Once the working-class heart of Melbourne’s inner north, Brunswick is fast becoming the suburb du jour for the city’s upwardly mobile residents. But despite the rash of new high-rise apartments and ambitious renovations, Brunswick still retains a bohemian charm, led by long-time business owners who have witnessed its gradual transformation.
Alfredo La Spina
Chef and owner of Bar Idda
Bar Idda is the custodian of a long Italian history in Brunswick – one that drew Alfredo La Spina to the suburb in the first place. “I opened here mainly because I liked the history with Italian immigrants,” he says. “And secondly, I always knew that the place was going to evolve into what it is today.”
Bar Idda, located along Lygon Street, is the opposite of pretentious – a Sicilian-style diner with plastic tablecloths, mismatched chairs and melamine plates – but the food is delicious and made with care.
While La Spina doesn’t have much reason to eat anywhere else, he does occasionally venture to Small Axe Kitchen, a café that serves Code Black coffee and pasta for breakfast.
When it comes to shopping for ingredients, he heads to his regular haunt of NSM Food Wholesalers on Wendel Street. Alternatively, he’ll take a wander down Sydney Road to Mediterranean Wholesalers – a cornucopia of pasta, cured meats and funky cheeses. “It’s a daily visit for me,” he reveals.
Designer and founder of Kuwaii
When Kristy Barber graduated from fashion school, she wasn’t interested in working for a big-name designer. Instead, she set out to become one herself, and Brunswick’s very own fashion label, Kuwaii, was born. Barber has gone on to open multiple locations in the city, but the store on Glenlyon Road remains the brand’s spiritual home.
“Brunswick was always seen as [Melbourne’s] cheaper suburb a little bit further away from the city, where an artist could have a studio or workspace to start something quite affordably,” says Barber. “That creative energy is still embedded in the suburb, and it’s not likely to go anywhere.”
When Barber is shopping in Brunswick, she likes to drop by gallery and crafts store Mr Kitly on Sydney Road. “You have to discover it by going upstairs, and you’d never expect it to be where it is,” she says. “But when you enter the space, it’s this wonderland of curated, beautiful products from around the world.”
Shopping spree over, Barber likes to swing by Brunswick institution Wide Open Road, a café and roaster in an old factory where Kuwaii once manufactured its wares. “I guess we feel a little bit connected to that space,” she says. “[It has] amazing food, amazing coffee and [was] one of the first cafés of its type.”
Owner of Code Black Coffee
Born in Beirut, with a stint in Paris, Joseph Haddad came to Australia as a race-car driver. But it was in the café game that he really turned out to be a star. In 2004, he founded the coffee chain Cafenatics. Then, in 2012, he launched upscale roaster Code Black Coffee.
Haddad explains that he chose Brunswick as Code Black Coffee’s home because of its history of coffee production, with second-wave espresso culture pioneered by local company Genovese. “There was quite an old coffee culture built in Brunswick,” he says.
Since opening Code Black Coffee, Haddad has noticed the growth of Brunswick’s cultural cachet. “This is the place to be. Everyone wants to open a business here… [it’s] more multicultural now,” he says.
For a good meal, Haddad checks into Rumi, a fine-dining restaurant that serves delicate Middle Eastern cuisine.
If he’s organising drinks, he’ll take the crew to the Brunswick Mess Hall, a cavernous space devoted to booze and sharing plates. “It’s chill and I like their cocktails,” he shares. If the venue is full, though, he’ll head to Howler, a slick bar and music lounge just off Sydney Road.
Owner of Tinning Street Presents
Tinning Street Presents is a microcosm for the entire Brunswick arts scene. “Someone’s described this as a lucky dip of a gallery,” says owner and founder Marito Rodriguez. “We wanted to reflect Brunswick and the artists that we knew, [so] we were multidisciplinary from the start.” While the gallery is nominally commercial, it operates like an artist-run space, collaborating with creatives to showcase their work in the best possible way.
When Rodriguez is browsing other galleries, she likes to drop into Neon Parc just around the corner. “They’re a big gallery with big projects,” she says. “I think the contrast is nice. I like them being there; it adds to the diversity of the art around.” Another frequent stop for Rodriguez is Good Days, a Vietnamese pho specialist that uses organic produce and even has vegan options.
She also likes Brunswick Bound, an independent bookstore on Sydney Road that set up shop before the new wave of cool. “The attention you get, the professionalism is amazing.”
Rodriguez and her family moved to the suburb before it became fashionable, but she reckons that Brunswick still hasn’t lost its charm. “It’s not Fitzroy,” she laughs, referring to Melbourne’s trendy haven to the south. “It’s still grungy.”
– PHOTOGRAPHY BY SIMON SHIFF
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This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of SilverKris magazine