Chocolate by the Bald Man. Hell of a description. The latest haven for coffee lovers of Brisbane, or should I say chocolate lovers. Cos that’s what’s on the menu – advocates of diabetes are probably up in their sanctimonious arms, whilst the dentists and personal trainers are squealing with delight. This place is the biz. I have been here at least 10 times, and 9 times it has been extremely busy. It must be a testament to the tastes and sugary palette of the citizens of our fair city that this place is doing very, very well.
The patrons are the mix of people you see at all the coffee hotspots – students, girls meeting for coffee, an early bite before a night out. A trio of 12 year olds seated at the table next to me are celebrating a birthday. When asked why she chose this place “it’s really different and unique, like nothing else.” Birthday girl is an old-hand at this Max Brenner schtick – been to the one on the Gold Coast, and in Melbourne. Bloody hell, cooler than me. When I think back to my 12th birthday, I think it involved a bowling ball, clown shoes and the Northside of Brisbane. Probably a testament to the universal appeal of the place, and quite rightly so - who doesn’t like chocolate? A couple in the corner are clearly on a first-date; slick move partner. Any man who took me on a date to a chocolate bar would be booking a second appearance for sure.
Any of my close friends are probably already aware of my addiction to sugary delights – the unmistakable din of shaking nerds from the packet can often be heard from my neck of the office woods on any given day, and the earlier statistic of 10 previous trips to this venue is more cursory evidence.
Let’s be clear – this is not just the normal cappuccino and chocolate cake joint – this place is innovative and makes chocolate the ‘hero’, to use the parlance of food reality shows. The menu shows such innovation in a chocolate pizza, and white chocolate chai tea. A chat to one of the hard-working and speedy servers affirms my earlier supposition, this place is always crazy busy. Perhaps fractionally less so during the day when school is in session, but then the wait is probably only 20 minutes rather than the usual of around 35 minutes.
This place has ignited my literary dreams in an unexpected way – in the same way Allen Ginsberg was a writer in residence at the Chelsea, and Kathy Lette is given a place at the Savoy in London, my own ideals are much humbler; I would absolutely adore being allowed to set myself up here, and given pride of place. Just stick me in the corner, give me my usual (cappuccino, white chocolate marbles, chocolate soufflé with a side of strawberries) and let me bear witness to the life of this place. Good writing needs to be based in reality, and that means access to people and life, and this place affords this flight of fancy, in such a delightful way. What a lovely way to catch up and decompress from a tiring week at work, over a fondue? A more lovely way to vent I would struggle to imagine.
Another testament to the intangible value and attraction of this place is the fact people are willing to wait up to an hour in line for the cocoa goodies in store. Let’s think about that – in these times of quick service, frantic work hours and the time-poor work-life balance that nearly 99% of the working world seems to be suffering from, the fact that so many people are willing to wait so long is perhaps part of the culture of this place. Hell, I am the most impatient person in the world (I have been known to cuss out my computer for taking too long to load a YouTube video), but this place is different – we all mill around, like bipedal cattle, awaiting our cheat meals.
Typographic styling that seems to the graphic design style of choice adds to the atmospheric appeal, as does the interior design – its given an apothecary ye olde feel, with chocolate stored in glass beakers and gorgeous truffles in boutique combinations such as pistachio and dark chocolate, shredded coconut displayed in glass cabinets, as if showcased as precious jewels. This gives the sweet treats an air of majesty that harkens back to the historical vestiges of when Marco Polo first discovered the East and cacao was of a higher price than tobacco and coffee.
Which brings me to my next point; this place does carry a premium price, which seems to add to the appeal and reinforce the emporium-style feel of the place. It’s a fun experience – in the 1.5 hour I spent here on a Saturday night, I saw 14 photos being taken of various patrons and their delectable desserts. It can serve as a special occasion, and so fittingly, the price is on par with this. It is sold as an experience, and it is this point of difference that sets it apart from general cafes where length of time is a key factor for people – God knows I would never wait for more than 10 minutes for a coffee from Gloria Jeans, but here, cos I get it in a kangaroo cup with a sliver of chocolate, I’m happy to wait half an hour.
It’s relatively new here in Brisbane, and time will tell if this rush of enthusiasm and momentum will be a long term love affair or a flighty summer romance. But given the excellent location (right in the heart of Southbank’s eateries district, next to the popular Ship Inn), it seems to have the goods to go far.