The History of Fireman’s Arms

Firemans Arms History

The historical pub, Fireman’s Arms is one of the oldest bars in Cape Town and its story begins as Somerset Arms, a local drinking establishment serving refreshments to sailors and locals in 1864. For a long time the pub was only accessible to white men and when the name changed to Fireman’s Arms – in honour of the regulars who were steamship coal stokers – it became a strict rule until the 1980s.

In 1907, a Maltese seaman named Emmanuel Zammit, abandoned ship to buy and occupy Fireman’s Arms. He took up residence at the bar and was serving drinks happily with the bar’s very own dogs, Butch and Vicki for the next 50 years. The Zammit family sold the bar in the 1970s and it had various owners for the next decade becoming worse for wear until its current owner expressed interest in the pub.

One of the current owners Kevin Phelan was a world champion water skier and coach to the British team. His government asked him to investigate the severity of apartheid in sport in South Africa as the World Water Skiing Championships would be hosted in SA that year. He found that apartheid was very present in South African sport and he was on his way home to deliver the bad news when his car collided with a truck en route to the airport. He spent the next year recovering in hospital and travelled to the UK for rehabilitation. Once he was healed, he returned to South Africa and worked as a water sports director on the Vaal River for ten years.

It was the mid 1980s when Kevin went sailing with his brother around the world to beautiful locations like Santiago, Chile, Hawaii, Guam, Hong Kong and Singapore. In Singapore he met a young local named Dean Kadir. Dean joined them on the yacht and they returned to Cape Town together. When they hit the Cape coast, they had already decided to buy a bar together. Kevin had heard of Fireman’s Arms and invested in the old pub 26 years ago.

Today Fireman’s Arms is mainly a sports bar. Kevin and Dean have renovated the property, still keeping memorabilia along its redbrick walls. They’ve mounted 11 screens and offer over 25 beers brands on tap, Wi-Fi and a variety of meals including homemade soup and gluten-free pizzas from a wood-fire oven. The resident cats, Sesame and Babbelas can occasionally be found sleeping on the bar or in a patch of sunlight. Fireman’s Arms also hosts a weekly Quiz Night on Thursdays, a wonderful opportunity for Cape Tonians to get together and challenge their general knowledge and trivia with friends and family.

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