"It's an exceptional venue - there's nothing else like it."
Architect and designer Pascale Gomes McNabb is referring to the great bone structure of the grand double-storey building in Melbourne's CBD that once housed Mietta's and Comme, and from Thursday next week will house Stokehouse City.
But she might just as well be talking about the extraordinary and original transformation she has wrought, melding together beach-shack motifs and graffitied urban grit in a kind of glamorous punk-tinged whole that's edgy, colourful, a little bonkers and a whole lot of fun.
Gomes McNabb (whose work includes The Bentley and Monopole in Sydney, Cumulus Inc and Cutler & Co in Melbourne and the restaurant at Penfolds Magill Estate in South Australia) has history with Stokehouse, having redesigned the upstairs dining room of the landmark St Kilda venue that was destroyed by fire in January.
"I've tried to embody the spirit of the Stokehouse in St Kilda while giving it a city vibe and feel," she says. "Stokehouse to me always felt like going on holiday and escaping the everyday and I wanted to recreate that here, but in the context of the significant city building it now occupies."
Certainly the layout of the beachside Stokehouse has been emulated with a casual café-bar downstairs and a restaurant upstairs.
The menus follow suit, with chef Oliver Gould heading the upstairs kitchen and Nick Mahlook back in the café space, and their cartes are liberally dotted with familiar Stokehouse favourites.
But while the sand-like, geometric "tidelines" painted across the parquetry floors in each space (including the intimate late-opening nightclub in the former Comme restaurant space), along with the beach hut-style light fittings and the rough rope netting around the ornate chandeliers upstairs speak of the restaurant's seaside associations, there's enough leather and graffiti-like painting, gorgeous bespoke mirror-work and hot-pink banquette seating to show Stokehouse is perfectly at ease in the city.
Gomes McNabb is quite right - there's really nothing else like it.
Stokehouse City, 7 Alfred Pl, Melbourne, Vic, (03) 9525 5555, stokehouse.com.au
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