If escapism was ever to be the pretext for opening a bar, now is certainly the time.
Nick & Nora’s is the new cocktail and champagne bar by the Speakeasy Group (Eau de Vie, Mjolner, Boilermaker House), an opulent, 1930s-themed spot from a team known for clever cocktails.
Under the current pandemic-related circumstances, co-owner Greg Sanderson sees a parallel between that time and today.
“If you look at the 1930s and that Great Depression era, people couldn’t afford to go on international holidays, they couldn’t afford the new car,” Sanderson says. “It’s kind of the same now. People still want that level of escapism. Hopefully they can leave ‘Melbourne 2020’ at the front door.”
So Nick and Nora’s, a vast, glitzy space that opened in the CBD on Thursday, is designed to transport you.
A comprehensive champagne list is carved up by flavour profile into “crisp and elegant” and “rich and toasty” domains, and there are plenty of other bubbly varieties, from easy-drinking cava to Victorian prosecco. The starting point is around $17 a glass, scaling up to a $2200 bottle of single-vineyard Salon Cuvée ‘S’ Blanc de Blancs.
There’s also a ridiculously large, party-starting nebuchadnezzar– a 15-litre bottle – of Mumm, though it’s reserved for events, as is the champagne tower (a pyramid of champagne coupes with Mumm Petit Cordon and Ruinart cascading down).
Cocktails are no less inventive than at the group’s other bars. The Asa Akira is a variation on a Dirty Martini, combining Plymouth Gin with sake and melon-brine, and served in a glass super-chilled with liquid nitrogen. Liquid nitrogen also lends itself to some theatrical foams and mousses. The Cafe Noir is rum, coffee and sweet sherry stirred down and topped with a nitrogen-made mousse of saffron, tonka bean and vanilla, with fog tumbling all around as it hits the table in front of you.
The Jiminy Cricket plays off the classic lurid green Grasshopper, but adds pandan and celery bitters. The ingredients are fat-washed, a method of infusing fat (in this case cream) into the cocktail to clarifiy the liquid, turning the formerly opaque drink crystal clear.
Champagne cocktails are made with a choice of Mumm, Perrier-Jouët or Ruinart, and there are also four-person jumbo punch bowls – one tropical take combines Havana Club rum, Amaro Montenegro, pineapple and yuzu. The bowls themselves are eclectic, and include a huge bronze swan.
Food is typical of the cocktail party atmosphere, with plenty of cheese, charcuterie and canapés. The chicharrón – fried pork rind – is made with crispy beef fat and served with mussel cream and ras el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend. Smoked eel and caviar sit atop blini – tiny pancakes – while the hotdog-sized lobster brioche roll is big on melted butter.
As at its sibling bar of the same name in Sydney, Melbourne’s Nick & Nora’s is named for fictional characters Nick and Nora Charles, a crime-solving husband-and-wife team who first appeared in Dashiell Hammet’s 1934 novel The Thin Man, which was later rolled into film, radio, TV and theatre adaptations. The couple’s fondness for cocktails and champagne is what steers the drinks list and the design.
Though part of the massive 80 Collins development (a handful of cafes are already open, and it’ll soon include an ambitious new restaurant, Nick and & Nora’s shares little of the building’s sleek, modern stylings.
The design, by Melbourne’s Studio Y, follows an art deco theme, lending geometric patterns to carpets, wallpapers and light fixtures, with glints of gold and bronze offset by soft velvet drapes. It’s huge for a cocktail bar, with table service for 240 people (once things go back to normal) across five separate rooms and three balconies.
Decorative double magnums of Pol Roger let you know what you’re in for as you enter, and there’s art by Tamara Łempicka, a Polish art deco painter of the 1920s and 30s, whose work centres on aristocrats and Jazz Age scenes.
The multitude of nooks and hideaways definitely lends the space a house party feel, but you won’t forget you’re in a space where mixed drinks are taken seriously – if the cocktails don’t drive that home, the commanding 11-metre-long emerald marble bar will.
Nick and Nora’s
80 Collins Street, Melbourne
03 8393 9367]
Thu to Sat 5pm–1am