After 17 years, Gertrude Street Enoteca is calling it a day, announcing it won’t reopen once coronavirus restrictions ease.
“All good things must come to an end,” says co-owner Brigitte Hafner. “We’ve been thinking about it for a while – it had been increasingly difficult to continue with the rents and the way they were escalating.”
Fitzroy has changed a lot since the well-loved wine bar first opened in 2004 – the cost of rent included. Year-on-year increases, coupled with the financial fallout of the two recent lockdowns, proved too much for the business to continue operating.
“It’s just a different environment these days,” says Hafner. “We opened 17 years ago and rents have more than doubled. We love Gertrude Street and we love Fitzroy and we love that business, but it wasn’t possible to continue with the business plan we had.”
Negotiations between Hafner, her fellow co-owner James Broadway and the premises’ landlord were in a protracted stalemate, and the two parties couldn’t reach a new agreement.
Then along came Covid-19. According to Broadway, the lockdown crunch didn’t outright end the business, but it acted as a catalyst to its closure.
“Closing now is really [about] too many things being out of our control,” he says. “We’re sad. We dreamed it would be a 30-year business and we got about halfway there. Gertrude Street landlords and Covid are a bad combination when you’re already stretched.”
Gertrude Street Enoteca was in a healthy position before the lockdown, Broadway says, but most of the team are international workers who don’t quality for government support.
Even when restrictions did lift temporarily, the bar – which is cosy and intimate like a living room – couldn’t viably open due to social-distancing requirements.
“[Technically] we’re still closed now as a result of Covid,” says Broadway. “[But] it costs us so much that we’ve had to make the decision that we have to accept that it can’t reopen.”
The final reason for Gertrude Street Enoteca’s closure is a happier one: the pair’s new business, Osteria Tedesca in Red Hill, is taking up more of their time.
Those who’ve loved Gertrude Street Enoteca’s expansive wine list, and Hafner’s brilliant home-style Italian cooking, can now find it at the Mornington Peninsula restaurant.
“Things change and shift and that business was an incredibly personal and wonderful part of lives, but it just didn’t make sense in this current time,” she says.