“It would be better if wine was presented more like beer,” says Mark Nelson, who co-founded The Moon in Collingwood and Milton Wine Shop in Malvern before stepping away recently to open Baby Snakes – a new, “aggressively not pretentious” bar in Footscray. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what hops it’s made out of, you get to taste it and go, ‘Yum, I like it’, and then you drink it. And that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be about knowing about grape varieties.”
That’s the whole idea at his Chambers Street bar. It’s a cool, casual spot where, sure, the wine is delicious and the selection is very much curated, but showing punters a good time – and making them feel comfortable – is prioritised over delving into the intricacies of the wine.
“We’re still not sure what it is exactly – a wine bar or a dive bar or a boozer,” says Nelson. “The initial vision was I wanted it to be a bit of a dive bar, real grungy. And now that it’s open … there’s no Jim Beam sign on the wall or anything.” Quite the opposite. A ridiculously colourful stairwell – with bright pink walls, purple stairs and lime-green railing – leads up to the space designed by Camilla Burke (who’s also behind The Moon). On the first floor, there’s a warm, worn-in vibe; huge windows let natural light spill in among timber furnishings, plenty of greenery and a spinning disco ball.
By design, Baby Snakes is less in-your-face about its wine selection than Nelson’s former bars. There are just two fridges – one with roughly 60 whites, and another with about the same number of reds. Responsible for the list is bar manager and wine buyer Rhiannon LaHatte, who favours smaller local producers but works with no set criteria. “The wines she [chooses] are first and foremost delicious,” Nelson says. “She wants them to taste like where they’re from and what they’re made out of. Most things we have are there for drinkability. You can open them and neck them.”
Current favourites include Bobar’s ultra-light and slightly spicy Yarra Valley syrah, and a “mistake” carménère rosé from Dirty Black Denim. “They normally only make carménère red, but they had to make a decision at the start of Covid because they didn’t know if they were going to get access to the winery. [They] were like, ‘Let’s just press off half of it.’ The half they pressed off came out as this lighter rosé, juicy thing. It’s a happy mistake, I think.”
Right beside the wine fridges sit two frozen cocktail machines, which churn out light and frosty Margaritas and a frozen version of Stomping Ground’s Passionfruit Smash sour. There’s also a small cocktail list and six beer taps with easy-drinking brews such as Philter XPA.
Food is available too, including stacked deli sangas such as Reubens, Cubanos and a spicy Szechuan-eggplant number, as well as cheese and charcuterie boards. Otherwise, the team from Slice Shop Pizza downstairs is happy to run a pie up to your table.
Baby Snakes is also licensed for live music, which Nelson is stoked about. “We had a party at The Moon when we first opened, with DJs and stuff, and I was like, ‘This is what I want,’” he says. “Cool wine and cool people and DJs and a vibe – not everyone sitting around swirling and spitting and chucking the biggest superlative or adjective they can onto a glass of wine.” He’s recruited Mike Gurrieri of PBS radio show Mystic Brew as a resident DJ and music booker; there’ll be DJs spinning records on Fridays and Saturdays, while Sundays will soon be reserved for relaxed live sets by local bands.