Around 20 years ago, Kirsten Taylor wanted to open a beatnik-style underground bar in her hometown of Canberra, complete with “poetry, turtlenecks and bongo drums.”

Instead, she and husband Richard moved to Melbourne and opened Fairfield cafe Hoppa and Joe in 2016, but the bohemian dream lingered.

The couple saw a Venn diagram online about beatniks and hipsters showing a shared love of coffee, so a cafe fit the bill. Serendipitously, a grungy corner cafe became available near Sydney Road in Brunswick, which had lived many lives as a butcher, fish-and-chip shop and a cafe. Now it’s home to Neon Beatniks, a polished cafe with a staunchly monochrome fit-out, save the green from a number of indoor plants.

Shreds of all identities remained in the “awkward, badly used space” before the Taylors renovated, including ’70s-era tiles and grey and maroon vinyl flooring.

“It was like pulling a thread on a jumper,” Kirsten says of the four-month overhaul. “Richie built and managed the majority of the project and I had free reign on the design. We’re fans of modern industrial but it’s a fine balance to make sure it’s not too cold, so we’ve softened it with plants.

“The area is so diverse and full of artists, it’s a completely different feel to Hoppa – that’s the pretty little sister, all white and navy blue.”

The all-female kitchen, led by Kate Hale (formerly Red Door Corner Store), pumps out creative, comforting brunch dishes. Around-the-world flavours are inspired by Hale’s recent travels. Dishes such as a kimchi bowl with sticky pork belly, and dahl fritters with avocado and turmeric puree and coconut sambal (Kirsten’s favourites) are hearty and punchy. Richard’s standout is the baked eggs with 24-hour braised ribs.

Hoppa and Joe’s breakfast bruschetta (avocado, bocconcini, cherry tomatoes and basil) has made the trip to Brunswick. “We toyed with the idea of not putting avo on the menu, but changed our minds,” Kirsten says laughing.

Hangover-friendly toasties and cakes work well with the consistently good Mailing Room coffee.

Much like the building, the couple’s rich “past lives” have left a mark on the space – Kirsten studied architecture and Richard was a graphic designer and graffiti artist. He’ll soon be using his spraying skills for a mural on the outside wall.

Neon Beatniks
43 Glenlyon Road, Brunswick
(03) 9041 6567

Mon to Fri 7am–3pm
Sat 8am–3pm
Sun 8.30am–3pm