…and why Tassie tourism operators owe the Museum of Old and New Art a big thank you

There has long been a lot to love about Hobart – exceptional food offerings such as Luke Burgess’s ever-popular, seasonally driven shared dishes at Garagistes (now sadly closed), excellent produce markets such as Salamanca and Farm Gate, and cultural offerings such as Festival of Voices, held each July.

Then there’s the history, with areas such as Battery Point offering self-guided walking tours to take in its gorgeous Georgian architecture

More outdoorsy types might prefer hiking Myrtle Forest or mountain biking down Mount Wellington, but what invariably gets me booking a holiday back to Hobart is a new exhibition, festival or event at the Museum of Old and New Art, better known of course as MONA.

MONA as viewed from the Derwent River. Photo credit: Tourism Tasmania and MONA
MONA as viewed from the Derwent River. Photo credit: Tourism Tasmania and MONA

MONA hosts enough events throughout the year to pull anyone back – MOFO, a Festival of Music and Art in January; MoMa, a food market held throughout summer; and DARK MOFO, a food-and-artsbased winter festival. Even the most fuddy-duddy traveller must by now see no point in pooh-poohing the tourism benefits of a gallery that boasts themes of sex and death as its raison d’être – they just couldn’t argue with statistics.

Within six months of MONA opening in 2011 it became Hobart’s second-most popular attraction after Salamanca Market – a ranking that still holds today. And according to the latest Tasmanian Visitor Survey released by Tourism Tasmania, in the financial year ending June 2014, over a quarter of the one million visitors to the state indicated that they had visited MONA – up 10 per cent year on year.

In fact, 15 per cent of those visitors indicated that they had come to Tasmania specifically to visit MONA – that’s 37,500 people who, in one year, crossed Bass Strait to roam through a subterranean art gallery.

MONA by night. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
MONA by night. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

So why is it so popular? The art, of course, but there’s also its incredible food and drink offerings. How many galleries can boast its own brewery (Moobrew) and winery (Moorilla Estate)? You can sample MONA’s beer and wine products at any of three outlets: The Source, a high-end, French-inspired restaurant high above the gallery with views across the Derwent River; The Wine Bar, which has shared tables, oysters, charcuterie and antipasto; and the Café, which does a mean coffee and snack selection.

MONA is a nice place to spend an entire day, and is complete with chill-out pyramids and giant beanbags on a sunny lawn (the sun comes out more often than you might think) – or an entire weekend if you don’t mind forking out a minimum of $700 per night to stay in one of the gallery’s onsite Pavilions.

A chill-out pyramid at MONA. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
A chill-out pyramid at MONA. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

And what of the art? As said earlier, it is mostly all sex and death, with a bit of scatology thrown in for fun, and moves seamlessly from ancient to contemporary art. I was most recently in town to see the exhibition opening for filmmaker/artist Matthew Barney’s most recent production – the six-hour epic River of Fundament.

It’s a confronting, symphonic, operatic take on Norman Mailer’s book Ancient Evenings, with cameo appearances from Deborah Harry and Salman Rushdie, among others. River of Fundament is not for the faint-hearted, but the accompanying exhibition was fine for a general audience.

As River of Fundament plays off Egyptian mythology, MONA owner David Walsh allowed Barney to display his sculptural metal-workings alongside some of the museum’s most valuable mummies. Real mummies. You can’t imagine the British Museum putting such objects together, and that is why I think MONA is a must-visit, even for non-arty types – it is different, and continues to be different, from anywhere else in the art world.

A MONA mummy. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
A MONA mummy. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles

Once in Hobart, the charm of the city takes hold. Of course, there’s much more to do and see than just MONA, but the gallery has no doubt helped change travellers’ perception of the city. So, those other places and activities? Things like the Mawson’s Huts Replica Museum opposite Constitution Dock. Like Cascade Brewery. Like Salamanca Arts Centre. Like a historic pub crawl, taking in the built-by-convicts Brunswick Hotel, the Shipwrights Arms and the Hope & Anchor, reputedly Australia’s longest-running pub. Like using Hobart as a starting point for trips to Bruny Island, Port Arthur or Cradle Mountain–Lake St Clair National Park. Like sampling Tassie produce in markets, cafés and restaurants. Like taking a cruise down the Derwent – or the ferry back to MONA.

