Stokehouse City Opens

By Rebecca Elliott
28th May 2014

When a kitchen fire ravaged the iconic Stokehouse in St Kilda in January, the hearts of many a Melburnian collectively broke. For 25 years, the Melbourne institution revelled in its prime St Kilda foreshore location, undergoing numerous reinventions, most recently at the end of 2012 when the Stokehouse Downstairs was transformed into Stokehouse Cafe.

The Stokehouse crew and wider Van Haandel Group, owners of the restaurant, were understandably devastated but they weren't going to wallow in their sorrows. Less than a month after the fire, the temporary Stokehouse Pop-Up structure was erected on the site, opening on Valentine's Day. And this was no backyard tent situation; it was a fully-fledged operation, where the teams from Upstairs and the Cafe morphed into one.

And now, just four months down the track and only five weeks since the announcement was made, the impeccably-designed Stokehouse City has opened to the public on the site of what was after work drinks hotspot, Comme, almost a week ahead of schedule.

"It was no mean feat but we had a great crew that helped with everything from design to build and we did it," said General Manager of the Van Haandel Group, Anthony Musarra.

"The whole intention was to bring Stokehouse to the city in terms of how it felt, but not necessarily replicate what we had in St Kilda, and so far so good."

Like St Kilda, Stokehouse City dining is separated into two sections: a more sophisticated approach Upstairs with Head Chef Ollie Gould remaining at the helm, and a more relaxed, deconstructed menu Downstairs, designed for sharing.

Unlike St Kilda, Stokehouse City has inherited a cosy bar from Comme, which has simply been named, The Back Bar.

"It's a dark, moody space which we thought would be a nice addition to what we've already got so people can slide in there later in the night," Musarra commented.

The Van Haandel Group entrusted revered Melbourne-based architect, Pascale Gomes-McNabb, with the interior design of the entire establishment.

"She's got a really good association with the Stokehouse. She reinvented Upstairs for us back in 2010," said Musarra, "And she really understood our brief of bringing that beach vibe aesthetic to the city without being a literal interpretation.  

Gomes-McNabb has energised the tired interior through fresh, natural colours; large light shades made from raw canvas; and stripped back floors.  Her signature use of timber also features throughout, most predominantly in angled, blonde clusters shrouding the overhead racking of the bar Downstairs.

The building's original chandeliers have been cast with hand woven nets, providing a hauled-out-of-the-ocean effect, while another key feature is the installation of a big open-faced oven for freshly baked focaccia, amongst other gastronomic delights.

Despite the effort that has gone into creating Stokehouse City, it may not be here to stay. The eye is still on the prize and that's rebuilding the Stokehouse in St Kilda.

And while architect Robert Simeoni's design has been chosen for the Jacka Boulevard site, the Van Haandel Group is keeping mum on an opening date.

What they can tell us however is that the Stokehouse City is an exciting new chapter for the Group.

"The vibe's great," said Musarra, "It (the fire) seems like it was a lifetime ago already; we're all really proud of what we've achieved in such a short space of time. And the support we've had from the public has been amazing so everyone is really pumped to be here."

Image Credits: Tash Sorensen, The Urban List

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