25 Feb 2022

“It’s an End of an Era but It Has To Happen”: Eagle Street Pier To Close, Restaurants Given Notice To Vacate

You don’t have long to visit Naga Thai, Coppa Spuntino, Rico Bar & Dining, George’s Paragon and many more before they make way for a flash new $2.1 billion precinct.

Eagle Street Pier will close in late July, bringing to an end its 33-year run as one of Brisbane’s premier dining precincts. Landlords Dexus handed tenants their six-month notice to vacate in late January.

The closure will take with it a clutch of high-profile restaurants and bars, including Naga ThaiCoppa SpuntinoRico Bar & Dining, Fatcow Steak & Lobster, City Winery, George’s Paragon and Mr & Mrs G Riverbar.

The 1989-built precinct will then be demolished to make way for the construction of the $2.1 billion Waterfront Brisbane development, which will transform the city’s riverfront opposite the Kangaroo Point Cliffs.

“It’s definitely an end of an era, but it has to happen,” says long-term tenant Michael Tassis, owner of George’s Paragon, Rico and Fatcow. “It’s become a bit of a missing link with everything that’s going on in Brisbane. You’ve got James Street doing its thing, you’ve got Howard Smith Wharves doing its thing, the [Queen’s Wharf] casino is coming up. This is the best piece of land in Brisbane, and it definitely now needs to go to that next level.”

Dexus acquired the Pier in 2015 and set about refreshing the precinct while it finalised plans for Waterfront Brisbane. A spirit of experimentation has prevailed since, particularly after the onset of the pandemic. The buttoned down Aria Brisbane became the semi-al fresco Rico Bar & Dining in late 2019, Andrew and Jaimee Baturo’s “long-term pop-up” Naga Thai followed in late 2020, and Coppa Spuntino was given new life in the iconic Il Centro tenancy. Tassis then turned the old Cha Cha Char, another celebrated space, into Fatcow Steak & Lobster, and City Winery followed with a breezy, riverside take on its urban winery concept.

“I was hoping to get another Christmas,” Andrew Baturo says. “But then there were whispers about it happening before the end of last year, so we’ve done well.

“I have no regrets. It would be great if we could stay here longer but it was never on the cards, and it’s nice to have an exit date so we can plan around it.”

For Coppa Spuntino owners Tom Sanceau and Bonnie Shearston, the rebirth of their enormously popular Italian restaurant – the Creek Street original was an early casualty of the pandemic – helped revive their fortunes as restaurateurs.

“I was hoping we could get a little longer out of the space,” Sanceau says. “Coming into such a prime space has helped us broaden our customer base. I’m really grateful to Dexus.

“When Covid started and we had to shut the original Coppa down, I had no idea what was happening in the world, I had no idea what I was going to do with my life. I wasn’t sure if I was gonna survive this with me and a chef at Red Hook [Sanceau and Shearston’s Gresham Lane burger bar]. Giving us this opportunity to deliver a restaurant on the pier, which has had so many great restaurants in the past 30 years – that was such a blessing for me to reawaken my hospitality career.

“To have that opportunity to deliver Coppa in that space where Il Centro had been for 30 years, it had to be good. It’s not just an empty space. People have memories there.”

The Waterfront Brisbane project will include two office towers and around 9000 square metres of public space, as well as expansive landscaping and shaded terraces. There will be a new Riverwalk completed in 2024 with more room for pedestrians and cyclists, with the first tower scheduled to be completed in 2026. The project will include numerous food and beverage spaces.

In the meantime, Baturo, Sanceau, Tassis and other Eagle Street operators are in the process of looking for new homes for their venues.

“When we move on it should be into another great space,” Sanceau says. “A similar space with a view. But finding something that matches this will be very, very difficult.”

“It’s been a fantastic experience going from George’s to Rico and Fatcow,” Tassis says. “It was a good ride, and we’re going to make sure that we definitely relocate in a same or similar area.”

Baturo says this “feels like the beginning for Naga, not the end”, but he'll also be occupied this year with the launch of Dap & Co hospitality group’s (The Gresham, Walter’s Steakhouse, Popolo) Dexus-owned, heritage-listed Naldham House as a multi-level restaurant, bar, lounge and function space. The former home of the Brisbane Polo Club will reopen towards the end of the year.

“That project came together almost like the perfect storm – not least of which I’d just taken over the Pony site with Naga, so had hopefully established an open relationship with Dexus,” Baturo says. “And on the back of other things [Dap co-owners] Paul [Piticco], Denis [Sheahan] and myself had done, they gave us the opportunity to look at it and they liked our ideas. So, Naga was a stepping stone for that.

“It’s the end of an era. That view of the river from the Story Bridge is something everyone can relate to. But it’s the beginning of an era as well.”

Dexus’s project director for Waterfront Brisbane, Matt Beasley, says the intention is to keep the pier busy and buzzy until its late-July closure.

“For us, it’s always been important to keep it vibrant and active,” Beasley says. “That’s obviously why we brought in the likes of Andrew and others to refresh it … It’s a six-month window. We really want them to stay and keep the place active and give people the opportunity to come back and celebrate that [history].”

https://www.broadsheet.com.au/brisbane/food-and-drink/article/wineism-brilliant-new-wine-spot-one-brisbanes-best-sommeliers-opens-albion

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