Hungry in Hobart?

In a state known for its fresh produce, and a city known for its cool-factor, there is always somewhere great to drop in on for a quick bite

Frank's industrial-chic interior was given a playful splash of colour by designer Georgina Freeman. Photo credit: Franklin
Frank’s industrial-chic interior was given a playful splash of colour by designer Georgina Freeman. Photo credit: Frank

Frank: Frank restaurant and bar – a great restaurant with bright, playful décor – is a breath of fresh air if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of restaurants that seem to take themselves too seriously these days. The menu is Latin-American influenced – i.e. charcoal-grilled steaks, empanadas and meats cooked on a chappa (flat chrome grill) – and it’s right on the waterfront. Delicious dessert dish: Nemesis cake, whisky ice cream, brazil nut, smoked paprika praline. Open 11am until late daily. 1 Franklin Wharf; frankrestaurant.com.au

Franklin: The refurbished art-deco Mercury newspaper building contains some of the yummiest eats in Hobart. Franklin is located in an old Ford car showroom (c. 1923), between the former Mercury building and a car park. It is a brusquely Aussie-ish eatery which juxtaposes an urban feel – open kitchen, concrete floors – with a rustic menu created by celebrated chef David Moyle. Dishes are seemingly inspired by peasant food, such as pigeon, sweetbreads and sea urchin. The bar here is super-cool, and a perfect spot for a warming winter tipple. Restaurant open Tues-Sat, 11am till 2.30pm and 6pm till late. Book ahead! 28 Argyle St; franklinhobart.com.au

Betsey: I don’t know what it is about naming restaurants as if they were humans but Betsey is the cafe next door to Franklin and is a great place to drop by for breakfast. Don’t be afraid to share a table – there is only the one in here. Grab a Single Origin coffee and perfectly poached eggs. 30 Argyle St; no website

Photo supplied
Betsey is small and simple, but so good for breakfast! Photo supplied

A note on Garagistes: I was sad to hear that Garagistes closed its doors in late March, 2015. There was talk that chef Luke Burgess is moving to Sydney but as of posting this story the only co-owner mentioned in the press is Katrina Birchmeier, who was sommelier at Garagistes and has now moved to New York City to take on the GM role at The Four Horsemen in Brooklyn. As of press, the site formerly known as Garagistes is on the market via LJ Hooker Commercial for offers over $200,000.

Where to stay in Hobart

The Henry Jones Art Hotel is housed inside one of Hobart’s oldest waterfront warehouses, a building that dates back to 1804. Once home to the IXL jam factory, it was transformed into a five-star stay in 2004. From the very beginning, the hotel has focused on art and architecture, merging historic elements such as exposed beams and bare sandstone with the contemporary works hung on its walls.

It’s very much like a gallery, but much more comfortable. There are only 56 rooms, which allow a feeling of complete privacy, and the hotel’s attentive front-desk staff love to provide the latest info on where to eat and what to see around town. They’ll even provide an umbrella for inclement weather.

Exposed brickwork and timber beams hark back to the hotel's beginnings as a jam factory. Photo credit: Tourism Australia and Graham Freeman
Exposed brickwork and timber beams hark back to the hotel’s beginnings as a jam factory. Photo credit: Tourism Australia and Graham Freeman

There are two onsite eateries – the high-end Henry’s Restaurant, whose executive chef Terrence Barrett enjoys creating nouvelle cuisine out of local seasonal produce; and Jam Packed Café, which has great coffee and all-day breakfasts, as well as locally brewed craft beer and cider for a bit later on. Bar snacks also stave off hunger at the IXL Long Bar, which has an extensive list of specialty cocktails, liqueurs and aperitifs.

Room service is exceptional, too, and also concentrates on local produce – think daily-shucked Tasmanian oysters and Cape Grim beef. Even standard rooms have king-size beds, big bathrooms and free wi-fi. Plus, if you like an artwork you can buy it straight off the wall – or the hotel’s art curator can source something more to your taste.

The Henry Jones suite. Photo credit: Elisabeth Knowles
The Henry Jones suite. Photo credit: Courtesy Henry Jones Art Hotel

NOTE: This story originally appeared in Jetstar Australia’s inflight magazine