A 101 on 101 St Georges Terrace

By Alina Cavanagh, Special Correspondent, Activation Army

Activate Perth is jumping on the Throwback Thursday #TBT bandwagon and taking a look at some of our city’s buildings that have been around for a very long time and are still active. 
A heritage-listed site, which was purpose built to house a friendly society in the late 1800s and has evolved into somewhere where friends socialise over food and drinks, seemed an apt choice – we’re talking about 101 St Georges Terrace. 
So, we’ll do a quick history breakdown (info sourced from State Heritage) and then chat to the woman behind Perth’s first licensed fromagerie, currently downstairs in the old bank chambers building.
•    Built in 1887 as the Branch Office for the Australian Mutual Provident Society in WA. 
•    In 1915 was WA’s first Branch Office of the Royal Bank of Australia.
•    Head Office of the English, Scottish and Australian Bank from 1927. 
•    Remodelled in 1939 during real estate development in Perth following the gold boom. 
•    Rural and Industries (R & I) Bank from 1977.
•    1995 bought by The Western Australian Club Inc. (established 1893). The WA Club was in the building from 1996 to 2013 and during that time became the first club in the state to allow women members. 
•    For a while the building was inactive and up for lease.

We caught up with Danicia Quinlan from Fromage Artisans to hear about the part she played in activating the basement of 101 St Georges Terrace and to find out the venue’s back story…
For anyone who isn’t sure can you explain the concept of a licensed fromagerie?

A fromagerie is a traditional French word for cheese room or cheese factory. The licensed fromagerie concept is something that’s grown in Europe over time as a place to enjoy cheese with liquor. Our concept is just that – a vault of cheese that’s vault-aged and served on shared platters in a variety of forms designed to pair with great liquor and good conversation. 

How many types of cheese do you have at Fromage Artisans and from where?

We stock around 40-50 artisan cheeses on our seasonal menu and this does vary depending on which cheeses are at their peak condition. We have local cheeses from Gidgegannup, Nannup and Yallingup, as well as a wide variety from France, Spain, The Netherlands, Italy and the US. 
How many kilos of cheese have been consumed since you opened?

That’s hard to answer. We went through 40kg in our first few days of opening, but it’s steadied to about 30kg a week. 

What’s the most popular item on the menu and what’s your personal favourite?

Our Ten Cheese Toastie is our most popular item for a city lunch, while our shared gold plates of the best cheeses of the day and delicious accompaniments come a close second. My personal favourite is our burrata served with Bee Lane's incredible smoked tomatoes and a glass of our new Le Stagiaire Pinot Gris. 

Perth loved CowParade in 2016 and you have one of the public art pieces at Fromage Artisans, which fits in with the cheese theme perfectly. How did that come about? 
I had a dream to bring the CowParade to Perth to activate the whole city during our Festival Fromage in 2016. My partner had said that between running a Festival and opening a new venue that bringing the Cow Parade to Perth might be taking our lives one step too far! I was determined not to give up on the dream so I took a proposal to the City of Perth who were so supportive. They pulled in the Perth Public Art Foundation and together we made the whole thing come to life. Our amazing Red Heifer "Vacherousse", created by the incredible local talent Abdul Rahman Abdullah is a permanent memory of this event and our vision to activate Perth around the history, tradition and love of great cheese, wine and moments shared with friends. 

Fabulous attire is the dress code – tell us more…

I’ve always missed the great dinners of the 70s, where my parents would plan meals, dress the table, frock up and host their business clients into the wee hours of the morning. We wanted to create that atmosphere of planning something before you arrive and making a night out, something a touch out of daily life. People love the fact that it is a venue that lifts Perth's casual standards a touch. 

The building is steeped in history. What do you know of its past?

It was built at the turn of last Century, around 1880. It was a bank for many years and R&I extended the building, built the vaults and even had squash courts for their employees out the back. Our dining area used to be the money sorting room and the night safe is now visible in the dining area after being hidden behind a wall for many years. 
The Western Australian Club took over and converted the building in 1996, then held it for their members until 2013. The building held meeting rooms, accommodation, a full restaurant and a members’ bar. It is the members’ bar that we converted to the front of house. The WA Club used the vaults for storage but we converted them to the retail fromagerie and climate-controlled cheese aging room. 

The building has a fascinating history; from the business brokers who met and did deals as part of the WA Club to the ladies who ran the back of house for the bank and kept their eye on the cash for all those years. Even the bank's innovation to create a balanced workplace with sporting facilities, way before this became part of modern corporate culture, is intriguing. 

We also joke that there is definitely an old ghost who liked to drink alone that is a little uncomfortable with our desire to bring a new era of folk into the venue!



Anne-Maree Ferguson