‘Melbourne by the Sea’ is a new description for Newcastle that references the former steel city’s rapidly emerging cafe and restaurant scene.
ADECADE AGO that would have been an improbable description. Now it doesn’t seem so far-fetched. Newcastle’s foreshore and inner city bustle with people frequenting the restaurants and bars on Friday and Saturday nights. And on Saturday and Sunday mornings there’s no shortage of cafe customers enjoying coffee as good as any in the southern capitals. Newcastle is also developing a reputation for craft beers and artisan bread. Marc Allardice (above, at right) had been working in hospitality in Melbourne and Sydney for 20 years when, in the late 2000s, he began looking along the NSW north coast for an opportunity to open his own business. He joined a group developing a run-down surf club into a cafe and hasn’t looked back. Together with Meghan Baird (above, at left) and a few others, he converted an old garage into a cafe and wine bar in an inner-city suburb. The group is about to do the same with a former theatre in the CBD’s nearby Hunter Street.
Newcastle, says Marc, has “everything you want – the beaches, the lifestyle.”
“Then you’ve got the [Hunter] Valley with the wineries and tourism destinations,” adds Meghan, who also decided to escape Sydney’s high rents and fast pace to invest in – and permanently relocate to – Newcastle. “It’s the best place to raise kids – great schools, there’s so much parkland and it’s cleaner [than Sydney].”
“Yes, it was scary to begin with,” Marc recalls. “You’d drive down Hunter Street, look at the empty mall and boarded-up buildings and think, ‘When is this place going to happen?’ But it was in a transition phase – and now it’s on the move.”
For inner-city eateries, one of the developments expected to boost patron numbers is the opening last year of University of Newcastle’s NeW Space city campus in a stunning purpose-built state-of the-art $95 million building that’s helping redefine local architecture. The first students attended last year and 10,000 enrolments are expected within the next few years at the city campus.
The Merewether Beaches National Surfing Reserve, declared in 2009, stretches south from here for about 2km and includes the training ‘grounds’ for some of the nation’s top surfers, including four-time world champion Mark ‘MR’ Richards.