Kathy Reed of Mesa Verde has a long history with Curtin House spanning decades, and was part of it at a time when there was no life in the city after 6pm. She recalls the entrepreneurial and creative vibe that prevailed in Curtin House even then, and can look back on the ‘kooky’ residents and businesses that called it home. We sat down to talk to her about Mesa Verde and how this Mexican restaurant became a staple of Curtin House.

> What was this space before it was Mesa Verde?
This was the office for Right Angle Studios. They were growing and moved office, and Tim (Peach) wanted to do something different in this space - there was always an overflow of people from Rooftop Bar and Cinema.

> What attracted you to this space as the home for Mesa Verde?
A friend who was a tenant in the building told me that Tim wanted to do something else here and said we should talk. I was obsessed with Mexican food and he wanted a bar – he loves tequila - that’s where the idea for Mesa Verde came from and it eventually happened. I felt comfortable doing something here given my affiliation with the building and a lovely connection I have to it.

> You’ve described the building as coming together against the odds. What were the challenges you faced in creating this space? What odds did you overcome?
It was tough going opening and not being on street level. The only foot traffic we had was people going to the rooftop. Also, two of the three people that quoted us building a kitchen here looked at it and said ‘no thanks!’ because there’s only one way up through the lift. It was a logistical challenge.

> Can you describe more about the inspiration for this space and the process of creating it?
The fit-out is all Tim. He loves Spaghetti Westerns. The old cash register is an original from the film set of Duck, you sucker!. Tim bought it back from Spain – that’s how much he loves it. All the posters are his and all the lights are old campfire lights. We recently completed a renovation – we added some colour and movement with lighting and took out a private dining room to replace it with booths. We do great cocktails and we didn’t have the drinking real estate like cosy corners to sit, congregate and spend the night drinking cocktails – this space is now really conducive to that. We also added bigger slot windows so that foot traffic can see in to a pretty amazing, well-stocked bar. It’s experience - we took our time and waited until we’d been in the space long enough to know what would be the right next move.

> What feeling do you want your visitors to have when they arrive at Mesa Verde?
Good times, and quality. We’ve never taken any shortcuts - from our fresh-squeezed juices, to our tequilas. It’s about having a great selection. We carry a lot of products that others couldn’t or wouldn’t. It’s not a serious place. Our most popular dish is tacos - there’s nothing precious or uptight about tacos - you sit back, eat them with your hands and enjoy beers or margaritas. We try and give our customers a festive, good time.

> In what way is the Mesa Verde space and experience set apart from others?
I think it’s pretty idiosyncratic. We’ve never claimed to be traditional, but we do use a lot of traditional ingredients. We give it our own fingerprint – that’s what we are. We’re unconventional - our identity’s evolved over time. A lot of places open with neatly packaged identities, and I think that’s a great thing - but that wasn’t us. We’re more of a slow burn. Our space has a personality, rather than trying to conform. You’re entering a world when you walk up those stairs (Curtin House). It really is a curated world – everyone is idiosyncratic in the building.

> If Curtin House is a living entity, what part of that entity is Mesa Verde?
I can’t answer that one. Sally (Fethers) summed it up when she said that it’s not just a job, it’s someone’s baby. I’d call it a community. We often go to the hairdresser downstairs and we try to support the other businesses because why wouldn’t we – they’re our people. There’s a like-mindedness that’s part of the whole building.