Wednesday, 2 May 2007

The Beginning

I was a very young man who had made some rapid advancement in the corporate world, ending as sales manager for an offshoot of Ciba Geigy (the Swiss pharmaceutical giant) based in Sydney Australia. Sydney had some great traditional unpretentious cafes which had been opened by European immigrants in the 1950s.

My favourite was Bar Coluzzi in Darlinghurst near Kings Cross named after the owner who was a relatively famous Italian /Australian boxer of the same era.
The gay community in Sydney at the time was large (and still is - second only to San Francisco). I had very close friends within this community, and socialized extensively with them. A characteristic of the community were that they were much more urbane and sophisticated than the rest of us, with numerous great parties, eating out and an appreciation of period Italian coffee stops during the day. Coffee was especially the lubricant to social interaction.

I must admit I was naïve kiwi guy who had not been exposed to this essentially European style of life. I was almost afraid to enter these cafés, I didn’t really know what happened in there. I guess I expected a restaurant full deal experience rather than a coffee shop. I was introduced by friends and soon embraced the “habit” of coffee throughout the day and more important the social interaction, people watching, the buzz.

The gay community was semi-underground and absolutely outrageous which was exciting. Utterly hedonistic! I must admit I was never tempted to embrace the sexual side being a red-blooded heterosexual male. And, in light of the HIV epidemic, that was a wise choice, most of my friends of the time now being dead - but that is another topic.

The corporate world was becoming less challenging. I was successful but my heart wasn’t in it. I left my job, and because I had money put aside I allowed myself the luxury of just hanging out, mixing with artists and musicians, thinkers and people who generally weren’t tied to a 9-5 existence, as well as generally soaking up life.

I was blown away by the scale of Sydney (compared to Auckland) and the buzz, anonymity and diversity of big city life. After 6 months or so I decided to travel through Europe and then return home to NZ. No real purpose at that stage just immersing myself in whatever came along.

In France and Italy I experienced the true café culture, as Id been introduced to in Sydney but even more as part of the fabric of everyday life. I loved it, it somehow gave a real feeling of freedom. To be individual but still part of a whole. A rhythm of life based on a social experience.

I had always read widely and deeply as a youth, and caught the tail end of the anti-establishment, free thinking and action “hippy” culture. A license to think radical thoughts fuelled by music, philosophy et al. Money was in short supply but almost unnecessary, I bought my books from second hand stores for a few cents. I was exposed to deep socialist philosophy 1930s New Zealand style (the books of which people were now unloading).

Visions of Utopia where everyone was equal and the strong looked after the weak. John A Lee was my favourite, backed up by Uncle Scrim: pioneer broadcaster and Methodist minister, and Micky Savage: the first Labour Prime Minister of NZ. An egalitarian ideal. These people were genuine.

NZ at the time was becoming much more materialistic, following a worldwide trend of free market economical thought originating from the US. The free market is the only way to have balance in society, the weak look after themselves or perish (but this again is another story). This was the early 1980s. Fortunes were being made on the world stock markets, with nothing real to back it up. Pure speculation. The gap between rich and poor really started to widen. A working man was finding it harder to make ends meet ,while the yuppie could spend 5 times the average wage just on one dinner with outrageously expensive wines. A time of real excess. Sex, drink drugs etc etc.

I arrived back in NZ with an image of the café. The local hangout where all types shared the same space, all ideas were respected, and we could realize we were all the same - enjoying diversity rather than running away from it and keeping our city architectural heritage intact bearing in mind the richness it could offer.

So, with no knowledge of the food trade, no knowledge of running a business, and no money to invest to speak of, in 1982 I opened the DKD café in central Auckland. I believed people would embrace the café concept ,and there would be one on every corner.

In 2007 cafes have spread throughout the country, we are utterly addicted to coffee, but have we embraced the culture?

Right, enough for now – will post more soon. Please drop me a line with any shared experiences or comments – I’d love to hear them.


thewalker said...


as i slowly ascended through the central cavern of the skycinema complex via the escalator yesterday i noticed for the first time in a while the "facade?" that used to be the rear of the building that housed DKD.

fond memories came flooding, the best nachos i ever ate, harold the mad man, girls lusting after the chap that was alwys wearing the hat (forget his name), coffee, sittingin the corner absorbing an entire issue of Planet....realising auckland WAS a city worth staying in, a community, always a friendly face, a rendevous, a peek down to queen street, a coffee.

you are correct, there should be a place for such things to exist still, certainly not starbucks, or any other such places, in-out, quick, no passion. too damn slick, trying too hard. culture. coffee.

time for you to open again?

Warwick said...

Nobody has managed to come close to DKD, before or since. I spent most of the time that I should have been in Calculus 151 lectures at DKD instead, enjoying fish in a bowl and the fabulous decadent Cherry Chocolate Fudge Cake. Man, those things were good. I even had three ordered especially for my 21st birthday party.

The enduring memory of DKD though has to be the toilet. There was nothing else like it in Auckland. Fish with politicians faces painted on the walls - nothing more scary than that when you are trying to relax on the seat.

Did DKD stand for anything? My group of friends decided that it must stand for Decadence Kills Depression.

What a wrench to find that it had disappeared without hearing that it was closing down. Any time DKD wants to make a return, I'll be first at the head of the queue. Fish in a Bowl and a couple of pieces of the Cherry Chocolate Fudge Cake please.

Gregory said...

Derek Townsend, My Hero.

You have no idea how many rainy evenings as a 16-year-old, skinny-trousered, plaid-lininged-BlueBeat-jacketed psuedo-skinhead semi sapient South Auckland being were made manageable by the fabulous, the one, the only DKD, and a hot chocolate.

From the bottom of my heart, Thanks.

Anonymous said...

helo derek lots of coments ?
heee is this it

Anonymous said...

Warwick: Decadence Kills Depression is what I was told it stood for...

My fondest memories were of going there after some midnight screening at the film festival and having a coffee while talking with friends about the movie we'd just seen (or the five movies we'd just seen :-)

Anonymous said...

To derek , im very fond of your work

Scott said...

ahh DKD, defn. my first late night cafe hangout.

I agree with everyone here, DKD had that feel about it that the modern take on cafes are lacking.

Span said...

I was a big DKD fan, although I was probably a bit too young and uncool to really have gone as much as some of your previous commenters. I was really gutted when it closed :-(

Barry said...

DKD after a late night at the film festival sounds very familiar. I was only in Auckland for maybe three years during the life time of DKD and can never really claim to have been a regular, as the people there were so much cooler than I ever was, but I'd pop in every so often for what was still quite a novelty in Auckland - proper coffee.

Remembering this, however, brings back memories of another cafe - going to DKD seemed to me to be cheating on that other place. I don't remember its name, but it was perched half way up the wall of the building in Kitchener Place, above (I think) a Tony's Steak House.

Anonymous said...

Fish in a Bowl! I'd completely forgotten about that. My lasting memory of DKD, apart from the coffee and the toilets of course, was leaving late one night, 8 months pregnant, to find our car being towed away. Despite tears and much clutching of my tum, we had to pay them to release it:)

Anonymous said...

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