31 Mar Bar Liberty. A Melbourne Wine Bar, But Different
Bar Liberty takes bizarre to a comfortable level as Johnston Street in Fitzroy’s newest and coolest addition.
You could be forgiven for thinking the word ‘Liberty’ that’s spray painted across the old La Condesa Taqueria sign on Johnston Street is just another outburst from Fitzroy’s finest. When really, it’s the first hint you get that there’s a bit of ‘tude within the walls of the new wine bar that buzzes underneath.
“We’re a very tongue-in-cheek wine bar.” That’s Casey Wall, Head Chef at Bar Liberty and one of the four hospitality heavyweights behind the new space. Wall hatched the plan for Bar Liberty with his Rockwell & Sons co-owner Manu Potoi (Our two hosts for HFG Episode Two in Collingwood, as well as our hosts for Treat Yo’Self Episode Two), 2015 Sommelier of the Year Banjo Harris Plane, and ex-manager of Attica Michael Bascetta. After spending their fair share of time in fine dining, these boys wanted to open a place where they could let their personalities loose.
The end result is a sophisticated wine bar with plenty of quirk. When it comes to interior design, Wall said “We just wanted something clean and bright.” Light streams through huge glass frontage, bouncing off the white walls and hardwood floors so we’d say they nailed the brief. But when the sun goes down the bar gets much dimmer and more seductive, an important transition to make whenever there’s booze involved.
There’s plenty of fun and games to be had. “Banjo’s got a sabre out the back for opening Champagne and we’ve got cars filled with 30 year old bourbon,” says Wall. And that globe you passed on the way in? It gets wheeled into the dining room and split open to reveal an ice bucket holding Champagne.
But if there are two things these guys take seriously, it’s their booze and their food. Wall’s partner (featured in What’s Grub Got to Do With It? Episode Two) owns Two Row Bar, a big time craft beer bar, so great booze is a given at any of his venues. Bar Liberty’s carefully curated drinks list extends beyond wine to offer a range of lagers, ciders, cocktails and some exciting options for the non-drinkers. Among the wines you’ll find a number of European classics and cocktails come with a bit of a twist, such as the Cherry Negroni.
Wall takes the reigns with the food offering a hip, drink-friendly menu which features nibbles, sharing plates and a couple of sweets to finish. Sourcing most of his produce from Ramarro Farm just outside the Dandenong Ranges, he expects the menu to change super regularly. We’re talking like every two weeks. Each dish must be perfect before it scores a place on the menu. “I work on recipes with Joel, my sous chef, until I’m 80% happy and then we’ll get the others to taste the dish.” Once the team are happy with the balance of salt, sour and sweetness, the dish is given the go-ahead.
As of right now, the must-try dish according to Wall is the Pork Collar, which is sourced from Meatsmith on nearby Smith St, served with a Labna Enriched Jus, Grilled Garlic Shoots and Green Oil to give a herbaceous flavour without sprinkling a handful of leafy bits on top. Second in-line is the Tomatoes, Queen Garnet Plums and Kiwani (we weren’t sure about this one either but turns out it’s like a sour cucumber). Unfamiliar ingredients are a trend which flows throughout the entire menu but put your trust in Wall and you’re likely to discover many new taste sensations.
Bar Liberty’s doors have only been open a few weeks, and already the tables are teaming with happy-go-lucky Melbournians. Plonk yourself down at the bar for some wine-induced giggles and kick ass food.
234 Johnston Street
Fitzroy, VIC 3065
Words by Elyse Wurm