One of the conditions included in the original grant of land at Fish Hoek made to Andries Bruijns in 1818 was, in the original Dutch, “dat by aldaar geen tapneering zal mogen dryven”. This was translated in the English version as “not to keep a Public Winehouse”. The exact meaning of these words has been argued about ever since but it would appear from other documents from that time that this was meant as a complete ban on liquor sales.
The first sale of plots at Fish Hoek having taken place in April 1918 the first application for a liquor licence in the village was made in August 1918. This application was made by Stephen William Cavanagh who had owned the Grand Hotel in Muizenberg. The application, which was for the recently opened Homestead Hotel, was refused by the Magistrate at Simon’s Town. In 1922, at a public meeting held in Fish Hoek it was resolved to fight any applications for liquor licences. A letter from the Fish Hoek Vigilance Committee was published in the Cape Times on 24 February 1925 stating that the residents were completely opposed to the granting of liquor licences.
In October 1928 the proprietors of both the Homestead Hotel and the Windsor Hotel applied for licences. The Fish Hoek Village Management Board submitted a petition objecting to this, which was signed by the majority of voters in the village. The Magistrate refused to grant the licences but the applicants appealed to the Cape Supreme Court where, after much discussion and reference to archival documents, the appeal was dismissed with costs. However, licence applications continued to be made as businessmen realised that a licence in Fish Hoek would be a paying proposition, but the residents, by submitting petitions against them, continued to keep Fish Hoek “dry”. It was not that those residents were teetotallers, far from it, in fact it was said that the delivery vans from the bottle stores “up the line” could be seen in the streets of Fish Hoek every day. It was just that they did not want a bottle store in the area to encourage “layabouts”.
In 1955 a special organisation was formed specifically to fight liquor licence applications and called the Defenders of Fish Hoek. They had no written constitution and no subscription but donations were accepted and annual meetings were held to elect officers. In 1956 there were nine applications for licences. A petition against them being granted containing the signatures of 1393 registered municipal voters, out of a total of 2083, and a further 1409 residents who were not voters, was presented by the Defenders. This was estimated to be nearly 85% of the total adult population of the town. The licences were not granted and another six applications were successfully contested in 1957. This had become an annual event!
After the publication of the draft Liquor Amendment Bill in 1963 a delegation consisting of Councillors, members of the Defenders of Fish Hoek and the Ratepayers Association, met with the Minister of Justice. They asked that a stipulation that no further liquor licence applications in Fish Hoek would be considered for at least ten years be included in the Bill. Speaking at a public meeting in the Fish Hoek Civic Hall the Minister of Justice, B. J. Vorster, replying to a vote of thanks for his help, said that the period could be fifty years, or longer, if the residents wished. In future the onus would be on the applicant fora licence to prove that the residents were not opposed to it being granted.
In the 1970s the granting of a club licence to the Fish Hoek Sports Club was hotly debated. A referendum was held in June 1981 at which the granting of such a licence was rejected by 1055 votes to 758. Out of an estimated 5057 eligible voters only 1816 people voted, three of those being spoilt papers. The newer residents did not seem to care very much whether there were licences or not.
After the new Government was elected in 1994 election the new Liquor Act did not contain the provision about Fish Hoek. Businessmen soon discovered this and there were soon five applications for licences in Fish Hoek. The Residents Association held a public meeting and after much heated debate it was decided to regularise the situation, in which liquor was being served illegally in local restaurants, by agreeing to the provision of restaurant and bar licences but not to off sales. So it was that for the first time one could legally buy an alcoholic drink in Fish Hoek. However the debate goes on, the Battle of the Bottles is not over.
The Defenders of Fish Hoek still exist and are waiting for the next round!