For anyone who’s pondered for a moment the unusual spelling of the busy cafe at the Bondi Icebergs pool, we have some intel that may blow your mind. The “Crabbe” in The Crabbe Hole isn’t a typo or a unique crab species found at the south end of Australia’s most famous beach – it’s actually named after owner Andrew Crabbe.
Since December 2007, he’s been serving robust coffee and simple breakfasts and lunches to salty swimmers and sun-worshippers from his tiny hole-in-the-wall cafe on the deck above the iconic swimming pool. Last year the Bondi Icebergs Winter Swimming Club turned 90, and it took the opportunity to upgrade some of its facilities, such as the sauna, the massage room and the bathrooms (which hadn’t changed in 17 years). The cafe was shifted slightly to the south, expanded and given a facelift.
“We finally have a bit of space,” Crabbe tells Broadsheet. “We now have seats indoors for those cold and blustery days. We’ve also had a chance to look at the menu and refine what we offer. What we didn’t want to change is the homely feel of the place. I’ve always strived to make everyone feel welcome here.”
When the weather isn’t blustery, punters order at the counter and then take a seat at one of the cafe’s handful of tables. It’s a pretty spectacular spot – below, people are doing laps or frolicking in the pool, and you can watch surfers catch waves in the ocean just beyond. One level above is the Icebergs bistro, and above that is Icebergs Dining Room and Bar.
Even though it’s at the mercy of the weather and the seaside conditions (which can sometimes be harsh), Crabbe says “it’s a joy to come to work each day in such a beautiful location”.
The limited space means the menu is succinct. There are pastries from Brickfields; bread (also from Brickfields) toasted and served with Pepe Saya butter and jam made by cafe manager Claudia Rowe (who also makes the bread-and-butter pickles); granola with rhubarb and coconut yogurt; and toasties, which Crabbe says “are simple but scrumptious”.
“We’ve also added a Croque Madame [a ham-and-cheese toasted sandwich with a fried egg on top], which is slightly indulgent but absolutely delicious. We now have seasonal salads too – at the moment it’s blanched minty greens dressed with lemon and olive oil. I like to add a bit of the Brilliant Foods Smoked Ocean Trout and Meredith goat feta. It’s amazing,” he says.
The house coffee blend is by Sydney-based Mothersky Coffee. “It’s an intriguing blend,” says Crabbe. “There’s actually a little bit of Australian-grown Arabica in there, which is quite unusual. But be warned: I like strong coffee, so all of our standard coffees are double shots. Not for the faint-hearted.”
That’s probably perfect for the members of the Winter Swimming Club, who meet Sunday mornings from May through September. The idea was conceived in 1929 by locals who were keen to maintain their fitness during the cold months. Each year, the season begins when members ritualistically throw big hunks of ice into the pool, then jump in. You don’t get your full membership until you’ve turned up for five years and 75 swims.
Icebergs Club Board President Benn Dullard says the renovations are the most significant investment made in the pool since the building was rebuilt in the early 2000s. And even though winter is prime sauna whether, it’s not a bad spot to hang when the weather is warm. “We moved the sauna so it’s closer to the pool stairs, making those quick dips [in the ocean] between [sauna sweats] easier. It features a bigger heating system and new seating. With views out to the bay and the north-Bondi headlands, it’s a pretty unbelievable location for a sauna,” he says.
The Crabbe Hole
Poolside, Icebergs Swimming Pool, 1 Notts Avenue, Bondi