Thornbury Espresso Bar was first opened in 1956 by Carmine Di Paolo, who arrived in Melbourne from Italy only a few years before. Despite his heritage, there was a bit of an American-diner feel to the space, in which Di Paolo laid terrazzo flooring and installed pinball machines as well as a billiard table and jukebox. A curvaceous archway separated the game-players from the coffee-drinkers, and it became a place for young Italian migrants to get together over a game of cards, or bocce on the court next door.
Fast forward 65 years and new owner (and Thornbury local) Louise Zelencich has the same kind of commitment to community as Di Paolo. She opened the neighbouring Pallino Bar and Bocce in 2014, and when the opportunity arose to take over Thornbury Espresso, “We couldn’t say no,” she tells Broadsheet. “It’s such a good community. There are a lot of younger business owners here now. Everyone wants to be part of the community and help each other out.”
“We love the space and all the oldies who come here, so we wanted to keep all the old features. We rebuilt the bar and got new furniture but tried to keep that same look.” Zelencich’s wife did the design, and family and friends helped execute it.
“Everything blue is original – including the double arch – and the frontage hasn’t been changed,” says Zelencich. The lightbox sign (that bears the bar’s name) is also original and she used the font as inspiration for the new the branding. There’s still a pinball machine and jukebox, and the photos hanging on the wall are a walk down memory lane: there are shots of the original owner as well as a few regulars from over the years, plus a particularly striking shot of Paul Newman. New to the space are a couple of L-shaped banquettes and a sunny, blue-walled beer garden.
Zelencich is keeping the espresso bar alive in its original form on Mondays and Tuesdays from 7am, so the older, original patrons can still drink coffee and play cards. There are pastries from Noisette and, in a nod to the past, she’s kept toasted sandwiches on the menu – think salami or mortadella with cheese and tomato.
But it stays open till late to draw in a younger crowd for quiet, start-of-the-week drinks (you can order takeaway from nearby eateries in the evenings). Get your spritz with Aperol, Campari, limoncello or Montenegro, and there are Espresso Martinis on tap.
The rest of the week, the espresso bar serves as a space for functions and events. “We have chosen our favourite local caterers and friends to collaborate with: Firecracker Event, Greek Street Food, Pausa Pranzo, Pizza Via, The Moor’s Head and Nola’s.”
Make an event enquiry online.