If you like listening to music on vinyl, there are plenty of places in Melbourne to do so. Nightclubs, obviously. But also restaurants such as Gerald’s Bar and Old Palm Liquor, where passing bar staff flip the records, and club-bar hybrids such as Angel Music Bar, Joey Smalls, Ferdydurke, Monty’s and Lucky Coq, where DJs are in control and dance floors tend to break out spontaneously.
And yet none of these places have thought about sound as carefully and deliberately as Waxflower. Open from midday to late evening, the space successfully combines elements of Melbourne cafes, European wine bars and the audiophile “listening bars” found in Tokyo (and other cities – this video series is a wonderful primer to the format).
This three-part identity is evident from Waxflower’s doorstep. You’ll notice the gleaming Modbar espresso machine and its batch-brew counterpart in the bar, cranking through beans from Seven Seeds and Wood and Co. Then the wine bottles perched on high ledges around the room, their names written up on blackboards. And most prominent of all, a wall stacked with 3500 records owned by Jimmy Pham (DJ name Walter Majik), one of Waxflower’s four founders and the man in charge of the music program and accompanying Soundcloud account.
“[I’m booking] DJs that regularly play the circuit but don’t have an outlet to play everything they want to play,” he says. That means local stars such as Miss Goldie, Wax’o Paradiso and Myles Mac spinning jazz, downtempo, experimental, psych rock, and other genres that don’t necessarily work on dance floors. Or not – house, disco, funk and soul are also possibilities.
Whatever’s on, this is a sublime setting for performer and audience alike. The DJs work with Technics turntables and a handmade Isonoe rotary mixer all the way from London. The bar’s gorgeous twin speakers were custom-made by a Hobart-based firm, Pitt & Giblin, and aesthetically inspired by the JBL 4355, a hi-fi speaker introduced in the ’70s. The walls? Carefully treated with wood-wool panels to improve the room’s acoustics and ensure diners don’t have to yell at each other to be heard. The sound is rich and detailed, but not overpowering.
DJs play five nights a week, from Wednesday to Sunday. They stand directly behind the bar, facing that front doorstep, rather than squirrelled away in the corner. Floor staff squeeze past them carrying stuff to patrons: tap beers from Molly Rose, Kaiju, Deeds and Two Metre Tall; natural wines from Australia and beyond; and plates devised by chef Damon McIvor (ex-Fitzroy Town Hall Hotel).
Half snacks, half mains, his menu skirts the Mediterranean coastline, hewing closest to Spain and Italy before leaping across the Atlantic, to his girlfriend’s native Brazil. There we meet the moreish dadinhos de tapioca (tapioca dumplings), squishy little squares ready to be dipped in aioli and eaten by hand. There might also be a trip to Japan in the form of raw kingfish with kombu, umeshu, tomato and shiso.
At mains, O’Connor beef, pork jowl, and rockling and king oyster mushrooms appear on skewers, ready for easy sharing, and russet-tinged octopus is piled neatly with cannellini beans and tart tomatillos.
Fans of Niagara Lane’s Sun Moth Canteen, which briefly became Superbus before shutting down last year, will find the same thrills – albeit more refined and successful – at Waxflower. Cafe lifer Luke Mutton and screenwriter Marek Polgar, the former owners of Superbus, are also founders here. But, it seems, joining forces with Pham (a long-time DJ with plenty of musical connections) and his friend David Byrne (a fellow record collector) was what the concept really needed to work.
And Waxflower isn’t finished yet. Out the back there’s a second space dubbed The Atrium, maybe double the size of the front room, which is being fitted out to host ticketed gigs. Inspired by Brooklyn’s Public Records, it’ll have its own bar, pool table, DJ booth and pay similarly close attention to sound. Comfy modular couch seating will push the experience closer to bar and nightclub territory, but it’ll still be a listening bar through and through.
153 Weston Street, Brunswick
Tue to Sun 12pm–11pm
Update (March 10, 9.24am): an earlier version of this story implied that Waxflower's speakers were modelled on the JBL 4355, rather than just taking aesthetic inspiration from it. We have amended this error.
Update (March 15, 9.12am): Waxflower is no longer trading before midday. The article has been updated to reflect this.