Meet Herman Vercuiel and the team behind the revival of The Armchair Theatre, a once-upon-a-time Obs jewel

A couple of weeks ago I was doing my usual rounds at The Shack – ‘cause, you know, Monday night – when I bumped into Herman Vercuiel.

Vercuiel is a wearer of many hats. In this scenario, he’s a business developer and owner, but he’s also a good friend. We met on the music scene a good couple of years ago, sharing line-ups on festivals he hosted in Stellenbosch. Ous were jolling!

We’re outside having a smoke when he casually informs me of his latest business venture as the new owner of The Armchair Theatre in Observatory.

The Armchair Theatre in Observatory used to be a venue that hosted live music, stand-up comedy, plays and festivals. It didn’t have the best sound system, the stage was tiny and unreliable, the food wasn’t of Michelin Star quality, but the gees was strong and the drinks were cheap. It was an institution.

Over the years, the financial downs outweighed the ups, and they were forced to shut their heavy wooden doors to the jollers of Lower Main.

In September, 2019, Vercuiel stepped in to revive Obs’ once-jewel, so he invited me over for a drink, a chat and, most importantly, a private grand tour of the sexy new venue.

Five years ago he packed up his bags and escaped the City with Josh Roxton, guitarist, singer & songwriter, for a non-stop three-year writing, performing, and touring stint up and down South Africa, as well as Scandinavia.

Vercuiel reminds me of his tourism business, “Traveling got me into the tourism industry so now I provide all the systems for all of the backpackers in the country, the booking systems, point of sale, and then I built a travel app that connects travellers to these destinations.”

He continues, “I needed an office in Cape Town for my business. Also I had to get out of my mountain and come see the city again.”

Business partners of his had just taken over The Armchair but, due to limited resources, they needed some assistance. Vercuiel explains how getting involved was the most obvious thing to do, “Armchair is where it all started for me. I saw Josh Roxton play there for the first time. I played here a lot, in five different bands… we played here a lot. Fuck yeah, it was great!”

I’m a sucker for nostalgia and admit it, you are too. “It’s been five months and it’s fucking consumed me since. It’s weird to juggle two businesses. But I think it’s worth it, I think it’s going back to my roots,” he continues,

He’s the first to admit that his business partners, Paul William, Tim Olsson & Andy Goedhals, and everyone involved in the Armchair revival play important roles. He admits that he needed a lot of help, “I have people like Marcus Oosthuizen, who mentored me when I was doing festivals back in 2007. If it wasn’t for him I would not be here right now. I called him immediately, I was like, ‘Marc, this is happening, please give me advice. What the fuck am I doing?’”

He takes me on a grand tour of the new venue and their vision to recreate the place becomes more clear, “As you can see, we have a lot of dimensions to this place: we’ve got a working space, we’ve got the yoga studio, we’ve got a full restaurant this time so it’s not just those Happy Meal burgers at 11 o’clock at night that look like horse meat,” he laughs.

We get to my favourite section of the venue, The Theatre, and I’m amazed by how different it looks. The stage is solid, the system is sturdy and powerful, the space is clean. I ask what’ll be going down in The Theatre, “Mainly music. We’re gonna try and do the rock genres and everything else but we’d like to do more DJs, specifically vinyl. I want people to have fun, to dance… there’s no place to dance here in Obs. And the vinyl community in Obs is quite strong.” 

I notice and appreciate the absence of the Black Label branding, replaced by artisanal local brands – Flat Mountain Coffee, Shackleton Beer, Leonista Tequila. He’s proud of the affiliation, “I think the focus on small local brands is quite appealing to locals but also travellers because of the authentic South African small business vibe. We are trying to cover all our bases. And trying to be different. I’m tired of the same Black Label and brandy specials.”

The second soft launch is going down this Friday, the 14th of February (not Valentines-themed) with live music, DJs, food, and vibes, and you’re all invited to, “Revive the Armchair, revive Obs.” He may have mentioned something about free beer as well.

Check out Facebook for more information on the Second Soft Launch of the Armchair.