Big things are afoot in Rathdowne Village. And Gerald Diffey, the English geezer behind award winning wine bar and industry haunt, Gerald’s Bar, is right in the thick of it.
His journey to this leafy patch began in 1987 when he sold his sandwich bar in England: “for the princely sum of one bicycle and enough money to get me on the Trans-Siberian Railway to Beijing.” In 1990, saddle-sore, he rolled into Melbourne, and has lived in Carlton North ever since. It’s changed a lot.
“I renovated the Kent Hotel in 1994 and there was only La Porchetta, the Paragon, and Rick Holts' Rathdowne Street Food Store” says Diffey. This latter has just been converted into Small Victories, an all-day vinyl-spinning café and bar. The rest of the sleepy street has also flourished. You can get some of Melbourne’s best steak at Moreton’s, coffee at North, whiskey at Cure bar and curry at Lakshmi without leaving the strip.
Food retail hasn’t been so successful. “The street lost two bakers, a butcher and a deli in the last decade, and we feared the street would stop being a shopping destination if we let the Fruit Shop demise,” says Diffey. So, last month, he and business partner Mario Di Ienno took the lease and opened greengrocer St Clement’s. “With the deli re-opening, Clay Organics, Black Ruby’s gluten free bread and Rathdowne Cellars, the street is becoming a vibrant shopping destination again.”
And in a the next month, Dave Kerr will be opening the Beaufort, a new dive-bar offering burgers, beers and top-shelf hooch in the old Clare Castle hotel. Something Kerr was nervous about, owing to the bar's proximity to Gerald's. But it's something Diffey is more than happy with. "The more places we have in the area, the better it is for everyone."