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Thursday, 29 May 2014

Palace Westgarth

Due to a childhood filled with forced visits to antique shops, I now have a solid fondness for Art Deco and Nouveau architecture, furniture, jewellery and design. What, at the time, was a begrudging exercise for me, has actually cultivated an appreciation that I now enjoy. I guess I should thank my parents at some point...

Cinema foyer. Note the parquetry flooring,
fanned ceiling lights, and door craftsmanship.

So, naturally, whenever I come across a cinema with Deco stylings, I become inordinately excited. Although Palace Westgarth isn't as decadent or magic-filled as some Deco cinemas I've seen (looking at you, Hayden Orpheum Cremorne and Village Rivoli Camberwell), it still has plenty of charm and enough features for me to want to take photos. Hence this blog post!

What is now Palace Westgarth originally opened as the Westgarth Theatre in 1920. Increased immigration levels and proximity to the city led to burgeoning growth in the area, and a small strip of bohemian shops sprang up at the southern end of High Street, Northcote. The area retained a village feel, and the Westgarth Theatre sits in the centre of that strip to this day.

Cool curvy chairs and mirror. Matchy matchy.

In 1986, the Westgarth Theatre became the art-house Valhalla Cinema, which had been operating since 1976, but was relocated to Northcote after its original venue in Victoria Street, Richmond was sold (and later demolished). It's a good thing too, because originally, at the Richmond venue, patrons had to bring their own seats! After ten years of operation in Northcote, soaring rental costs meant the Valhalla had to close, and the cinema was taken over privately, and run as "The Westgarth" for a further decade.

Even the bathrooms are Deco. Note the mirrors and lights.

Facing commercial difficulties, in 2005, the owners sold the business side of the cinema to chain Palace Cinemas, whilst retaining ownership of the building itself. In 2006, the theatre underwent a $4 million, six-month refurbishment, converting it from one of the last two remaining single-screen venues in Melbourne, to a three-screen venue: one with 300 seats downstairs, and two with 100 seats each, upstairs.

I LOVE movie theatre carpet

Many of the building's original features were preserved, with their distinct Art Deco geometric shapes, lines and patterns. The venue also contains a wine and espresso bar (available for private functions, pre- or post-screenings) - but I was disappointed to see the coffee they choose to offer is Lavazza. [clicks tongue]

Why Lavazza, oh why?

The Palace Westgarth is a relatively quiet, small, suburban cinema but with good amounts of charm. It offers all the usual features of modern cinemas (surround sound, 3D, blah di blah, plus cheap-arse Tuesdays), but I find it's a more pleasant evening out when you can also nod to the past.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Napier Hotel

Regular readers of this blog will know I'm a fan of the classic Aussie pub. When it comes to the Napier Hotel (210 Napier Street, corner of Moor Street, Fitzroy), a lot of rave-phrases (hereonin referred to as phraveses - just cos I can) have been thrown around. Reviewers point out the pub's 'commitment to the old-school Fitzroy vibe', its support of the long-defunct Fitzroy Lions*, and inevitably mention its infamous Bogan Burger - a meal which the pub is no doubt trying to disassociate itself from, at least somewhat (as revealed by the words "Not Just Bogan Burgers!" on the menu section of its website) - possibly due to the gentrification of Fitzroy overall, and the prolific rise of foodies in Melbourne (ahem).

And here comes the crunch: Although I like the Napier, I don't love it. I don't mind it. There are better pubs around, in my opinion. Despite this, it is still very popular, raking in a 92% approval rate on Urbanspoon at the time of writing.

Original features

The food's good. The layout is messy and I find the place cluttered and a bit tacky. Some of the artworks are fun, lots in a retro style, and are obviously the sum total of years of collecting and amassing random items. Most of the building's original features have been retained, which give it a nice 'local' feel, and it is easy to find, nestled in the heart of Fitzroy, behind the grandiose Town Hall.

The pub definitely has a sense of history, and it does cater for everyone, with bar areas, street seating, an outdoor courtyard, a dining room, one or two TV screens, an ATM, fireplace, music, footy memorabilia, et cetera. However, the bar tables and built-in courtyard tables are pretty squishy: comfortably seating two, four to six at a stretch.


Front bar

I was there in a group of six for dinner; we had to commandeer part of one of the larger dining room tables, sharing the other end with randoms. It was effectively our only option, if we wanted to sit together. It was also a very noisy environment, making conversation difficult.

Main dining room

The specials board was hard to read in the dimly-lit dining room, but the food was varied, pertaining to many of the more common food requirements, and it was tasty and well-cooked. I've not tried the Bogan Burger, frankly because it sounds disgustingly overfilled (containing steak, chicken schnitzel, onions, cheese, pineapple, beetroot, egg, potato cake, bacon, lettuce AND tomato), but I did try kangaroo for the first time at the Napier (hmm, not really my thing). This time, we went for slightly more generic food options, all of which were great:



Goat curry


Prawn risotto

The wine was on the affordable side, which I liked. Service was a bit hit-and-miss, but perhaps that was due to how busy the place is, consistently. (Benefit of the doubt is my specialty!)

My sis enjoying the wine, maybe too much??

One interesting - and distinguishing - factor of the Napier is its upstairs artist-run gallery space. I haven't seen it, but apparently it has existed there for many years now. Might have to go have a look soon...

Firewood on the way out to the courtyard

The Napier would probably be one of my favourite places in Fitzroy if I lived around the corner from it. The food is great value and the vibe is pleasant, ideal for groups of two or three (but I wouldn't go any more than that). You forgive almost anything when it's your local (grumpy service, white noise) and there are many good points to the Napier. It's definitely worth checking out, but I personally prefer to stop in at the Union Club, Standard or Rainbow.

*In the five years I've been living in Melbourne, I've noticed a cult-like dedication to the Aussie rules football club that was merged with the Brisbane Bears in 1996. THAT'S ALMOST 20 YEARS, PEOPLE. I daresay many of the newer residents of Fitzroy don't give a crap about the Fitzroy club. Or maybe it's just me. =D

Napier Hotel on Urbanspoon