Canberra Centre Masthead

Getting crazy about Bonkers

Beatrice Smith

The cramped space of the old Ainslie Bowls club has gone and with it, the constant tinkle and whirr of pokie machines.

The beer stained carpet has been replaced by handsome dark floorboards, the TAB screens no longer obstruct the sweeping views across the greens and the bar has been stripped back to its retro glory.

Welcome to Bonkers, Braddon’s most hotly anticipated (and hotly debated) new pop-up restaurant.

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Behind this transformation is an all-star team of developer and father of present-day Lonsdale Street Nik Bulum and power couple Joelle Bou-Jaoude and Sascha Brodbeck from that little-known burger joint Brodburger.

But is this place as ‘bonkers’ as het-up locals would have us believe? Or just mildly eccentric?

“Because it’s a pop-up restaurant we get to have some fun with the menu and experiment with different flavours,” explains Sascha. “We’re going for quality — fish and chips with red emperor fish with champagne batter.”

“Old school classics done well,” is how Nik summarises the menu, which will have such throwback luminaries as mac and cheese, fish and chips and even an Iced Vovo thick shake.

There’s even going to be a recreation of a Chiko roll up for grabs, so it’s no surprise that Sascha and Nik urge guests to put calorie counting behind them when they walk through the doors.

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Part of the novelty of Bonkers will include the long ‘family style’ dining table under five metres of chandeliers, where guests can sit and mingle in groups large and small, encouraging conversation; and there are plans to extend the dining area out onto the greens, where there will be dedicated picnic blankets (with table service!) for summer evenings spent eating and drinking under the stars.

“You can sit under the stars and chat with friends. It won’t be a nightclub but there will be DJs playing chilled music,” explains Nik.

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The sense of playfulness carries through more than just the name. Vintage plates will adorn one wall and visitors will be encouraged to write ‘secrets’ on them, while on another wall there will be murals of classic paintings that the team has invited street artists to ‘mess with’. A six-metre map of the world will give patrons the chance to proudly pinpoint their heritage and butcher’s paper on tables will allow visitors to scribble between courses.

Since the HerCanberra office has spent the past six months marinating in wedding content for Unveiled, it’s also hard not to look at the open space of Bonkers as anything less than a kick ass reception venue, and as Head Chef Alex is quick to point out, they already have a booking for next year for just that.

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Contrary to rumour, the bowling greens will be staying until late 2017, with the next stage of the development process still to be finalised. The controversy that still obstructs Bonkers from securing their liquor license is somewhat difficult to fathom once you hear Nik speak, passionately, about what Bonkers will be, and what it won’t.

“Of course we’ll consult with the community when it comes to the redevelopment of the block,” says Nik, before pointing out that the space is actually more child-friendly than it was as a bowling club.

“We have a soft serve machine doing thick shakes and old school milkshakes, so kids will be able to come after school and have a drink with their parents.”

“At night we do want a crowd of locals that will enjoy the food, enjoy the music and hang out, but it won’t be a rave party.”

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Nik’s perspective on the backlash against his proposed developments is that his initial development concepts have been taken and run with. He says concepts he pitched have been taken to the point of extremes, with their current application for a liquor license for Bonkers being held up because residents are under the impression that it pertains to a drastic redevelopment, rather than the actuality of this pop-up restaurant.

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In contrast, the bowls enthusiasts, whose opinions Nik, Joelle and Sascha were concerned about, have been some of Bonkers’ most enthusiastic supporters.

“They’re amazing and they’ve written letters of support,” explains Nik.

Nik offers the O’Connor shops precinct as a diverse area that holds a variety of liquor licenses. The Duxton, The Ruc, The Polish White Eagle Club and The Croatian-Australian Club are all adjacent to community spaces and schools and exist harmoniously within the suburb.

“There’s no difference,” explains Nik. “Sage and Mint Bar and Mercure Hotel’s beer garden are all in the same area as Bonkers. It’s the inner city.”

Whichever side of the argument you come down on, there’s one thing for sure. Braddon will never be the same again.

Stay tuned for Bonkers’ opening date, but in the meantime, you can win tickets to their VIP opening event happening Friday 25 November via the Bonkers Facebook page.

Images: Martin Ollman.

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Beatrice Smith

Bea loves that her job as HerCanberra’s Online Editor involves eating, drinking and interviewing people - sometimes simultaneously. The master of HerCanberra’s publishing schedule, she’s usually found hunched over a huge calendar muttering to herself about content balance. Otherwise, you’ll find her at the movies or ordering a cheese board. More about the Author

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