While 2004 is hardly that long ago, it is in the veritable mists of time in respect to how much the wine-dispensing game has changed in Melbourne. Back then, James Broadway, an importer of Italian wine and Slow Food evangelist, and chef Brigitte Hafner, who had worked with Neil Perry, Kylie Kwong, Guy Grossi, Greg…
Up a flight of stairs above long-term wood-fired pizza player Woodstock in Fitzroy North, Neighbourhood Wine occupies a site of both individual charm and somewhat dubious history. Before brothers Simon and Matt Denman, and chef Almay Jordaan took possession of the first-floor title that stretches over two shopfronts, it had remained idle for a quarter of a century after being shut down by police. Alphonse Gangitano, a notorious member of the Carlton Crew, operated a less than legal casino from the site in the late ’80s, and though it was thought to be wildly successful in its brief life, police raids quickly stopped the dealing.
Today, the dust has been swept away and some of the more burdensome security features removed, but apart from bespoke wine storage throughout the room, not much has changed. The interior décor remains largely intact, though it’s reasonable to expect the vibe may have changed somewhat. A gangster’s ‘gentleman’s’ club is certainly not the first thing that springs to mind, with the roulette wheel replaced by a well-supplied turntable, and the Victorian décor reflected through a 1980s sensibility an oddly harmonious feature.
The wine offer runs to about 500 listings, with 20 plus by the glass, and a cant towards wines less handled:
“We definitely lean to the minimal intervention end of the wine spectrum, but it is purely out of preference. We are not dogmatic about it. If a more conventional wine is drinking well and at a great price, we will be all over it,” says Denman.
Walking the wine bar and restaurant divide deftly, Neighbourhood Wine is one of those venues that will be used by customers in distinctly different ways, from casual drinking to more involved dining. But the overall feel is one of warm hospitality and conviviality, a little oasis removed from the outside world.