By Vivienne Pearson
I admit that I’ve been past The Rocks @ Aquarius many times thinking: ‘That looks nice but I wouldn’t go in because it’s a backpacker hostel.’*
Luckily, this story made me walk in the door and I will now definitely go back. The Rocks @ Aquarius is a backpacker hostel but also a place for locals (and non-backpacking visitors).
‘We have a huge local following,’ says Bel Grbac, general manger, ‘including library staff, cyclists, and the ‘beach boys’, a group of local surfers who come in every day.
‘We also have families who holiday here regularly – we see the same faces every year.’
The street-side cafe has a cool, green-adorned verandah that captures the morning sun in winter but stays shady for much of the hot days of summer.
The food is unfussy and good, with dishes such as Ultimate Salad (crumbed chicken, haloumi, olives, lettuce, cucumber and a basil-and-lime dressing) and Atlantic pan-seared salmon (served with tabouli and a honey-and-cumin yoghurt dressing). Head chef is Kath Hobbs, who has worked at The Rocks for five years, after a stint of running the restaurant at the Bangalow Hotel.
Locals and families are also welcome in the more backpackery area** where food is served once the streetside cafe closes at 2pm. There is table tennis and a pool table and, according to Bel, the cheapest bar in town. ‘A schooner in our 6–8pm Happy Hour is only $3.50,’ she says.
I have also now discovered a well-kept Byron secret – the outdoor ‘backpacker’ eating area has a pool that is welcome to be used by anyone eating. The small, resort-style pool is well visible from several tables – perfect for families where the adults want to enjoy a decent-length lunch but the kids need other activity.
The history of the building is interesting. It was the first motel in Byron Bay. ‘It was the only fine dining in Byron,’ says Chris Schneider, manager. ‘Like where you would take your missis to to propose.’
The name comes from the giant rock that was craned in in the mid-1980s in order to hold up the roof. ‘The architect was a bit alternative,’ says Chris, adding that the rock apparently fell and broke – you can see the repaired split if you look carefully.
Bel assures me that I’m not the only one who has mistakenly skirted around The Rocks. ‘People say: “Isn’t it only for backpackers?” all the time.’ Not any more.
* No offence intended to any backpacker – I was one once, and loved that stage of my life.
** Families with under-18 kids are welcome in the bar area until bed-ish time (8pm).
The Rocks @ Aquarius, 16 Lawson Street, Byron Bay. Streetside cafe open for breakfast and lunch 7am–2pm, then afternoon/evening food until late in the bar Ph: 6685 7663, www.aqcafe.com.au.