The Radium Beer Hall was once an illicit speakeasy, selling alcohol on the sly. These days, however, it is among the most popular pubs in the country and a vivid introduction to Johannesburg's nightlife and music scene.

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The Radium spent several years masquerading as a tearoom while selling alcohol on the sly

Regularly chosen among the top 20 bars in the world, the Radium Beer Hall is the among Johannesburg's oldest bars, and one of the most popular pubs in the country.

Opened as the Radium Tea Room by the Khalil family in 1929, this Johannesburg beer hall lived a double life as an elegant European-style café during the day and an illicit speakeasy at night.

When it received a liquor licence 13 years later, the name was changed to the Radium Beer Hall and it became a men-only, rough-and-tumble, spit-on-the-floor type of bar. It was also among the first informal shebeens in Johannesburg to sell alcohol to black people, which was illegal at the time.

The Radium Beer Hall as it is today started life in 1985 when current owner Manny Cabeleira bought the premises. Much to the horror of the regular clientele at the time, he opened its doors to women and converted the adjoining billiards room in to a restaurant.

This was the advent of a new Radium, a vibrant pub and live music venue that anticipated the new South Africa by a number of years. It has always had a cosmopolitan mix of customers that includes all races and genders.

Today the Radium Beer Hall is both an authentic, historic pub and a modern bar. The walls are plastered with photos of pre-war soccer teams and jazzmen and women who have played there, plus vintage posters and old press clippings. It is still a popular live music venue, attracting a range of South African artists to its stage, including the Radium Jazz Band on Friday nights.

Of particular interest to history buffs is the scarred bar counter, more than 100 years old, that was rescued from the rubble of the demolished Ferreirastown Hotel. During the 1922 Rebellion on the Reef, striking miners were inspired by the passionate speeches delivered by a fiery female activist, Mary Fitzgerald, who stood on this very bar counter, brandishing the weapon that led to her nickname of ‘Pickhandle Mary'.

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