If it wasn’t for Covid-19, Siffredi’s Spaghetti Bar – and its new sibling Rita’s – might never have existed.

Stokehouse Q – where Siffredi’s owners Aleks Balodis, Ollie Hansford and Stephen Overty previously worked – might not have closed if it weren’t for an extended shutdown caused by the pandemic. Then the trio wouldn’t have received their redundancy payouts, which they pooled to open the spaghetti bar.

“I had been toying around with the idea of [opening] a spaghetti bar for a few years, but Covid was the catalyst [for Siffredi’s] – and those redundancy checks helped,” Balodis says. “[Looking back], it was quite fortuitous.”

Now, a year after the launch of Siffredi’s, Balodis and Hansford have opened Rita’s Bar next door.

To bring together the taco and tequila joint, the duo teamed up with ex-Blackbird bar manager and mezcal enthusiast Daniel Pennefather. Located in the former Claret House wine bar digs, the trio fitted out the space themselves, introducing a dark colour scheme to the interior, adding pops of greenery and building a back bar. Inside, the space is intimate and moody, while outside there’s a more casual vibe with large communal tables.

Chef Hansford’s menu is anything but traditional: corn tortillas, sourced from Victorian wholesaler La Tortilleria, are loaded with unorthodox fillings such as crisp soft-shell Moreton Bay bugs with iceberg and pickled red onion; a Bunnings-inspired kransky with caramelised onion, curry sauce and fried onions; and fish’n’chips (grilled snapper, golden fried potatoes, vinegar seasoning, dill mayo and burnt lime). For snacks, there’s a raw tuna tostada, black bean and goats cheese empanadas, and marinated chicken skewers.

The trio want people to be able to visit Rita’s often, and the prices reflect that. Nothing on the food menu costs more than $10, and the offering will change regularly.

“Just like [the pasta] at Siffredi’s, all the tacos will be forever changing and evolving,” Pennefather says. “[Same] with the tequila and mezcal range – I’ll be changing the back bar quite often too.”

Pennefather is in the process of filling said back bar with over 50 different mezcals, raicillas and tequilas. There are also eight different Margaritas – such as the Honey & Harvest with mezcal verde, butter-washed honey, lime citrus and aquafaba – and a Paloma with Tromba blanco, agave, grapefruit, lime citrus and soda. There’s also a short list of wines, Dos Equis on tap, and salt-and-lime-rimmed Tecate tinnies. Still, it’s clear the focus is on the tequila and mezcal, which Pennefather reckons has experienced a huge rise in popularity of late.

“We’ve had this explosion of people [realising], ‘Crap – there’s actually really tasty tequilas and mezcals,’” he says. “Two years ago you could get your hands on 100 different mezcals, and now you can get your hands on thousands. To see people so keen and interested in it is fantastic.”

Rita’s Bar
5/36 Vernon Terrace, Teneriffe

Hours:
Tue to Sun 12pm–late

ritasbar.com.au