Ben Luzz can’t help but pay tribute to the past. His CBD bar Gin Palace winks at two 19th-century houses of ill-repute on Little Collins Street. Bar Ampere works its Paris stylings above an old electrical substation. Bijou Bottle Store is named for a theatre demolished in the 1930s.
Luzz’s latest – cocktail and wine bar, Black Kite Commune – takes inspiration from Melbourne’s boisterous 20th-century supper clubs. “I love tying it back to historical references,” says Luzz. “I read an article about a writer who found this little bar called Nighthawk’s Retreat. It was a supper club so there was lots of brandy and whisky and cocktails. It was loud and bustling and there was food coming out and I could see it [in my head] – that’s what I wanted.”
For the centrepiece cocktail menu, venue manager Jess Clayfield (ex-Gin Palace) drew on a sensory crossover of taste and sound. “We were sitting at the symphony and I looked over at my friend and I was like ‘Man, can you taste raspberries right now?’” Clayfield says. “She was like, ‘What are you on about?’” With Beethoven’s fifth ringing in her ears, Clayfield jotted down a synaesthetic menu of cocktail inspiration.
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That phantom flavour became Raspberry, a cocktail combining Pisco, rose-tea-infused verjuice, gooseberry syrup and a rhubarb-flavoured aperitif. “It tastes like a raspberry jube and it has no raspberry in it at all,” Clayfield says. Triumph plays with symphony dynamics, a citrusy crescendo built on status symbol ingredients like tepache (a fermented drink of pineapple, a fruit that was associated with wealth and luxury in the past), Armagnac and a Meyer lemon, and champagne vinegar shrub.
The free-flowing spirits of Luzz’s supper club fantasy skew towards rare Australian examples. There’s brandy from Sullivan’s Cove, Archie Rose whisky aged in Maidenii vermouth barrels, and pechuga, a meat-infused agave spirit from Black Snake Distillery.
Chef Santosh Thapa’s menu is, like Black Kite Commune itself, content to sit somewhere between pre-theatre snacks and late-night pick-me-ups. On the smaller side you’ll find wild boar croquettes with fresh apple, and king prawns with garlic oil and lemon myrtle, while the venison and beef burger with Pyengana Dairy cheddar will do it for those sitting on the cocktails a little while longer.
Designer Michael Delaney has transformed the space into what feels like a black and brooding bird cage, tempered by the light of double-high front windows, a night-sky ceiling fixture and a curved golden back bar. The idea of the dark colour scheme is to let drinkers slot into the background, particularly on the subtle mezzanine floor. Black Kite Commune is table service only, but airline-style service buttons upstairs make it easy to stay settled in.
Black Kite Commune
30 Russell Place, Melbourne
Mon to Sun 4pm–1am