The newcomers to Kingston
New cafe/bar Little Brooklyn due to open next week in Green Square, Kingston. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
It's Kingston, by way of Paddington in Sydney and with a certain detour through Fitzroy in Melbourne.
If you haven't been the way of Canberra's once-thriving southside shopping precinct, then you may not recognise the place. Kingston is undergoing a transformation thanks to some of Canberra's hospitality powerhouses as well as a young new generation of up-and-comers.
Last week hipster-hangout Penny University opened its doors on Kennedy Street. And the week after next will see Little Brooklyn rebirthed on the old Holy Grail site in Green Square, which is almost unrecognisable now thanks to the painstaking reproduction of the façade of an old Sydney terrace, complete with an expansive tiled balcony.
Little Brooklyn also promises the first laneway venture in Kingston with a back wall knocked through to create an airy beer garden fronting onto the grungy Highgate Lane.
Penny University is the brainchild of 22-year-old former waitress Ellie Raymond, 24-year-old restaurant manager Effie Kochinos and 41-year-old chef Alex Siu, formerly of Malamay. It's been drawing a steady crowd to its hipster milk crates, vintage tables and juice-filled jam jars.
Effie is the daughter of Socrates Kochinos, an industry stalwart who is pulling together the Little Brooklyn makeover was well as founding the Belluci's empire Cream in the city, and Urban Pantry and Public in Manuka.
His newest venture, Me and Mrs Jones, is just a couple of doors down from Penny University but both he and Effie are keen to stress that she and her partners have created the space entirely on their own, putting their money behind the venture and painstakingly deciding on every detail – from the murals on the exposed brick walls to the mismatched 1920s hand basins outside the restrooms.
Both father and daughter are big fans of Kingston and hope it can be rejuvenated to its former hot-spot status.
Effie and Ellie are too young to remember a time when Kingston was truly cool. But they have faith it can become a thriving a food and commercial district.
“We'd looked at Braddon, we love the vibe there, but this place has history, it is Canberra's oldest shopping district,” said Effie.
Ellie admitted it was a big risk to choose such a quiet and rather tired location.
“We have taken a big risk, and we were honestly really scared that it would be quiet, but we've been amazed at the traffic in our first week and we have done absolutely no promotion,” she said.
They roast their own single origin coffees, source local meats and produce and make as much in-house as possible from the pastries to the labne.
Meanwhile, as part of Little Brooklyn's transformation, the former First Floor restaurant – still in its conceptual stages - promises something very special when it opens later next year.
Mr Kochinos has partnered with Frank Condi, who owns Sub-Urban in Dickson and Edgars Inn in Ainslie, and Zoo Advertising founder Pawl Cubbin, to bring the former favoured haunt of tired and emotional politicians and their overworked staffers to life after a year of lying dormant.
Downstairs will be a New York inspired casual bar with an airy beergarden punched through the back wall onto Highgate Lane.
“We are doing good honest pub food with New York-inspired classics such as cheeseburgers and hotdogs,” said Mr Kochinos.
Eight draft beers will be on tap, big screens will feature the big sporting events while there is also a stage for live music.
Mr Kochinos and Mr Condi are both staying tight-lipped about the upstairs venture other than that it will be a more refined experience with high-end food and cocktails.
Meanwhile, the men are confident their elegant and airy balcony will be the hot spot for generations of new Kingston appreciators.
Given a recent ACT Government decision to overturn an unpopular move to remove the grass from Green Square, Kochinos and Condi hope that next year, their balcony will give patrons a view of a newly enlivened square where children are encouraged to play while their parents get their caffeine and newspaper hit on the weekend.
“What the government has done to this place is nothing short of neglect. We need to bring back the symbiosis of having a well-maintained grass square which attracts people to the area and gives the place a buzz,” said Mr Kochinos.
Mr Condi said it was gratifying to see the Government take on board the views of the community and he was looking forward to progress being made in the New Year.
“The sooner they begin work on this the sooner Kingston is going to be a great commercial centre again.”