“It’s all gone very, very quickly,” says Apoteca’s owner Paola Coro. “In the blink of an eye it’s suddenly become 17 years . . . but sometimes you have to paint your home, you know?”
The European-influenced bar and restaurant has been a second home for Coro, who has run the space formerly known as Apothecary 1878 since it opened on Hindley Street in 2002 (along with then business partners Roberto Cardone and George Kambitsis). A lot has changed since then.
Apothecary was the west end’s first wine bar, opening 11 years before the introduction of Adelaide’s small-venue licence and the ensuing proliferation of drinking dens along Peel and Leigh streets. It was a rare, elegant bird on a street better known at the time for strip clubs and tattoo joints, and soon gathered a loyal following for its expansive and obscure medley of wines and old-world Parisian vibes.
With this in mind, it was important to Coro to keep the ethos of the original venue intact while giving it a timely revamp (apoteca is the Spanish word for apothecary). “I want people to come in and feel like it’s familiar to them, so they can still feel comfortable,” she says. “It took me months of planning, because I wanted it to be very subtle.
“I think you have to stay relevant, so we’ve just modernised and tweaked it without taking away the beauty that people loved so much about the bar.”
Spurred by Coro’s recent trip to the States, the new look subtly swaps the lavish Parisian decor for a more casual vibe inspired by New York brasseries. Among the changes, there’s new bespoke lighting, fresh paint on the walls, subway tiles layered along the back wall, and brand new lighting and mirror details added to the venue’s centrepiece – a 141-year-old pharmacist’s dispensary from which the venue takes its name.
“I think people would have been disappointed if we took the cabinet out,” Paola says. The mahogany cabinet still sits pride of place in the main dining room.
“Some people come in and they can’t tell what’s changed, and other people can see there’s a change . . . it’s brighter and bigger. I think that’s a good thing . . . there’s still that element of comfort.”
The team has also renovated the courtyard and cellar with soft furnishings, furniture and designer lighting, each different but cleverly designed to suit each room. “On the mezzanine, Henry Kitto [Robert Kitto Lighting] made us a bespoke pendant light to tie in with the front bar,” says Coro. “It was just about tying all three spaces together with the lighting, but each light fitting had its own character [to match] the room.”
When it comes to service, Coro says not much has changed. “We were one of the first table-service bars around, and we still do that today . . . it’s very important to me that people get table service when they come in. They don’t line up at the counter – it’s really that grown-ups’ bar experience.”
While the drinks list remains an impressive 30 pages long – with a focus on wine and Prohibition-era cocktails – Paola says some things have changed with the times. “When we first opened, we couldn’t sell gin because vodka was the drink. Now we have 45 gins on the list.”
The Euro-leaning menu’s had a revamp too. Divided into First Aid (bar snacks), Vitamins (vegies), Proteins and Side Effects (sides), chef Mirco Ruthoff’s food might take the form of fried duck egg with brioche soldiers and dragoncello (tarragon); cauliflower steak with passata and gruyere; or grilled octopus with cherry tomato and garlic chips. “It’s very much about coming into our home so we can feed you,” says Coro.
The courtyard and cellar will now also be open to the public every Friday and Saturday night, bringing a little bit of New York’s East Village to Adelaide’s west. “It’s such an exciting time to be in the west end,” says Coro. “The landscape is really changing.”
118 Hindley Street, Adelaide
Mon to Sat 5pm–late