Little King Cafe, Chapter House Lane, Melbourne, Canon A-1, Fuji Natura 1600 35mm
Melbourne has a capacity to produce spaces that become important to the people that use them. Whether they are simply businesses, buildings, works of art, or the lanes, walls and alleyways that connect these places. We keep doing it, they evolve along with us, they are the living part of Melbourne.
Little King is one such place and its success is in part because of the ability Melburnians have to see a space and imagine what it could be, whilst retaining some respect for its history or where it sits in the city’s psyche presently. As much as I enjoy my visits there, I do realise that my interpretation of the space’s new “re-purposed” life is deeply subjective. What I feel is a tasteful reinterpretation of a location – others may see quite differently.
As an example, I used to regularly visit the small pontoon which supports the pedestrian bridge crossing the Yarra River between Flinders Street Station and Southbank. Recently this space was re purposed as a bar. The pontoon that is now widely known to be Ponyfish Island was one of my personal Melbourne spaces. There was somewhere to sit, there was nothing between you and the water, you could hear the breathing of passing rowing crews, overhear comments from tourists and ‘revellers’ aboard the Yarra cruisers or just listen to the rhythm of the overhead footsteps from those making their way across the footbridge.
You can’t do those things (so easily) there any more.
The acts of previous planners and those who think about the city helped create this space, it didn’t just occur by chance.
Deciding to make it a bar was also a choice made by planners – but I’m not as comfortable with that choice. Melbourne has many bars, very many bars, I think we can reach the point where we can have enough bars. What I don’t think a city can ever have enough of are those small spaces of intimacy that help humanise a city. These spaces need not be more than nooks or crannies, small points that aren’t a destination but serve as a detour or a place to pause and reflect.
I’m not criticising the proprietors, nor am I criticising the council(s) that were involved with making the space a bar as their hands were tied somewhat by an event that focused attention on the safety of the space. But we do need to hold on to the places that make a city personal – even if we know that it’s inevitable that they will change.
There are many more spaces that writing this piece made me think about.
The Tattersalls Lane Bar Section 8 was once (and almost still is) an open air car park, the old trees that line the wall on the Southern edge of the bar used to be an unexpected shady spot to sit and read – much to the bemusement of people exiting from the rear entrance of the shaft cinema.
The booths at Cup of Truth and Platform Artists in Campbell Arcade where you used to find “Mr Bookman’s” second hand book shop.
The kiosk under the Manchester Unity Building, that became a DVD shop when I first lived in Melbourne and then became Switch Board Cafe.
The shop in the middle of Centre Place that used to be the Polonia Bookshop, selling Polish language books and magazines. They moved to an Elizabeth Street location for some years and now trade only online (no I’m not Polish)
I’d love to hear of any similar spaces you’ve felt a connection with.