Author Archive: Michael Wayne

Pizza Hut/Kiddiwinks – Warriewood, NSW

You’ll have to forgive the low-hanging fruit in this case, but when it’s been a while you need a rolling start to get back up to speed.

The $9.95 all-you-can-learn deal is a popular menu item.

There’s a certain ballsiness that comes with stepping into Pizza Hut’s red shingled shoes. By inhabiting such a familiar space, you’re inviting comparisons you’re (usually) unable to support. It doesn’t matter whether you’re burying people or educating them – if you’re doing it in an old Pizza Hut, prepare for scrutiny.

When Kiddiwinks, a Northern Beaches childcare centre, accepted the Used To Be A Pizza Hut challenge, it came armed with bold colours and fencing designed to dispel all notions of what had come before.

Kids gotta learn about pizza ovens sooner or later.

But what had come before? The Warriewood entertainment precinct had once included all the ingredients for a great (if not fatty) night out: Pizza Hut for dinner, a cinema for a show, a McDonald’s for the car park afterwards and a sewage treatment plant to mask the odour.

That was then. Pizza Hut was the first casualty, going the way of all Huts in the late 90s. By 2008, a dark time at the farthest ebb of all-you-can-eat nostalgia, Warriewood Pizza Hut sat empty and graffiti’d.

Too soon. Image courtesy Google Street View.

This was exactly the kind of visage that screamed potential to the folks at the Hog’s Breath Cafe, who proved a slightly uncomfortable fit into the ‘east coast lite’ feel of Pittwater Road.

Pictured: the whole hog. Worth waiting for, wasn’t it? Image courtesy Google Street View.

Out of breath by 2013, but with an eye-catching green mohawk, the site waited for its next denizen. It was a very long wait indeed; Kiddiwinks wouldn’t sign on the dotted line until 2019 – the furthest east the business has yet ventured.

Another first Kiddiwinks can add to the walls of its “Hampton-style interiors” is that it’s likely the first ever tenant to ever have a menu “approved by NSW Health to meet the recommended daily intake for children”. What a shame then that the kiddis are constantly staring at a burger joint all day long.

Out of the frying pan…

Meanwhile, McDonald’s prospered in the absence of competition. So confident is Ronald in this location’s viability that the bare minimum was done to pull the exterior into line with the boxy new Mickey D aesthetic. Going through the drive-thru (or so I’m told) is a journey past the green, angular and dare I say even Hut-like McDonald’s of old.

And perhaps that’s how it should be at a place like this. There needn’t be anything modern about a big block sitting on the curb of a busy arterial road promising flicks and a feed on a Friday night, and steady processing of post-ablutions the rest of the time. On some level even Kiddiwinks knows so, appropriating as it has the old Pizza Hut sign.

In case it’s not clear, Kiddiwinks is not drive-thru.

Strange bedfellows in every sense.

Batman and Me

BATMAN AND ME POSTER LAUREL VERSION

And while we’re on the subject of toys and childhoods, here’s a shameless plug for my new feature documentary BATMAN AND ME.

The movie presents the experience of Batman collector Darren Maxwell, who begins his hobby in 1989 and winds up addicted to buying Batman merchandise.

It’s currently streaming as a part of the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival, and can soon be seen in the lineup of this year’s Cinequest Film & Creativity Festival, so that’s nice.

You might not believe this, but I’ll be back soon with a regular post. It’s a sad tale of a consumer electronics giant left behind in the modern world – you’ll love it (or at the very least make a vaguely interested ‘hmm’ sound).

Toys R Us/Gro Urban Oasis – Miranda, NSW

We spend our lives mourning our childhoods.

Our values and expectations are shaped throughout our younger years, sometimes subconsciously. Once we learn that, say, an ice cream dropped on the hot sand during a day at the beach won’t be replaced, the ice cream becomes a little part of us, a part we can’t get back. As adults we can buy another ice cream, but it’s not the same one. It’s just a band-aid over our initial carelessness, and $5 out of our retirement funds. We still feel the loss.

Every tantrum or outburst we have, every moment of joy, whenever the waterworks spring a leak…that’s a moment when the situation we’ve found adult selves in has touched a nerve from an earlier time. It’s a unique brand of pain we aren’t equipped to handle.

From the 1970s onwards, childhoods became increasingly materialistic. My own was peppered with trips to toy shops and Christmases spent unwrapping action figure after action figure. I never broke an arm climbing trees with Huck and Tom because I was inside on the PlayStation. I never knew that pain and the associated loss of innocence.

But when that PlayStation controller broke, you better believe I felt that.

The values that make the younger generation weep into adulthood are different to the ones who came before (you know, the ones who made it impossible to buy a house). When a brand that played a large part in that childhood dies, it’s a personal attack, even if we hadn’t supported or even thought about that brand for years.

At the (mostly) newly refurbished Westfield Miranda, there’s something new to mourn.

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Imagine looking into those gentle brown eyes and telling that face it’s over – he’s insolvent. Imagine being the one to cause that perpetual smile to end. It’d be like pulling the moon from the night sky: the nocturnal world would hate you.

