Nathan Toleman recalls opening his first cafe, Liar Liar, off Glenferrie Road, Hawthorn in 2007.
“At first people were a bit funny about having to share tables and sit on stools and things,” says Toleman. “It was a bit of a shock to them, but we wanted to shake it up a bit. And after a while, they really embraced it.”
While there was no shortage of cafes at the time, Liar Liar was something new. With an elegant yet approachable menu and a Western Australian barista named Nolan Hirte (who you might know as the now-owner of Proud Mary) pulling Five Senses, the cafe raised the bar for what was expected at the time.
Toleman sold out of Liar Liar after 18 months and went on to set up Two Birds One Stone, Top Paddock and The Kettle Black. With the benefit of a decade of hindsight, it’s easy to look back and see Liar Liar as a clear indication of a shift to come.
Hawthorn has always been a good area for eating and drinking. Its proximity to Swinburne made it a sure thing for cheap, student-friendly restaurants and uni bars. But as more diverse residential options help young families move in, the area is changing. And over the past few months one particular aspect has changed more quickly than others.
While old haunts such as Liar Liar and Nevermind remain, they’re being steadily encircled by a crowd of new players. Yo-Chi, Fonda, Huxtaburger and Hakata Gensuke all opened additional outlets in the suburb within 12 months of each other.
Hugh Hindle, owner of Short Straw, a cafe that opened over Christmas, feels like he’s got a pretty good grip on the suburb – he went to school in the area (and later hung out in some of its less salubrious institutions).
“Hawthorn has definitely come a long way in the past few years,” he says. “The area feels like it’s had a breath of fresh air. It’s coming into a bit of a purple patch at the moment.”
Real estate journalists have pointed to the increase of apartment developments in the area, particularly in the past two years. These provide residential opportunities for young couples, singles and down-scalers.
Last December, James Klapanis opened St. Cloud, a Vietnamese-inspired restaurant that’s already heaving with locals old and new. Klapanis felt that, despite its solid offering, the area was underserviced, particularly considering the rate at which new residential developments are being built.
St. Cloud is a vibrant, casual, flexible venue, complete with craft beer, cocktails and a rooftop bar. It’s just the kind of place Toleman reckons locals are after. “That restaurant is an indication of the style people are loving at the moment,” he says.
You can't discuss a Hawthorn revival without mentioning the Lido Cinema – a new multiplex with a rooftop cinema from the owners of The Classic in Elsternwick and The Cameo in Belgrave. It has its own Huxtaburger, and is home to the very freshly minted Vaparetto, a Venetian-style bar and restaurant that aims to bring a polished Italian-dining experience to the area.
Vaparetto co-owner Stephanie Edgerton believes there’s a real opportunity to forge an evening trade. “There are a lot of daytime operations, but not as much nightlife,” she says. “Obviously Fonda’s a big player, but it’s more casual and fast. We’re going for more of a restaurant feel.”
Over the four-or-so years Edgerton has worked in the area, she’s noticed a significant shift in its character. “It’s amazing how much it has changed just in our little pocket here on Glenferrie Road,” she says. “When we first opened almost four years ago, it was pretty much just us and Axil. Now the area’s just booming.”