12 June 2024

Closing the book on Muse

| Lucy Ridge
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two men, one wearing an apron, smile in a bookshop

Dan Sanderson and Paul Eldon are the owners of Muse in the East Hotel, Kingston. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

After nine years, a much-loved cafe and bookshop, Muse, is coming to a close. The owners of the culinary and cultural institution, married couple Dan Sanderson and Paul Eldon, have decided not to renew their lease in August. EAST Hotel will open a new Italian venue in the space.

Paul Eldon says that it’s a “natural conclusion” to the business and is looking forward to taking some time off.

“Apart from lockdowns, we haven’t closed at all since 2015. It’s been nine years of serving breakfast 365 days a year,” he told Region.

“I’m really quite tired!”

Bookshop interior

Muse runs a literary program and two book clubs. Photo: Pew Pew Studio.

The business was initially intended to be a wine bar attached to a bookshop, but the focus shifted to daytime service when they took on the contract to do breakfast for EAST Hotel guests. Paul explained that over the years, they’ve used the space in a variety of ways they had never imagined.

“It’s been all kinds of things: a concert hall, a cabaret, a literary salon … we’ve done comedy and had wine lunches with long tables all down the bookshop,”

“It ended up being much bigger than we intended it to be, from our original plan.”

Cafe and bookshop interior

The bookshop and cafe has been a popular mainstay of Kingston. Photo: Pew Pew Studio.

Muse gained national recognition with their impressive literary program, which hosted more than 360 events and featured over 500 authors. Paul says it’s impossible to pinpoint a single favourite but mentioned several highlights, including Tim Winton, Hannah Kent, Laura Tingle and Anthony Albanese. Authors who returned several times include Benjamin Law and Karen Viggers.

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The events were curated by Nikki Anderson who says she will miss the program: “What an absolute pleasure it has been programming some of Canberra’s best minds, and enticing so many others to the nation’s capital to promote their books and engage in conversations. Creating this literary hub and working with the wonderful local writer community has been such a delight and I’ll miss it!”

baked souffle

The twice-baked ham and cheese souffle is a much-loved menu item at Muse. Photo: Supplied.

The business has also employed over 200 staff, including this writer who was the first sous chef at Muse nine years ago! Paul says they are most grateful to long-time chef Stefan and head barista Lara, who have led the business for several years. He also extended his thanks to EAST Hotel.

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The EAST Hotel team will be opening a new cafe in the space called Cucina 69. Hotel brand director Dion Bisa says: “It has been a true pleasure to have worked alongside Paul and Dan for the past nine years. They have created a place our guests and local Canberrans have grown to love and cherish. We would like to take this opportunity to publicly thank them for the warm and inviting hospitality they have shown our guests and our team. We are very excited to announce that we will be opening Cucina 69.”

Paul behind the pass window at Muse

Paul Eldon completed his apprenticeship at Muse. Photo: Lucy Ridge.

Paul and Dan will be taking a well-earned break to visit relatives and friends in the UK and Europe. Dan is currently working on a Master of Art Conservation at the University of Canberra and will transition to full-time study after the business closes in August. Paul recently qualified as a chef, so they might return to hospitality when they get back from their travels, but he isn’t making any decisions yet.

“While saying goodbye to Muse is bittersweet, our closing chapter is as exciting and nerve-wracking as the opening one all those years ago, and we’re both looking forward to whatever comes next!”

Muse will continue to serve food every day until 25 August, which marks exactly nine years since they opened. Follow Muse on Facebook or Instagram, or visit their website to learn more about their final events.

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I wish all the best to Dan and Paul for their next adventures. It’s always sad to see a venue close down in Canberra, but nine years in the hospitality industry – especially through the time of COVID restrictions – would have been a hard road. Time for a well earned break.

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