Half an hour before his new bar Whitehart opened in early 2017, filmmaker Stephen Johnson received a call from Screen Australia telling him it was funding the film he has been working on for 12 years.
His background in film (including his cinematography work for Yothu Yindi) combined with his wife Sabrina Santucci’s work as an art teacher is what allowed the pair to design the bar, their first hospitality project.
Whitehart is built out of massive steel beams and shipping containers. The couple hired Melbourne-based graphic designer Daisylegs to create murals and digital projections for the space; builder Luke Aulich oversaw construction, while Aulich’s wife Fiona Scanlan (co-founder of Scanlan & Theodore) provided advice on the colour scheme.
The menu changes constantly, as Whitehart hosts a rotation of different food vendors. Chefs have Whitehart’s 2.5-tonne smoker to play with, which mostly churns out meats such as chicken wings, beef brisket and slow-cooked pork.
There are also smaller snacks, from peanuts in their shells to hummus (Santucci’s recipe) and salted lupini beans, which accompany a drinks list focused on cocktails and local beers. Poor Tom's Earl Grey Spritz (a cocktail on tap) is a crowd favourite, combining gin, tea syrup, lemon juice and soda. Wine comes from Australia and Europe.
The space’s heavy industrial feel is made warmer with ferns mounted on the walls. The choice of staghorn and elkhorn ferns honours the “white hart” – the mystical stag for which the bar is named.