If Neighbourhood Wine’s walls could talk, you’d want to listen. In the '50s they housed an illegal casino. During the '90s they were kept busy propping up Alphonse Gangitano’s high-end gentlemen’s club. Now they’re enclosing a bar you don’t have to lie about going to – North Fitzroy's latest house of great food and wine, and sweet, sweet Sharon Jones on vinyl.
Co-owners Almay Jordaan (formerly head chef at St Jude’s) and Simon Denman (ex-sommelier at Punch Lane) have given the premises a cosy, wood-paneled fit-out with a nod or two to the bar's grand old days. Where the secret safe once stood you’ll find a pool table so colossal it reportedly broke the winch that lowered it in. Gone too is the dusty carpet, replaced by polished floorboards that complement sea green walls and brocade panels dappled by the light from op-shop table lamps and candles. Now that the mobster has moved out, it's a welcoming place to spend a lazy hour, or seven.
The snacks are good – no need to fool yourself that pork sliders or wings are a reasonable dinner here. Hot crumbed-and-fried green olives with vinegary caperberries and sharp salsa verde are the perfect starter to pick at with a Kooinda English red ale. All the entrees, including the smoky eggplant and feta croquettes on mustard mayo, come with excellent boozy recommendations by the glass, although you’ll find the Delgado Zuleta Manzanilla sherry goes with the lot.
If you’re in for the night, a velvety slow-roasted shoulder of jumbuck (lamb) with freekeh salad and yoghurt warms the cockles. It’s a solid, rib-sticking bird flip to the impending chill.
The bar's not called Neighbourhood Wine for fun. Denman’s pulled together a 200-bin cellar featuring plenty of European gear with some New Zealand and Australian stars such as Gary Farr’s peppered-up shiraz. If Denman encourages you to sample a few off-list wines or nudges you in the direction of a bottle of western Victorian Hochkirch Steinbruch pinot noir, let him. He knows his stuff. Allow him to boss you into a sauternes with your fresh-baked dessert éclair too.
If you’re looking down the gloomy maw of a Melbourne winter, Neighbourhood Wine's good booze, great tunes and staff shooting thermonuclear smiles all over the shop will keep you warmer than one of Gangitano's lap dancers.