The world remains entranced by the Art Deco period; a time of class, grace and superlative design. Egyptian Revivalism was one of the exotic Deco styles which flourished, sparked by the 1922 discovery of the tomb of the boy pharaoh Tutankhamun. It was a discovery which lit the imagination of the West. This new fascination with all things Egyptian influenced designers and soon motifs featuring scarabs, hieroglyphics, pyramids and camels appeared in the decorative arts, all the way from individual pieces of jewelry to building facades.
A hole-in-the-wall cafe located near Wickham Station relives this glorious period and is all the more authentic because it resides at the back of its own Art Deco building, a former branch of the Bank of NSW known as Bank Corner. The sign in Bellevue Street says ‘Espresso Bar’, but to the locals it is the ‘Bank Corner Cafe’ and to the owner, Tony Gluck, it is simply ‘Bank Corner’. It’s a bit like a Tardis, despite how tiny it looks from outside it’s all an illusion because inside the seating is ample. Around the cafe’s walls, above the original dark wood panels, an Egyptian mural tells the story of camels and nomadic desert traders. It was designed by Tony and his wife Jacky and painted by their children’s art teacher, Gareth Graham. Nearby a large bust of the royal consort Nefertiti watches regally over the cafe’s patrons.
The menu is surprisingly diverse, particularly considering the size of the tiny kitchen and given that the cafe is licensed you can even raise a glass (or two) if you are having a celebratory lunch. Of all the delicious treats Bank Corner offers I keep coming back to the mouth-watering fig jam, ricotta, pear and walnut combo which appears on every kind of bread and even in a croissant – try it at least once. If you are in a double speed hurry a quick caffeine fix can be grabbed from the cafe’s window which opens directly onto the street.
The walled interior courtyard continues the feel of North Africa; suspend disbelief and it becomes a hidden Moroccan sanctuary with a mysterious Marrakech Express train facade along one wall. Look up – an enormous brass coffee pot perches on a ledge, while a lighting rig made of white glass balls hangs dramatically overhead.
Tony opened the cafe in early 2011, but this space already had a long culinary and social history because it was originally the bank’s staff canteen. Tony himself has had a multiple decade career in hospitality, but had left the cafe world years ago. He found he missed having a cafe and itched for a new one.
“A cafe ignites something in me; I like people and I love creating an atmosphere. When it all comes together, the right place and wonderful regular customers, it becomes a micro community. That’s a cafe which works.”
Bank Corner Cafe, 2 Bellevue Street, Newcastle West (behind Bank Corner, 744 Hunter Street). Open every day.
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This blog post appeared in October 2013.