Donovans Diners Evacuate As Blaze Erupts

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By Alec Nejad


More than fifty patrons including a wedding party had their Sunday night dining experience turn sour when a fire, believed to have started in the kitchen ceiling headed south, before snaking its way across the length of the sprawling complex.

Fire crews arrived at the popular bay side restaurant shortly after 7pm, battling not only flames but water woes of their own and unhelpful bay winds. Fifty minutes later and an estimated million dollar damage bill – more than double initial estimates, owners Gail and Kevin Donovan are hopeful and optimistic: “We are going to be up and running as soon as we can. Bigger and better than ever”, proclaimed Kevin beside wife Gail clutching smoke covered sentimental items, standing outside their restaurant assessing the situation with fire crews.

Feelings of deja-vu are not unwarranted. In January this year, a mere hundred meters away, another popular restaurant, the Stokehouse was completely engulfed in fire – decimated. Over 200 patrons evicted and pitting fire crews, more than seventy in number, in a marathon three hour battle during one of the hottest nights of the fire prone season.

Hours after the Sunday blaze, social media circles were already abuzz with talk of St Kilda’s “fiery curse”. Not entirely based in nonsense or superstition, with the Donovan’s fire being St Kilda’s eleventh since the first in living memory at St Kilda Sea Baths back in 1926. Averaging one major fire every eight years. Fortunately, those in recent times saw few injuries let alone fatalities, no doubt a testament efficient safety and evacuation procedures.

Nearing its twenty year anniversary and the site of three of the only bathhouses in St Kilda built in 1920, the quaint family run establishment resembles a spacious family home in the suburbs more than a restaurant in trendy inner-city St Kilda. Hence the actual name, simply– ‘Donovans’. The cozy interior as if to conjure candle lit dinner with friends, rather than a formal dinner affair. The mood complemented with grand dining tables, couches, coffee tables, bookshelves, leather recliners, photo frames and memorabilia decorating the walls, and maybe ironically – a roaring log fire.

In times of tragedy or adversity it is not uncommon to find a silver lining, a glimmer of hope or a blessing from above. Even if not obvious at the time. The German’s say, “glück im unglück”, which roughly translates to “fortune in misfortune”. This phenomenon rang true for the Donovans that fateful night in a bizarre twist of events.

They scheduled their kitchen canopy vents cleaned just days before their fire, ever mindful it was the cause of the devastating inferno just metres away: “You can imagine the attention we paid to the canopy after The Stokehouse to make sure it was clean and yet the fire still happened.” Misfortune befalls the Donovans.

On the flip side, the fire spared a prestigious wine collection and priceless memorabilia, various collections and antiques. Much fortune indeed. Gail Donovan summed it up best: “All the things that couldn’t be replaced are saved and the things that can be replaced are burned”. Fortune in misfortune.

The Donovans are confident the clinging of glasses, relaxed chatter, and adorning of walls will return in months – maybe by Christmas. In times of adversity a sense of humor helps, “We needed new chairs anyway”, joked wife Gail, sporting a brave smile. The restaurant has won awards from The Age Good Food Guide almost every year from 2007 to present and has featured in restaurant review guides here and abroad.

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