“We said, ‘What do we need to do to get this space’,” says Steve Rowley who, along with Matt Vero, Cal Hitchens and Will Benjamin, owns Marquis in Fitzroy. Rowley and Vero are also two of the names behind a string of cafes including Left Field, Tall Timber, Touchwood and Coin Laundry.
Rowley lives about 400 meters from the site on the corner of Swan and Brighton Streets, so he knows the area well. While there’s a bunch of lunch spots on Swan Street, the options for evening dining are less extensive.
“There’s some really good pubs around, but they’re drinks focused,” Rowley says.
The team has been looking for a new spot south of Fitzroy – in Richmond, Prahran, Windsor and South Yarra – for a while, Rowley says. For Union House – the pub’s working title – Ryan Crick, who works front of house at Marquis, has joined as partner.
“It’s going to be a nice, casual eatery like Marquis of Lorne, but the offering will be a little bit higher,” Rowley says. “We’re working with the head chef from Marquis and he’s excited to bring the menu up a notch or two, but still keep it casual and very much a locals environment.”
Rowley has just returned from Sydney where he did a “a quick pub reconn session”.
“Twelve pubs in two days. We’re bringing back a few cool ideas. It’s a really fun part of your job when you get to go on a pub crawl for inspiration.”
They’ve enlisted Alex Lake, who designed Tall Timber and consulted on Marquis, to do the fit-out for Richmond.
“We’ve been working with Alex for a very long time. He’s our go-to when we want to do something really unique,” Rowley says. “Our model is to work within buildings that have great character and great bones.”
Rowley says the brief for the new space, which will seat around 150 people, is “casual, approachable, really honest”.
They’re moving the bar and doing substantial work to the interior, but they’re mindful of “keeping those great bones and making it reflective of who we are at the same time”.
“There’s a beautiful big terrace up top and a big dining room that we think has been underutilised to date,” he adds. “That’s going to be one of the design challenges.”
They get the keys Wednesday, and Rowley says they’re hoping to be open around June.