“When we opened Rooftop, Melbourne was beginning to think about new venue spaces and how they could be occupied in a unique way,” says Francesco “Frunch” Nazzari, managing director of the city’s iconic Rooftop Cinema.
“St Jerome’s was the most popular bar in Melbourne and that was a hole in the wall with everyone sitting on crates. Now, when you look at what’s happening in the city, it’s almost the opposite from a design perspective … it’s all gentrified and we’ve got to think about this for Rooftop going into the next 10 years,” says Nazzari.
It’s been more than a decade and 11 seasons since the Rooftop Cinema & Bar began serving drinks and screening films in the sky at Curtin House. The venue closed at the end of April for its first makeover since it opened in 2003, and relaunched in early October.
“Before the reno it was ‘the little bar that could’ in a sense, but when it got busy we’d have spilling crowds everywhere,” says Nazzari. “Now, we have proper infrastructure in place to cater for the people coming in.”
Rather than an outright overhaul, the redesign – by Techne Architects – focused on an upgrade that preserved the bar and cinema’s original character while enhancing comfort; aesthetics; audio and visual equipment; and its facilities.
The main bar is now south-facing and stretches a much longer distance, opening up considerably more space to order a drink without blocking the walkway.
New turf has been laid and a state-of-the-art Bose sound system and digital projector has been installed.
The burger shack and kitchen on the cinema lawn has quadrupled in size, and the menu has grown, too, with additions such as a mushroom burger, broccoli salad, and two hotdog options with smoked franks by Meatsmith. (The menu features illustrations by Melbourne artist Alice Oehr.) To save a trip to the main bar, a smaller bar with three beers on tap has been set up on the lawn.
On weekends, Rooftop is now open from 10am. So after a sleep in, grab a mate for a granola or breakfast burger, and wash it down with a non-alcoholic hibiscus soda or a Mango Espadrille cocktail.
A series of rounded, Art-Deco-inspired metallic awnings are a nod to a 1950s drive-in cinema, and two of them retract to either embrace the sun or provide more shelter in less friendly weather conditions. At night, glowing neon rings illuminate the awnings – the result looks like halos.
A new cinema grandstand has been built with Australian hardwood, replacing Modwood decking (a synthetic combination of wood and plastic) that didn’t withstand the elements. This grandstand is also steeper than the original, making the most of the city skyline. According to Nazzari, these are the best cinema seats in the house.
252 Swanston Street, Melbourne
(03) 9654 5394
Mon to Fri 11am–1am
Sat & Sun 10am–1am
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