Cafe cul­ture

‘Mel­bourne by the Sea’ is a new de­scrip­tion for New­cas­tle that ref­er­ences the for­mer steel city’s rapidly emerg­ing cafe and restau­rant scene.

Australian Geographic - - Your Society -

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.

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