After years of development, HQ Group (the team behind Arbory Bar & Eatery and its riverside sibling Arbory Afloat) has opened the doors to its five-storey CBD venue, Her. Composed of four distinct dining and drinking offerings, plus one in the pipeline, it’s the group’s biggest project to date.
“We purchased this building six or seven years ago and we have really taken our time going through the whole building process,” says marketing director Georgie Larkins.
Though the original facade remains, the heritage-listed site was completely gutted before architects JCB and designers Tamsin Johnson were brought on board for the rebuild. Once a cigarette factory, the site has strong ties to Melbourne’s art scene, which largely informed the new concept.
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“There are all these different art-focused stories that are integrated with the history,” says Larkins. “One of the owners of the building was part of this new art movement and was best friends with [impressionist painter Frederick] McCubbin. That’s part of the driving force behind the whole art lens.”
Art installations feature prominently throughout the space, including a 10-metre painting by Melbourne artist Eleanor Louise Butt on the ground floor and a tile mosaic by Sydney ceramicist Eytan Messiah on the rooftop. The space also features several light installations by French lighting designer Hervé Descottes (who worked on New York’s High Line). His main feature piece is the custom-lit stairwell that connects each venue.
On the ground floor is Her Bar, an all-day cocktail bar and eatery spearheaded by head chef Josh Rudd (ex-Asado) and executive chef Nick Bennett. French-inspired share plates are the focus; flank steak tartare with anchovy mayonnaise and French fries, escargot in garlic herb butter, and verjuice-cured kingfish, for example. Though mains including duck frites and raclette-topped burgers also make a star appearance.
The first floor is home to the music room, a soundproof bar and listening space fit out with wood panels, cushy velvet booths and a custom-made light installation (also by Descottes). The bar is stocked with a varied range of spirits and hard-to-find vinyls curated by local dance-music stalwart DJ Jnett who has also organised a series of weekly residencies for the venue.
The venue’s signature eatery, BKK, is on level three. Led by Bennett and head chef Sungeun Mo (ex-Red Spice Road), the restaurant serves a spin on Thai classics with an emphasis on barbeque.
“Inspired by the late-night vendors of Bangkok, custom charcoal-burning grills and wok burners lace smoky notes into the dishes,” says Bennett.
BKK also supplies food to Her Rooftop – the open-air oasis perched at the top of the venue. Expect a snack-centric menu of dishes like rock oysters with coconut cream and nam prik pao (a jammy chilli and shrimp paste); barbequed pork skewers; and a fried chook sandwich inspired by the chicken-slinging street carts in Thailand.
To complement them, there’s a selection of natural wines and fruity cocktails like a grapefruit Paloma, strawberry and rhubarb Mezcal Sour, or passionfruit spritz. The design is equally bright and playful with its Italian marble floors, orange velvet banquettes and Parisian-inspired skirted stools.
“It’s got this fun cocktail bar vibe that you might see in Paris or Milan,” says Larkins.
That said, uninterrupted city views make it hard to forget you’re in Melbourne. With glass-panelled walls and a retractable awning, the rooftop is the perfect spot to soak up your surroundings.