There’s adapting to coronavirus restrictions. And then there’s leaning into them.
When Jason and Katie Coats’s enormously popular Eleven Rooftop Bar reopens in mid-July, it will no longer be Eleven. Not entirely, anyway. Instead, the Coatses will launch Maya, a pop-up Mexican restaurant that’s intended to occupy the Fortitude Valley venue for at least six months.
But why press pause on one of Brisbane’s most popular rooftop bars – a place renowned for its one-of-a-kind CBD views and rambunctious late-night kick-ons – and turn it into the city’s first (in the modern era, at least) rooftop restaurant? The clue is in that opening date. On July 10, the Queensland government is scheduled to begin stage three of its Covid-19 roadmap to easing coronavirus restrictions, which will allow up to 100 people to gather in public spaces including restaurants, cafes and bars. But the relaxation is likely to come with some caveats, such as strict guidelines on customer spacing and requirements for table service.
Maya, a 90-seat restaurant, is designed to make the most of those stage-three relaxations. The Eleven Courtyard, for example, which previously held 120 people, will now seat 60 in an intimate setting among olive trees and cactus gardens.
“We have marble tables, tub chairs,” Jason says. “It will feel romantic. That was our biggest concern – loading it up with trees and furniture, with nooks everywhere. You can hide away and have a cosy Mexican night.”
“We’ve told the staff, leave the ideas of what you had about Eleven at the door,” says general manager Josh Mitchell. “We’re developing this into a true restaurant experience, from the way guests are greeted to dining at the table to the after-dinner experience. It’s going to feel much more like a restaurant and less like a high-volume premium rooftop bar.”
Maya isn’t a bolt out of the blue. The Coatses and Mitchell had been working on the concept since a Patrón-sponsored Mexican pop-up in 2019. They were in the process of inspecting potential sites for the restaurant when the Covid-19 crisis hit.
“We were left with a fully fleshed out concept that we all loved,” Mitchell says. “We saw the way the regulations were going towards limited capacity and table service. We thought, ‘Why not put Maya here, at least on a temporary basis?’ Eleven is predicated on beautiful people, beautiful views, flowing drinks, the setting sun. But if we could only have 100 people as a bar, it wouldn’t really be Eleven. So that opened our minds to putting a restaurant in here.”
Five weeks out from opening, the venue already looks different. Lines of handsome potted cacti are strewn about the place, and the Coatses and Mitchell are in the middle of replacing materials and lightening the colour palette of the entire venue. It feels brighter, warmer and more approachable.
In the kitchen, longtime Coats Group chef Leisa Smith will be cooking a Queensland-produce-driven menu that explores a variety of Mexican influences, from the Pacific-inspired food of the northwest to the Caribbean-inflected dishes of the Yucatan peninsula. There'll be small plates of spiced eggplant empanadas and smoked pork ribs; pork shoulder, barbacoa and fish tacos; and larger share plates of braised chicken, chargrilled flank steak and market fish baked in banana leaf.
In many ways, Maya is getting back to what Eleven was intended to be in the first place, after Jason returned from an overseas holiday inspired by the rooftop bars and eateries of Istanbul.
“Eleven was always meant to be the restaurant that then turned into this fun club,” Jason says. “We got so caught out at the start. We didn’t know it was going to be so big.
“If Maya works I want it to continue. Because the two concepts combined – Maya and Eleven – would be amazing. That’s what I’m praying for. If it’s a restaurant and then everyone is partying afterwards, we’ve won both.”
“Circumstances forced us to make a decision,” Katie says. “This is about the right time and the right location. But we don’t know what the end of this is like, so we’ll continue to evolve as it’s demanded. This is what we do in hospitality – we adapt.”
Maya is scheduled to open at Eleven Rooftop Bar in mid-July.