Launnie is being brought to life by a new generation. A flurry of new openings has helped Launcestonians see and experience their city with new eyes.
Launceston’s Du Cane Brewery and Dining Hall sees people of all ages lounging on fake turf benches in a huge retro-hiking-themed former industrial space, devouring woodfired pizzas with craft beer brewed onsite. It’s a space that just a few years ago was difficult to imagine in the northern city. Co-founder Sam Reid admits to “lots of sleepless nights in the lead-up to opening Du Cane”, but says his fears slipped away when it became clear that people had embraced the idea.
“The launch was totally off the show – like a mini festival – and it feels like it pretty much hasn’t stopped since then. Phew!” Sam laughs.
He believes the city is undergoing a revival, thanks largely to a new generation of locals seemingly unshackled from the city’s past who are now making their mark.
“Traditionally Launceston has been very pub focused with a ‘pint and parmy’ offering and not a lot of innovation, but in the last few years that has really changed and it’s super exciting to be part of,” he says.
The slow burn of change
History looms large in Launceston, just as it has done in the capital, Hobart. Decades of weak economic growth in the 20th century inadvertently preserved the built heritage of both cities, acting as reminders and links to a colonial past. Known for being beautiful and quaint, but also “cultural backwaters”, Tasmania’s two largest cities became the butt of jokes interstate.
Then, in 2011, Hobart received a transformative cultural catalyst with the opening of Mona and the rest, as they say, is history.
Cultural change in Launceston over recent years has been more of a slow burn. The seeds of a revival began in the years before the pandemic hit but really accelerated during COVID-19 as residents began to embrace and support everything local and many people, particularly young families, moved – or returned – to the city. Attracted by Launceston’s affordability, historical architecture, natural attractions, wine regions, shifting culture and remote work, many of these new residents have remained, providing a springboard for new cafes and restaurants, breweries and bars, markets and festivals.
“Most of them have settled for good and brought with them a progressive outlook and a commitment to grow the Launceston community,” Sam says.
An injection of new life
A couple of blocks away from Du Cane Brewery and past other new establishments such as the bars Stelo, Bar Two and Midnight Rambler, a much-loved Launceston institution has been polished up to walk alongside the new kids on the block. First licensed in 1851, The Royal Oak Hotel is now as hip as any bar or restaurant in the city, demonstrating how Launceston’s revival is spreading to even long-standing establishments.
Royal Oak’s manager Ari Kirkpatrick says that the renovations have really injected new life into the old pub.
“We had our best summers over the past two years,” she says. “Business is booming, especially with our new cocktail and rooftop bars, and our continued support of live music. It’s one of those pubs that people always come back to.”
Many people Ari’s age (early 20s) would have left town for brighter lights as soon as they could, but she saw the value in staying put.
“I love it,” she says. “It’s community focused and I feel like I can be a part of something living here. I love volunteering and there’s lots of festivals and events to get involved in. It’s home.”
With the city’s Junction Arts Festival having celebrated its 10th birthday in 2021 and Mona’s summer festival, Mona Foma, being held in the city since 2019, a vibrant arts and cultural scene have helped shape Launceston’s revival.
“Arts festivals like Mona Foma and Junction Arts Festival encourage us to see things differently,” says outgoing Junction Festival chairperson Liz Frankham. “It’s the most significant legacy an arts festival can bring to a place. Launceston has come of age and benefitted enormously over the last decade of these festivals.”
Quality over quantity
There is also little doubt that Launceston gaining UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy status in 2021 is contributing to the increasingly rich food and wine scene in and around the city. And with the now well-established Harvest Market providing an outlet for small-food growers, many of the city’s new crop of eating establishments are increasingly focused on quality local produce.
Small, intimate restaurants such as Pachinko and Havilah have enriched the dining-out landscape with a focus on local produce and wine, alongside longer-established supporters of Tasmanian producers such as Stillwater.
For Havilah founder and winemaker Ricky Evans, Launceston is a great place to live and work.
“I feel like Launceston is a place with genuine opportunity – ideas can become a reality in this city. It’s an exciting landscape to be a part of,” he says.
“I love the mix we have at the moment; we have a really great base to work from, from established offerings through to new ideas that diversify the market. Across this mix, it is all quality focused, and that is the most exciting thing about the scene right now.”
Change is brewing
No story about Launceston finding a new spring in its step would be complete without mentioning coffee. Or more specifically, coffee, cafes and community. Launceston’s discerning coffee culture is best explained by one of the city’s greatest champions.
Archana Brammall and her partner Tim recently moved from their much-loved coffee institution, Sweetbrew, into a bold new venture. With a focus on serious coffee appreciation, Tatler Lane also incorporates a coffee roastery bar and kitchen and has been pretty much full since opening last summer.
“In the last 10 years, our cafe scene has changed dramatically, and it’s great to see,” Archana says.
“There’s so much to be offered. It’s wonderful to see the same hum and vibe people had and have for evening catch-ups now happening by day in people’s favourite cafes.”
For Archana, there’s a good reason behind Launceston’s revival.
“People are looking for a work-life balance and Launceston has the capacity to offer that and is proving successful at it. Add in the groups of people who have brought in their new young ideas over recent years and it’s a great formula. The city and community have embraced it all.”
Find out more and plan your trip to Launceston here.