit difficult, trying to get sponsors, ‘cause we don’t have a stage, but we’re getting there and hopefully I’ll be rolling out some dates in March.” 

I ask him about specials which, admittedly, is how he lured me here in the first place.

He’s been itching to answer this question:

The Birthday Special: all you have to do is make a reservation for 10 of your friends, within the week of your birthday, to earn yourself a bottle of tequila, a booth, and two pizzas on the house. Oh yes, and balloons!

Happy Hour (Tue ‘til Sat, 5pm – 7pm): R11 tequila, R11 Jagermesiter, R11 Whiskey (yes, that means double whizzers for R22), and R25 pints.

Pizza & Beer Special: R50 for a pizza and a pint between Tuesdays and Thursdays

Taco Special (Tue – Thu, 1pm ‘til 3pm): Two generous tacos (steak, fish, or veg) for R35, as opposed to R50 and R60.

Burger Special (Fri & Sat, 1pm ‘til 3pm): R80 for a burger and a pint, or R50 for just the burger (only meat options for now, but veggie burgers coming soon).

“We want to offer something that isn’t just pizza because that could get bland. Obviously Surfa is still a dive bar so we’ve had to stick to that way of thinking but we’ve also added a few lekker options. I really just trying to see what works and what keeps people happy.”

He ends off, “I guess I just really like sitting in a bar. What’s funny is that I get paid for it.”

Photos by Nick Andrews.