First Look: St James Theatre Cafe
In its early days, the bar in the St James Theatre foyer was the place to go for an intermission ice cream or pre-show shandy. Later, during the theatre’s dance-party years, it was where bug-eyed ravers necked energy drinks before heading back into the fray.
And then, for eight long years, the St James went dark. You most likely know the story – the closure due to fire damage in 2007, the endless official equivocation, and the rehabilitation plan announced late last year. The ambitious project had an agonisingly distant completion date of 2018, so news a café had opened in the theatre’s foyer came as a surprise to many.
To be clear, the St James Theatre is still a long way from being fully operational – just ask restoration artist Keron Smith, pictured above. She’s spent the past three months painstakingly repainting the theatre’s ornate plasterwork, curlicue by curlicue, and estimates she still has three years of work ahead of her.
The St James Theatre Cafe is run by Auckland hospitality veteran Chris Barron, who also owns CBD bar Society & Nook. He’s keen for the café to be an inclusive sort of place. “There’s a lot of students in this area, people who’ve never stepped foot inside the St James, and we want them to feel as welcome as those who already know and love the theatre.”
To that end, the café sells $4 cheese toasties alongside its $18 full breakfasts, and offers student specials like coffee, eggs and toast for less than $10. The lunch menu, launching in full next week, includes dishes like a spicy duck, quinoa and kale salad, braised lamb shanks, and pastas and risottos of the day. A liquor licence is on its way, and Barron says he may consider opening some evenings, depending on demand. The café will continue to grow and expand as the theatre is gradually revived. For now, the chance to enjoy a coffee inside this magnificent Auckland icon is more than enough.
312 Queen St (entry via Lorne Street)
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