Wednesday, 9 May 2007

La Cimbali, 5,000 shoes and a new cafe

Well, I must say I am bowled over by all the comments and feedback I have received. It’s great to read so many positive, happy memories of DKD. It really was, in my opinion, the start of something new and a way of doing something outside the corporate-style culture that was becoming so pervasive at the time. I’ve been having a think about what to write about next, there are so many stories from DKD, as well as general coffee yarns. I know many people are itching to hear what the name DKD stood for – and yes, I did once say it stood for Decadence Kills Depression during a TV interview on Kaleidoscope, but I’d be misleading you if I said that was the true meaning. Still – I’ll save that one and start with the story behind something that was the heart of DKD – the gold and chrome La Cimbali Un Cimbalino two group machine.

When I was 13 or 14 I used to hang out in an Italian restaurant (the name escapes me at the moment – thoughts?) on Victoria Street. It featured the spectacular La Cimbali machine, which dated from the mid 1950s. Years later, when I was thinking about starting a cafe, I wondered what had happened to it. Turns out it was sitting in a shed – no longer working. I decided to buy it from Atillo, one of the owners for the princely sum of $400.

Of course, having a broken-down coffee machine in New Zealand in that time was far more of a problem than it is now – there were no repair guys, and I wasn’t engineering-minded. DKD didn’t open for around 15 months after I bought it, so we had a bit of time to use the trial-and-error technique to get it working. It really was a work-of-art, an extraordinary thing, and once I had bought that machine, the cafe just had to happen.

I had no money at the time, but there was a real subculture running in Auckland, and I was part of that. Ken Neale was a men’s outfitter with a shop at the Cook Street markets – dealing in 40s and 50s clothes. At one stage he lived in the old Hat Factory in High Street – back then it was pretty much illegal to live in the central city, but plenty of people did it and installed showers and kitchens to make them liveable. Ken then took over the lease of the space that was to become DKDs. It had been vacant since the 1920s and was owned by Amalgamated Cinemas, which owned the Civic.

The first time I went into the space it was filled with shoes – 2,500 pairs of, what I think, were ex-Navy shoes. Quite amazing. They were lined up in sizes throughout the whole place. Ken was thinking of living there, and was only paying $12 a week rent. We got the space off him, and because the rent could only go up a maximum of something like 10% a year, meant that after DKD was open for 10 years we were still only paying something like $90 a week.

It took a bit of talking to get the boss of Amalgamated Cinemas Joe Moodabe to agree, but he finally did. I can see why he was a little concerned. From the cafe you could get into the Civic, go through a trapdoor into the old boxes, and even get through the bowels of the building and see into the old Wintergarden kitchens – which were under a metre of water, flooded by the river that runs under the theatre.

It took nine months to prepare the space, some plastering lessons so we could fill in the holes, dozens of trips to junk shops to get the Formica tables and chairs we needed.

We also painted it 25 different shades of blue, but this was what made DKD what it was.

OK, better sign off, hope that bought back a few memories. I’m pretty keen to talk about our original coffee blends and the changing palate of coffee drinkers in New Zealand, but that will have to wait. Cheers.


Gregory said...

Crikey. Where did the shoes go?

Having shared futon-space in some brilliant inner-city flat-hyphen-indoor-bmx-parks with a few other guys over the years, I do miss that SuperBoHo "living in illegal digs in the city" thing. But best of all the feelings was the "quiet earth" adventure/headspace you'd have when discovering old / walled up / condemned places on dead weekends (thanks to a few tips from paper versions of the likes of

But where did all the shoes go?
Did you ever nick anything from inside the Civic?
See any ghosts?
And who fixed the La Cimbali for you?

Derek said...

Hi Gregory,

To be honest I never asked what happened to the shoes but Ken had storage sheds/places all over. Eventually I’m sure he would have sold them.

No we never nicked anything from the Civic but we did wander around inside after hours and sometimes sneak in and watch a film. The old-school managers of the Civic were quite wary of us but we eventually became friends. One night very late we smelt smoke in the lightwell, climbed down 3 stories and discovered a fire in the couch of the smoko room, which we put out thereby saving the Civic.

Their were funny feelings late at night and strange noises from the bottom of the lightwell. We did feel often some sort of presence(could have been our state of mind?)

We fixed the Cimbali ourselves, no one really knew anything about espresso machines. WSe had friends who were good with cars, and knew a crazy electrician (Twink.L.Toes) who all put their 5 cents worth in.

Anonymous said...

"Did you ever nick anything from inside the Civic?"

Well I did. When I was a teen I snuck into the old stairwell that later became the main entrance to DKD. I was amazed at all the old movie posters that were glued to the concrete walls; and even more amazed to discover that if I was really really careful I could peel them right off. So I did.

I can't recall when I actually did this, so my apologies if they were Ken Neal's decorations, or the DKD's. I had presumed they were plastered up by the Civic projectionists. It was only a few years later I discovered DKD and thought "Hmmmm??"

~ Nick D'Angelo