Toys R Us has gone, and there’s an entire generation full of rage at its passing. How could this happen? Don’t toy shops last forever? Where will we take our children when they come of age?

We were there at the beginning, when the American giant arrived on our shores and slew the usurper. When we were invited to meet Barbie, Sonic and Geoffrey, to come in and “have a ball”, to be seduced by wares previously unfathomable to our young eyes.

And we drank deeply.

Never mind that we hadn’t gone in there in years, that we peered inside occasionally and merely wondered why there were so many baby items. Never mind that when we wanted a new board game for game night, we hit up Amazon and their incredible range rather than hiking out to one of many inconvenient locations embedded in mouldy old shopping centres. Never mind that our own children asked for iPads and Xboxes over Barbies and Transformers, and we willingly obliged, even as Hurstville’s double-storey Toys R Us lost an entire floor to Aldi.

We took Geoffrey and his magic factory for granted, and this is the price we paid. We dropped the ice cream, and we’ve done our dash.

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Rebel Sport remains – a glimpse into a past when big name retailers could team up and it meant something – but the toy story is over at Miranda. The threshold that saw so many delighted kids quivering with anticipation, birthday money firmly – but not too firmly – clutched in tiny digits, has been sealed up and replaced with an ad for a shop elsewhere in the centre.

Imagine the scene behind this wall. A big empty space that, once upon a time, someone saw so much promise in. “This place could make kids happy,” they thought. And it could, until it couldn’t. Today, that possibility has been restored.

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Downstairs, just a bit away from the escalator that once elevated us to a place where we didn’t have to grow up, is this sign overlooked by Westfield’s image consultants.

The quotations around the R sometimes appear in official Toys R Us signage, and sometimes they don’t. Here they seem to be a disclaimer, as though whoever crafted the sign didn’t quite believe the claim behind the name: that “toys were them”.

It’s certainly true today.

McDonald’s/The Eye Piece – Sydney, NSW

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It seemed like a match made in heaven: a Mickey D’s right outside upper George Street’s Metropolitan Hotel. A greasy fast food basin would have been – and for many years, was – the perfect catchment area for empty stomachs hoping to dilute the copious amounts of alcohol they were about to ingest over the course of an evening out.

So what went wrong?

As a name, the Metropolitan has stood on this spot since 1879. Before that, this part of old Sydney town wasn’t so metropolitan. Prior to 1834 this was a lumber yard: thirsty work, so that year it was released from its status as Crown land for development as a hotel, originally the Castle Tavern, and later as the preposterously named La Villa de Bordeaux.

Publican P. Wilson’s continental experiment didn’t bring the boys to the yard, and by 1867 the building, which included a dispensary, a tailors and a drapers shop, was empty. 1879’s drinkers were more amenable to the idea of a pub on this corner, and thus the Metropolitan was born.

Once the shawl of sophisticated metropolitana fell over the site in the middle of the Victorian era, it wasn’t easily lifted. As with so many Sydney pubs, a brewery took ownership – in this case, Tooth & Co. The excess real estate attached to the building was employed, in 1910, to transform the Metro into a new breed of 20th century super pub. Thus Tooth’s dispensed with the dispensary and tailors, a bottle shop was added to the ground floor, and the neighbouring terrace, built at the site’s inception in 1834, was incorporated into the metropolis of George and Bridge.

In the last century the hotel has changed owners a few times. In the 1930s it was the Bateman’s Metropolitan. In the 60s, it was part of Claude Fay’s hotel portfolio. Today, it’s back to the plain old Metropolitan. This lack of ownership qualifier perhaps distills the idea of a ‘Metropolitan hotel’ to its purest essence – it belongs to no one, to everyone.

Or perhaps we should stick to talking about the ground floor.

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McDonald’s and a night on the plonk used to be synonymous, but over the years there’s been a move by imbibers away from processed junk and kebabs, and toward a traditional pub feed. Pubs have seized on the move, providing eateries and “classic” menus in newly renovated wings of what were once snooker rooms or smoking lounges.

Even the trusty kebab has been elbowed out of contention by the schnitty. Where did my country go?

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So in a rare move, this McDonald’s beat a hasty retreat to less discerning pastures. You don’t often see the Golden Arches admitting defeat, let alone leaving up scads of damning evidence of their tenancy here.

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Poor form too, the Eye Piece, which has opted only to invest in the ubiquitous trend of the pop-up store rather than a real shopfront. As Sydney rent prices continue to accelerate towards Uncle Scrooge-levels of ridiculous money, shop owners have fought back by negotiating shorter terms. This means there’s no need for a total shopfront fit out, which in this case has laid bare the failure of Ronald and associates.

Funny choice of location for an optometrist though, isn’t it? Specs downstairs, beer goggles upstairs.

It seems like a match made in heaven.

Dental Surgeon – Bankstown, NSW

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Don’t sit down – no long or in-depth story this time. Just a gentle reminder of the sort of shape a past life can sometimes take.

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For those who fled South Vietnam to escape the rule of the Vietnamese People’s Army, today’s Ho Chi Minh City will always be Saigon.

No, it’s not a name like Ceylon that’s entirely out of time, but it’s use here shows that for some people, letting go of their past…

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…is like pulling teeth.