Thirty years ago, Rinaldo Di Stasio brought us Café Di Stasio, now a St Kilda institution. In February he opened Spring Street’s refined Italian diner Di Stasio Città, one of Melbourne’s best new restaurants. Now, the hospitality maven has bought a new space in a building on Spring Street, less than 100 metres from Città. This is where Democratico Bar will find its home.
When it opens in 2022 (the existing building, the Mercure hotel, has yet to be demolished) underneath a set of luxury residential apartments, Di Stasio says Democratico will be a cocktail bar modelled on those he remembers from his first visits to Italy – bars that were set up by Italian migrants returning home from America. And it’ll also draw on local inspiration, that of Di Stasio’s own childhood memories of Thornbury Espresso Bar, which he used to visit with his father Prisco.
“Behind the bar was a big-haired (messa in piega) blond woman,” Di Stasio says, beaming as he remembers his time there as a five-year-old. “I thought she was Marilyn Monroe.”
Listening to the restaurateur explain his inspiration is like sitting around a campfire. His stories are part history and memory, part myth and legend, merging into romance.
“The smell of coffee was intoxicating, and one day Prisco allowed me to have a cappuccino without Pasqualina [my mother] knowing,” he says of his first prophetic sip.
In some ways, Democratico Bar will be modelled on these memories. And, much like Città, it’ll be the kind of place that feels wholly new, but also strikingly and suddenly familiar. It’s true to Di Stasio’s form to walk into one of his venues for the first time, but still feel like you’ve been there before.
Falling into line with the “Italianality” of his other spots, Democratico Bar will serve cocktails with a kick, an edit of the excellent Di Stasio wine cellar and Italian snacks.
As we chat about the new spot, we’re joined by others. More coffee is shared, and more stories exchanged.
“God-willing, if I’m lucky, this will be Democratico Bar,” Di Stasio says, nodding, of the convivial, easy atmosphere around the table.
Associate Di Ritter of architecture firm Hassell looked after the design of Città, and is charged with transforming Di Stasio’s memories of those days with his father in Thornbury into a tangible space.
Di Stasio remembers terrazzo floors underfoot and a double-curved, Formica-topped bar, but the final result could never replicate the original, at least not the way he remembers it. It’s a moment in time. The romance is in the story. And that’s what Di Stasio does best.
Democratico Bar will open in 2022 at 17 Spring Street, Melbourne.