Given its prominent location in the centre of Fremantle, it seems almost inexplicable that the Old Synagogue has been empty for 20 years. Dating back to 1902, the site was, as the name suggests, WA’s first synagogue – in operation for only eight years before its congregation moved to Perth. Since then it has been used as an auction mart, rug shop, clothing outlet, art gallery and cafe. It’s an iconic building, but one with considerable challenges. Plans for a four-storey hotel that was never built left behind a huge pit in the middle of the site.

The heritage building has now been reinvented by Ross Drennan and Drew Flanagan of Nokturnl Events, whose portfolio includes Oktoberfest in the Gardens and New Year’s Eve festival Foreshore. The three-storey site is now an impressive 1000-capacity dining and bar precinct, home to four very different venues. It’s Fremantle’s version of The Rechabite and State Buildings, further demonstrating Perth’s penchant for filling heritage buildings with food and drink venues.

“About two years ago, with how hospitality was going in Perth, we said we’d never get into bricks and mortar,” says Drennan. “But sometimes these things happen. We saw this come up for sale and thought there was a big opportunity to create a lot of different spaces.”

The building has been carefully restored and enhanced in just seven months. Design work was completed by Arcadia Design Studio in Beaconsfield.

“We had to fix a few structural issues and shore up the synagogue building, but we’ve kept the heritage fabric almost untouched,” says Drennan. “The mezzanine inside the restaurant is built up to the walls but not touching them, so it can be dismantled. It did need a lot of work, and my bank manager is definitely my best friend now.”

The four venues are Tonic & Ginger, a modern-Asian restaurant; Mr Chapple, a cafe-bar open from early till late; L’Chaim (pronounced “le hayim”), a cocktail bar hidden behind a bookcase; and Arbor, a three-storey pub serving snacks, pizzas and elevated pub grub.

“With Arbor, it was important to capture the fact that people in Perth love drinking outdoors,” says Drennan. “Because we had a big venue with a lot of indoor spaces, we were able to take the risk and create a very outdoor venue with massive voids between levels. So it’s exposed to the elements somewhat. I haven’t seen anything like that in Perth.”

Cafe and beer bar Mr Chapple operates from a restored 1920s shop at the front of the precinct. It’s serving small plates such as patatas bravas, freshly shucked oysters and WA snapper ceviche, and coffee from Freo roaster Gesha. In January it‘ll add breakfast to its repertoire.

Some serious talent has been recruited to oversee the Old Synagogue’s food and beverage team. Head chef Leigh Power, formerly of Sweetwater Bar & Grill, is spearheading the menus at Tonic & Ginger, Mr Chapple’s and Arbor, while Dean Buchanan, former bar chief at Long Chim, is overseeing L’Chaim’s drinks program.

“Leigh’s a fantastic chef. He’s under the pump at the moment, because we’ve basically been at capacity since we opened the doors,” says Drennan. “Dean has won a lot of awards and I’m sure he’s got a lot more to come. He’s a fantastic cocktail-maker and bartender, he’s got all sorts of gadgets coming in from all over the place.”

The Old Synagogue
92 South Terrace, Fremantle

Hours
Tonic & Ginger
Mon to Thu 5.30pm–10pm
Fri to Sun 12pm–10pm

Mr Chapple
Sun to Thu 11.30am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–12am

L’Chaim
Weds to Sun 5pm–late

The Arbor
Sun to Thu 11.30am–10pm
Fri & Sat 11.30am–12am

theoldsynagogue.com.au