Jamie Trevaskis, Owner, The Junk Bar, Ashgrove
Take the road less travelled ...
The true definition of the word ‘junk’ really comes down to perspective; after all, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. In the case of Brisbane’s most curiously located new hotspot, The Junk Bar, recycled treasures are all part of the charm. A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it hole in the wall on a suburban street in Ashgrove, word of this 18-month-old bar spread quickly, not only for its quirky seventies-kitsch decor but also for the relaxed, unpretentious vibe crafted by its owners, Jamie Trevaskis and Mia Goodwin.
The afternoon sun is unforgiving as I wander along Waterworks Road in search of the reputed Ashgrove locale. As I survey my surroundings – the supermarket shopping complex, the bank branch, the bakery – I feel the unfamiliarity of suburbia surround me. This is certainly not the usual location for one of the city’s most talked about bars. I scan the streetscape for a sign that will lead me to my intended destination. Had I blinked, I would have missed it. Scrawled on a blackboard next to a glass sliding door, which could easily have been the entryway to a real estate agent or accountant’s office, are three simple words – The Junk Bar.
Heavy curtains draw back away from the glass and a bright smiling face greets me, beckoning me inside and out of the heat. She introduces herself as Mia, one of the two owners of the establishment. “Don’t worry, your eyes will adjust,” she grins knowingly as I step into the space and blink my eyes trying to get a visual grip on my surroundings.
Slowly, like a life-sized Polaroid developing before me, a scene reveals itself that makes the world on the other side of the glass feel miles away. What surrounds me now is a design aesthetic that is at once confounding and irresistibly welcoming. Barely larger than an ample-sized lounge room, The Junk Bar adeptly dances the line between kitsch and cool. Like the fashionista who dons an outrageous hat with such confidence that it instantly becomes the envy of everyone, the locale wears its decor with a nonchalance that exudes an undeniable sense of cool.
Retro wallpaper depicting a mural of a verdant forest adorns the two longest walls, which also feature mounted deer heads gazing from above. Miscellaneous lampshades laced with tassels glow earnestly upon tabletops. The seating arrangements are ample and travel a spectrum of tastes, from plush velour lounges and brocade sofas, to leather-backed armchairs and cushioned bar stools, all perched beside an assortment of delightfully passe coffee tables. An old turntable crackles a soothing jazz rhythm, and the 1970s ambience that imbues the space makes me feel as though I should be wearing a kaftan and wispy Farrah Fawcett locks.
The curator of this motley collection of curios is Jamie Trevaskis, The Junk Bar’s other proud owner, who emerges from behind the bar and offers me a similarly enthusiastic greeting. As we settle onto one of the lounges, he grins with pride for his newly minted establishment, clearly understanding its quirkiness.
“I don’t really like new things. My house and studio are full of old things and this is just an extension on my aesthetic. I don’t find any soul in new things,” he begins. “It’s a bit of a feast on the eyes, really, and it depends on which section you sit in and which way you look. I’m always in secondhand stores and I’ve accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. The idea is to eventually have price tags on things so people can take them home if they want to.”
While The Junk Bar is just over six months old, ardent followers of the Brisbane music scene will recognise Jamie as the founder of beloved live-music institution The Troubadour, which, up until recently, had enjoyed the better part of a decade as one of The Valley’s performance jewels. The closure of The Troubadour came as a shock to many of its devoted acolytes, but for Jamie the time had come to move on. “The Troubadour was open for close to eight years and in my life for ten,” he muses. “There were many, many rewards – more so at the start – but the end just got so tough. Without going into it, there is one specific reason that we closed, but in the end it was just the end. You can only fight a landlord for so long! There would have been more of a reason to fight if the area was indicative of live music but it just wasn’t anymore. Fortitude Valley was the perfect spot for The Troubadour when it opened, but by the end it wasn’t the right spot for it to be.”
So what inspired the move from the city’s most thriving entertainment hub to a sleepy suburb on the inner-city fringe? “It was just about creating a friendly, cosy spot to come and have a drink in the suburbs,” Jamie explains. “I don’t really see why bars need to be in a hotspot where everyone else is. I can understand why if you’re a business-minded person, but it seems to me that it’s a lot better when there’s nothing else around you. I used to live on the same street as The Junk Bar 15 years ago, and so I thought, well, why not?”
The ambience that Jamie and Mia have tried to create is similar to the jovial vibe of a seventies shindig with just the right combination of cooland kitsch, from the furniture to the beverages. “The whole idea about the drinks is to create what you would get at a house party in the seventies – cocktails that borderline on tacky, but the good tacky,” Jamie explains. “We’re not trying to break any new ground with cocktails. It’s more about them being chunky with lots of fruit and just fun. We have little monkeys and mermaids on them and things like that make people giggle.”
As for the food, the duo looked to their Ashgrove neighbours when creating the menu. “The food is a little kitsch as well,” Jamie grins. “We don’t do food on site but we use our neighbours. It’s really about creating community. On each side of us are a fish and chip shop and a Chinese restaurant. It’s like a tacky tapas thing without actually being tapas, because we’re not modern enough for that!”
In addition to its cheeky offerings of Spring Rolls, Steamed Dim Sims and Crumbed Cod, Calamari and Chips, there are a few other unique touches that have earned the locale its stripes. There are no decks or iPod in sight at this establishment, with the evening’s tunes selected solely from Jamie’s extensive vinyl collection. And despite the cosy lack of space, attentive table service is de rigeur, with Mia as the enchanting lady of the house.
Undoubtedly, the formula that Jamie and Mia have perfected over the past 18 months has gone down well with locals, as well as curious bar-goers from all over Brisbane who make the pilgrimage across town to check out the locale, often forming lines out the door. Jamie hopes that The Junk Bar’s success will encourage other quirky businesses to open in the area. “There are all sorts of little concepts that might pop up at The Junk Bar this year – we’re toying with the idea of having little markets out the back,” he reveals. “We’re trying to make this side of town a little hub and to maybe convince someone to open a little record store or something like that. That’s what it kind of lacks – it doesn’t have to be a whole group of bars but more like-minded shops that make a little area. That’s how all the other areas like West End started.”
Looking back on his experience with The Troubadour and now starting The Junk Bar, Jamie – now 36 – reflects that his greatest obstacles came from staying true to his original idea. “The greatest challenge has been being really headstrong and sticking with your concepts and not ever swaying from those ideas,” he shares. “I would say that The Troubadour and The Junk Bar aren’t really indicative of Brisbane and they’re not the norm for most people who open a venue or bar. The biggest challenge was really just getting them open.”
But the rewards have been many, particularly during the glory years of The Troubadour, where various music legends graced the stage. “My greatest achievement would be having some of the bands that I’d idolised for years play live on stage,” Jamie marvels. “I never would have expected some of the artists from America who came over. I think over the years I pretty much had all my favourite artists from overseas come and play the room. And I really didn’t expect that half of those people would come and play there.”
On the matter of success, Jamie admits that he rarely gives it a thought. “Success to me is being happy – that’s all it comes down to. I guess when defined in those terms, I am successful,” he smiles. “I think I’ve designed my life the way I wanted it to be and so if I can maintain this, I’ll be happy. Take the road less travelled. That’s kind of The Junk Bar’s motto being out here in Ashgrove rather than in Fortitude Valley or West End. There are a lot more things to discover on the road less travelled.”