IT’S pop goes the wine bar in the ‘‘top end’’ of town, with a swag of hospitality entrepreneurs poised to open food and vino venues.
Chris Johnston, owner of popular King Street cafe Good Brother Espresso and Islington’s Suspension Espresso, says the flux of new restaurants and small bars in the East End and mall precinct is noteworthy.
‘‘The atmosphere is just electric. I’ve never seen it like this before. You hear about something opening up every week,’’ says Mr Johnston, who plans to apply for a liquor licence to allow Good Brother to trade at night as a small wine bar as early as January. A hospitality veteran, Mr Johnston is also one of four businessmen, including Silverchair bassist Chris Joannou, who are developing a sprawling bar, dining and creative space in Parry Street, in the West End, which is slated to trade in December.
The first venues to open as early as next week will be the long-anticipated Reserve Wine Bar, on the corner of Hunter and Bolton streets, and Cazador, in the former Coffee on Hunter site in the mall.
Cazador, the Spanish word for Hunter, is backed by Sprout Dining creator Tom Brown, his Sprout colleague Mitch Carroll and their mate Alex O’Hara. All proud Novocastrians, the trio believe their venture, a casual restaurant bar that will target the early 20s set, and others like it will help keep young people in the city.
‘‘All good Novocastrians go away and travel, and they always come back, because the city has a lot to offer and I think it is starting to become more urban and now has more and more things to offer,’’ Mr Brown says.
Cazador, which will draw on the best of quirky small bars in Sydney and Melbourne, might be the first small wine bar to trade at night in the mall in years.
The Cazador operators believe the mall is ‘‘at its best’’ in the evening, with its historic buildings lit, and say the swag of new ventures and increased traffic of people will make it a safer place.
Further along in the mall, the owners of One Penny Black will shift their espresso bar west, below Morrin Dental, next month.
Rebecca Thompson, a co-owner with her siblings, Alison and Garth Buchanan, says their hugely popular espresso business would continue, but says the trio sought a general liquor licence at the behest of clients keen to have a post-work tipple.
‘‘The major focus is coffee, but we’re introducing a small boutique range of alcohol with an emphasis on whisky and simple meals to complement that,’’ she says.
Moving west to the strip of Hunter Street near the NIB dental clinic, two Central Coast-raised mates will open a speakeasy or Prohibition-era style bar in November.
Ethan Ortlipp and Ryan Hawthorne are proteges of Sydney wine bar pioneer Michael Fantuz, whose ventures there include Surry Hills haunt Sticky Bar, Buffalo Dining Club and the recently opened Chester White Cured Diner in Potts Point.
Mr Ortlipp is keeping the precise address of Coal and Cedar off the radar in a nod to the hidden speakeasy bars that riddled the United States in the Prohibition era, when alcohol was outlawed.
‘‘It will be themed early 20th century with Louisiana and Deep South influences on the menu, blues and jazz, a very, very low-key entry, New York exposed brick and long bar seating.’’
He says the Sydney small bar scene is saturated and Mr Fantuz had recommended branching out to a developing city with an appetite for small bars.
Mr Ortlipp, who has moved to Bar Beach, says the ‘‘tide was changing’’ in Newcastle, where he has done extensive research for Coal and Cedar.
‘‘You hear stories of the crime and I got up here and I thought ‘Look at all these people out on a Monday and Tuesday night, having a great time and happy to go home at midnight’,’’ he says.
While Mr Johnston is busy planning the new fitout for Good Brother to accommodate his bar plans, diagonally across the road in the old X-Ray Rooms building another venture is taking shape.
Author and international war crimes expert Gordon Weiss, who made headlines early last year when he penned a piece for The Global Mail about the best and worst of Newcastle, is planning to open a small wine bar.
Mr Weiss, who has lived in Newcastle for close to four years, was coy on detail but says Bank Corner cafe owner and Goldbergs founder Tony Gluck had been mentoring him.
‘‘I am planning to play off the origins of the building – it was originally a garage from the 1940s, but it is a blank canvas, a wonderful huge square box,’’ he says.
‘‘We are aiming to open something in the spirit of Goldbergs, which is interesting and will stand the test of time.’’
Sydney-born Mr Weiss, who worked for the United Nations for 12 years in conflict and post disaster and has written a book about war-torn Sri Lanka, says it is an ‘‘opportune’’ time to be going into business in Newcastle.
‘‘This particular block [King Street] is the most interesting spot to be in Newcastle at the moment; it’s a restaurant district and an obvious spot for small bars, because it’s got A-grade commercial premises being built, a number of apartments and high-end student accommodation going in.’’
Ian McMananey, a semi-retired Sydneysider who owns the old Bowery building that houses Good Brother and is planning to put apartments on the top floor, says inner-city Newcastle has turned a corner.
‘‘Five years ago, we were in despair, but now because of the developments near the beach, the baby boom retirees and young professionals, there’s a bit of street life.’’