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Things are looking up for Garema Place, with a new,
classy looking kid on the block.
Playground offers something that was previously
missing from Canberra City's bar scene with its clash
of modern elegance and quirky sense of fun.
But owners Illya Mastoris, Nino Arena and Antony
Arena say they wouldn't have even considered Garema Place as a
location for their business venture 12 months ago.
The area has long been considered as a gloomy thoroughfare
between the Canberra Centre and the Sydney and Melbourne
buildings -- that was until the funky South-American-inspired
outfit Honkytonks opened up late last year.
"We realised it's a bit of a risk because Garema Place is an
interesting spot," Antony said.
"But you've got Honkytonks, and Hippo's about to do some
changes and Milk and Honey's just been sold... so we sort of felt
like this could be a new precinct."
The trio said they have no plans of competing with the area's
pre-existing tenants, but would prefer to complement their
"The thing that amazed me ... is just how supportive the other
guys have been," Antony said.
"The Honkytonks guys come down for dinner all the time, the
Hippo guys live here."
As a point of difference, Playground has focused on a tasty tapas
menu by Courgette's former sous chef Joel Miller and a stellar
wine and martini list put together by local sommelier Peter Bell.
And then there's Playground's look, which Antony said was
inspired by the likes of eccentric Melbourne icons such as
Madame Brussels, Cookie and Container Bar.
"We wanted to create something with a bit of a theme or an
idea behind it," he said.
"Lots of places in Canberra, they have beautiful fit-outs but
there's not much substance... you could take the name off one
and put it on another.
"Here if you take Playground off the wall and stick something
else, it doesn't work."
One side of the bar features a more conservative, black and
white themed décor with custom-made timber tables, while the
other side lets loose with green ivy crawling across an exposed
brick wall and artificial grass on the floor.
Coloured ottomans combined with thick ropes draping from
the ceiling and a single hopscotch etched into the floor tie the two
"There are two distinct sides to the place," Antony said.
"In some sense that probably replicates the adult human mind,
in that you have lots of responsibilities and you probably are a
little more conservative as you get older, but you still want to play
a little bit."
Illya says the idea for Playground came about when the three
friends discovered there was nowhere in Canberra City that they
would like to have a drink.
He said their new tapas and martini bar provided a much-
needed place for the capital's 30-somethings to hang out.
"At certain places in Canberra it's great until the music gets
turned up, and then it's like 'What? Huh?' You lose that ability to
have a conversation, you lose that intimacy," he said.
"Even when the music's up here, it never gets to that point where
you can't talk... or hear what other people are saying to you."
The decision to go into business together became clear to marketing
professional Antony, when he realised what a complimentary skillset
he, his cousin Nino and his friend Illya had.
While Nino's family is of Zefferelli's fame, Illya is also in the
hospitality game with Central Café in Queanbeyan and Mint at
Forrest -- just to name a couple.
"Illya's very well-connected with all the suppliers in Canberra
and good from a managerial point of view, Nino's very good
operationally... and then I do all the concept brand theming and
will do all the marketing ongoing," Antony said.
"From the moment we sat down, it just worked," Illya said.
If you're looking for a chilled atmosphere
and smooth martinis, you'll find the
coolest Canberrans down at Playground.
BY NAOMI FALLON
A: 25 Garema Place, Canberra City
P: 6262 7171 W: facebook.com/25GaremaPlace
Playground is Garema Place's cool new addition.
BY RACHEL PACKHAM
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