In 1967, engineer Giorgio Rosa finished work on a 400-square-metre house, built on stilts in the Adriatic Sea just outside Italian waters – some 12 kilometres from the coast of Rimini. In 1968 Rosa declared it an independent state: the Republic of Rose Island. His short-lived “experiment of freedom” ended in 1969, when the structure was seized and demolished by the Italian military.
Today, Rose Island is the name of both a 2020 Netflix feature film about Rosa's experiment, and the Lachlan Gravier’s new bar and bottle shop, which opened in a quiet pocket of Windsor in May.
“That notion of creating your own utopia was just really cool,” Gravier says of the inspiration behind his new venue. “Doing it your way, and having this place where people can come and be themselves and do whatever they want to do.”
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For Gravier – a first-time business owner who spent the last 20 years working in finance operations – that means no longer doing things by the book.
His venue channels a casual and generous hospitality; people perch at the bar all night and “we just end up just talking the whole time”, Gravier says. Staff are encouraged to mingle during service, new products are introduced daily and often sampled with guests, and dogs are allowed to hang out inside. At the back of the bar, there’s an intimate nook with a projector that will play whatever sport Gravier feels like throwing on.
It’s not just the friendly environment that draws a crowd. Beer is Gravier’s passion, and he’s curated an eclectic range at Rose Island. On tap, you’ll find limited-release craft brews like Lost in Translation – a Japanese-inflected Belgian quadrupel, infused with adzuki beans and kinako (roasted soybean powder) – from Glen Iris brewery Deeds, or the citrusy Eternal Sunshine hazy IPA from Sailor’s Grave in East Gippsland.
At the front of the store, there’s a fridge full of cans, mostly Victorian. You can grab them takeaway, or for a corkage fee of $3 per can you can stay and drink them at the bar. (The front of the venue opens to the footpath, allowing people to order from outside.)
There are a few cocktails, too, including a coconut Margarita (the current bestseller), as well as natural wines by the glass. Wines are displayed on shelves beneath a trio of Rose Island prints designed by CJ Wright, whose design studio, Looks Generous, has created spaces for a number of Melbourne venues including Above Board, Capitano and The Everleigh.
With a big dose of ’60s Italian nostalgia, the posters “play off the notion that if Rose Island was a real nation, it would have its own travel posters, football team and possibly even an Olympics”, Gravier says. (The football team poster is in the men’s bathroom.)
Guests are welcome to bring their own food, and many order in from the nearby Small Print Pizza. Rose Island does have a kitchen, which – when Gravier can rope his chef mate into a shift – offers dishes including steak, sausages and a small range of toasties with fillings like mapo tofu, chicken parfait, and prosciutto with wheat-beer-caramelised onions.
Gravier plans to make use of the full-service kitchen in future, offering Venetian-style snacks known as cicchetti, but will keep the BYO-food option even once that menu is up and running.
406 High St, Windsor
Wed to Thurs 3pm–10pm
Fri & Sat 3pm–11pm