The quintessential drink-and-dine-in wine shop, the City Wine Shop was integral to shaping Melbourne’s wine-loving reputation, and it continues to be just as relevant today. You can eat and drink very well here, or pick at some simple plates and have a glass or two, or simply have a beer at the outdoor tables in this most European corner of Melbourne.
The regular’s tip
If you’re taking a bottle home, just next door is the sibling Spring Street Grocer, where you can pick up stunning cheese and premium grocery items, along with gelato to go.
From a single site adjacent to the Princes Theatre, business partners Con Christopoulos and Josh Brisbane have – over the course of a decade or two – acquired the entire Spring Street frontage up to the lane that borders the Imperial Hotel. Starting with the European and Melbourne Supper Club – which saved a whole generation from having to endure deafening music if they wanted a drink after midnight – the duo then occupied the site that once housed Geoff Lindsay’s long defunct Stella restaurant. Into that narrow site was born the City Wine Shop, which was an early embracer of the enoteca model – a wine shop with a modest in-house corkage fee, and food playing a supporting role.
Oddly, with a few notable exceptions, it took a surprisingly long time for this successful model to catch on more broadly, but catch on it did. The City Wine Shop, though, remains the reference point, the platonic ideal of Melbourne’s casual wine revolution. Indeed, it’s hard to overestimate the importance of the City Wine Shop, with alumni fanning out into making, selling, importing, writing about and judging wine in a variety of interesting and influential ways.
The wine offer runs to some 1,200 lines, with many on display on the wine wall and in the fridges, though some with heftier price tags slumber in the sliver of cellar that runs adjacent to the vast, sunken communal table that runs the length of the back room. The by-the-glass selection tops out at about 25, with featured bottles set into one of the recessed shelves in the olive-green tiled back bar. Changes are made to both lists in a ever-evolving way, typically daily.
Today, the City Wine Shop would be entirely familiar to anyone who walked through the doors 17 years ago and not since. Everything remains in its place, friendly black-clad staff, hand-chalked specials, and even classic menu items like the schnitzel and tuna niçoise remain unchanged, but not out of habit, simply because they have endured well, just like the timeless interior.