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The Canberra Times | In The City Magazine | SUMMER
t’s a homegrown brand that has all the makings of a buzzing New
Yorkesque cocktail hive; yet little known are the humble beginnings of
Its yawning spaces, originally designated for a hotel, were opened as a
pizza pub in January 2009 with no music and no dancing.
Today the bar is credited with starting the “urban chic movement” in
From the concrete Y columns featuring a faint tree silhouette, to the
moving light feature and the curiously pixilated hand-painted black-and-
white mural on back wall, everything has been designed so the beautiful
people who call Tongue&Groove home will look more than twice.
Cold industrial concrete and marble juxtaposed against the warmth of
American walnut bars and leather chairs culminate in an aesthetic that has
the non-believers questioning; ‘why is this bar in Canberra City?’
Manager and ex-Sydneyite Michael Lavaki has the answer: “Canberra is
He came to Canberra with a view to expand his career in personal
training; but his first hospitality job as a Tongue&Groove bartender sparked a
complete shift in his path.
“The plan was to bar tend part time to earn a bit of money until I went
back to my field,” he said. “The environment got me... we really are in the
Back then the “pub” was in its fledgling stages – but there was still a gap in
the market for a true aesthete in the city nightlife landscape – someplace with
more than one offering under one roof.
The clientele called them on it and Tongue&Groove responded, setting
goals and achieving, in small increments, the big picture: a haven for the
bourgeoning class of Canberra City sophisticates at all stages of their night
Within one month, DJs were brought in. Among the regular line-up is uber
talented Canberra DJ Tori Mac who is a regular on RAW FM, and resident
Jungle Jerry who, from the eight-year-old who’d entertain his school mates
with his mix tapes to the guy who once played for 24 hours straight on vinyl
to win a Guinness Book World Record, has been the official DJ at after parties
for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Jimmy Choo, Tag Heuer and Formula 1.
He reckons Tongue&Groove offers the best of a club, the best of a bar and
the best of a restaurant. “I’ve seen other similar businesses try and be all
things to all people and they just can’t because getting that trifecta of bar, club
and restaurant right takes so much skill and understanding when it comes to
what your customers want,” he said.
Friday nights he puts on a real urban, soulful feel and Saturday nights
lets rip with an “open format”; “I choose the best tracks to dance to from all
decades and keep the crowd moving.”
Meanwhile, while the bar is still known for its pizzas, the menu has
progressed to a surprising offering. Popular combinations include the
“Pizooki” (pizza and cookie) and more recently, $5 tapas.
“It’s a concept we started in March,” Michael said. “It’s going really well –
looks like it may be our trademark.”
The evolution continues this summer, as the once Friday, Saturday and
Sunday-only lunch offering extends to weekdays.
“Again – just giving people what they want,” Michael said. “Our Friday
lunches were getting way too busy. People just want to hang at T&G
(Tongue&Groove) during the day sometimes... We’re transitioning into
summer and it’s just a great time for us to be open for lunches anyway.”
As cocktails incorporating lychees, peach, mint, citrus and fresh berries
revive hot and harassed city-goers this summer, it’s hard to imagine
Tongue&Groove as anything less than the city’s premier cocktail bar. But
that’s not really the point; “We don’t aim to be the best or be number one,”
Michael said. “We just try to keep improving on what we’re already doing.”
Not afraid to shake things up, Canberra’s
favourite cocktail venue is constantly evolving...
BY DIONE VAN-HEER
is in the
Tongue&Groove on Bunda Street will always be a favourite among locals and visitors alike.
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