Tempo Rubato is not what you expect when you think classical music. You could easily walk into the bar and think it was just another Brunswick drinking hole – until you see the 102-key Stuart & Sons concert grand piano on the stage, that is. Recently opened by Georgina Imberger and Georgina Lewis, it hosts a weekly program of live classical music in a room with a characteristically Brunswick aesthetic. There’s exposed concrete flooring, old graffiti art on the walls and indoor plants.
“We've tried to keep that feeling that it's accessible. There's nothing pretentious about it, and if you've got $20 you can come here. It's about departing from that stigma that classical music is for the elite – something that you have to be able to afford before you can enjoy,” says Lewis, Tempo Rubato’s manager.
All proceeds from Tempo Rubato go to Piano Project – a charity run by Imgberger and friend Erica Martin that provides free piano lessons for children who’ve recently immigrated.
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Since 2014, Imberger and Martin financed the charity by organising piano recitals with well-known concert pianists in unlikely venues across the city, but Tempo Rubato is the first permanent space. The music program is piano heavy, but you can also catch the odd saxophonist, soprano vocalist or even theremin player.
Over the years, the building itself has been home to the Brunswick Tool Library, a wine storage facility, artist spaces and a recording studio.
“I met some guys who lived upstairs, and they'd made their living holding raves down in what's now the performance space,” says Lewis. “We've kept some of the art that was on the walls. Some of it wasn't very good so we painted over a bit, but there's still a real bunker type feeling to the space.”
These days, you won’t find ravers there on the weekends (unless they’re into acoustic classical music), but you will find a bar in the front room and an unassuming performance space beyond that.
On Friday nights the bar opens at 5.30pm, with happy hour running until 6.30pm. Live music kicks off at 7.30pm and entry is free. You can get a membership for $3 a month, which entitles you to a 10 per cent bar discount, a monthly schedule delivered to your inbox and sporadic benefits – such as members-only concerts.
The low-waste bar is partially powered by rooftop solar panels. On tap, there’s Australian and Italian vino by Tap Wines and a range of craft tinnies, and waste is collected and sent to a nearby scrap metal plant every week. Even the bar top is low waste – made from recycled timber by ethical carpentry company Timbermee. The bar also serves Cedar Fox gin, made in Coburg, and Starward whisky from Port Melbourne.
Charcuterie boards, spiced nuts, fried chickpeas, giardiniera (an Italian pickled relish) and marinated Sicilian olives come from nearby Small Axe Deli, a recent expansion by the Small Axe Kitchen team.
“People come in and they feel really welcome. We get people from all walks of life. I think it's quite rare that you can get older people and younger people mixing happily – and that's what happens here,” says Lewis. “People make friends.”
34 Breese St, Brunswick