In Melbourne, it’s rare for people to go to bars to read a newspaper, or just sit and think. The two-week-old Nighthawks is different. It’s the sort of place where regulars might take half an hour to finish their first and only beer.
Owners Leah Henry and Marcus Davies have been working in hospitality for the past decade – she at New York Tomato and he at Ponyfish Island and Workshop. But it was recent trips to America and Japan that inspired their debut bar.
Like Michael Madrusan at Heartbreaker, the couple fell in love with decaying old dive bars in Brooklyn, Chicago and San Fran, where almost nothing has changed since they were built in the ‘30s and ’40s. “You’d go in and there’d be this beautiful, ornate, wood-turned backbar that’s 80 or 100 years old,” Henry says. “There are some old pubs and bars in Melbourne, but nothing like what’s over there.”
The culture was also different. As in Scotland and Ireland, Henry and Davies noticed how many people are happy to drink alone, just chatting to other solo drinkers. The bar encourages this with its four accessible draught beers (Monteiths) and tight lists of wine, spirits and Japanese whisky.
They researched the whisky while visiting a friend in Osaka. He’s lived there for 12 years and took them to a heap of tiny, nameless bars. “The idea of those places is that it’s all about the person that owns them,” Henry says “It’s their music and their choice of alcohol, so the customers end up coming to see the owner. We really liked that aspect.”
Nighthawks brings these two halves together in a clean, Art Deco-lite fit-out Davies spent nearly 18 months planning and building, with no help from designers or architects. You might remember that Chapter House Lane used the front window as a temporary art gallery during this time.
Now there’s a small beer garden that shares a fence with Bluebird Espresso next door, a few cosy booths inside, and a long, wide and beautiful timber bar. “It’s designed to be really comfortable to sit at,” Davies says. The idea is that it’s nice to sit up at the bar and chat to us, or not chat to us.”
136 Johnston Street, Collingwood
Tue to Thu 4pm‒11pm