Spurring on rumours of being a married couple, Nicholas and Dax Byrne have produced their first child in the form of NBHD (neighbourhood) Neanderthal. This cafe and bar off Chapel may be the product of incest but lucky for us, all Neanderthal’s parts are in all the right places. After working in some of the loftier echelons of Sydney’s cocktail bars, Nick and Dax returned to their home town of Byron Bay and saw the most basic hospitality equation: “good food + good friends = good times”. And so Neanderthal was founded on a philosophy rather than a business plan, with Nic and Dax putting emphasis on regressing their establishment to being a fun environment for patrons and staff alike.
Walking inside Neanderthal you’re met with a wall of photos and an overhead mezzanine. From Thursdays to Sundays the bar opens, and the mezzanine is occupied by a rotating roster of local bands. One of which is solely dedicated to playing tracks from Quentin Tarantino’s films. The photos however give the cafe a homely vibe, “we want it to feel like you’re coming into our house”. The shots are taken by various friends and Australian photographers, and are available for sale with all profits going directly to the artist. Others are just of mates and even their ‘old lady’ makes an appearance. When asked why they chose Melbourne, “mum’s here” was the most solid reason.
BMX’s of childhood lore hang on the walls and are coupled with the bikes they ride today. A friend’s wall painting and a sentry of coffee shrubs line the outdoor pathway to the courtyard as the brothers “like people to see that their coffee comes from these beautiful plants…and because we’re coffee geeks”. Out in the courtyard is their centre-piece hog that they rev up to call last drinks, “and it kicks out a flame this big” (says Dax enthusiastically as he stands behind it stretching his arms out like a fisherman). It’s easy to see they’re lads at heart.
Together the brothers air a contagious energy, of which the staff show symptoms of too. And it’s the staff they’re most excited about and fawn over. From the chef who takes others on birthday cruises on his Harley, to a barista who has traveled to picking farms, going the extra mile to perfect their craft; it is these displays of dedication and passion that make Nic feel “the need to step up”. And last but not least, Nic’s described “gun waitresses”, who equipped with either elephant memories or artistic talents, unleash their skills on the floors and walls of the cafe.
Art work by Auf Wiedersehen
Their endeavour for a fun-based Neanderthal community has grown organically since its inception in late 2012. Finding railing at the perfect height for pull-up’s, they started an on-going pull-up competition open for all to have a go at; once you’ve completed your reps, you’re then able to mark your name and amount on a structural beam in order to become an official ‘Neanderthal’. And as avid dog lovers they are more than happy to look after customer’s dogs while they go to the shops; when I was there, a regular customer was kindly baby-sitting theirs. This orientation towards all things community are too evident to be bluffed.
The menu is all about “going back to basics and doing it well” and breakfast goes all day to accommodate anyone who’s had a big one the night before. The drinks list comes from the tastes of seasoned barmen and remains cheap in defiance of the usually ridiculous alcohol mark ups. With coffee, they pride themselves on being a third wave cafe, meaning there is but one step of separation between them and the plantation. Their staple blend is by Crompton Road and they revolve their single origin bean for best seasonal results.
NBHD Neanderthal is the simple and well executed idea by some Byron boys chasing a lifestyle rather than figures. And in Melbourne, where some proprietors seem to care more about tourists’ Urban Spoon praise than the integrity of their venue, their style of operating will weather well no matter how salty the air gets.
Go see the guys at 153 Commercial Road, Prahran,and as they say “come play”.
Mon-Wed: 7:00am – 4:00pm
Thu-Sun: 7:00am – 3:00am