It was July 2020, smack bang in-between lockdowns one and two, when Zoë Rubino and husband Emilio Scalzo opened the slightly fancy, always fun Poodle Bar & Bistro on Gertrude Street.
But now the handsome Fitzroy spot – spread across a pair of neighbouring Victorian buildings – is making the most of its first floor with the opening of Poodle Upstairs.
Cross the bistro’s chequerboard floor and climb the stairs to discover an intimate bar that feels like an art deco lounge, and opens only on Friday and Saturday nights for walk-ins.
It’s got a slim statement mirror, dim lighting and a leather banquette that encourages settling in for the long haul. There’s also an open fireplace for the winter months, and a private dining room with old-world cabinetry and dark green accents. “Everyone has a cosy little nook,” designer Wendy Bergman, director of Bergman & Co, told Broadsheet. “We didn’t want anyone to feel like they were sitting in the middle of the room, or in a seat that felt second rate.”
Presiding over the menu is head chef Josh Fry, who spent time at Andrew McConnell’s wine bar Marion next door, as well as Cumulus Inc on Flinders Lane, and ran the Poodle spin-off Rocco’s Bologna Discoteca during lockdown.
Upstairs, expect a European-leaning menu that’s significantly snackier than what you’ll find downstairs (but just as delicious). The star? A golden, house-made crumpet slathered with kefir cream then crowned with salmon caviar.
From there, it’s all about choose-your-own-adventure charcuterie. There are house-made cold cuts (including perfectly fatty capocollo) made using Bundarra Berkshire pork that’s cured in the wine cellar, as well as imported free-range pork, confit garlic and pistachio terrine. Plus, decadent cheeses from Australia and France: oozy balls of burrata, sharp stilton and washed-rind cow’s cheese.
And to accompany your meats and cheeses, order up big on fancy canned and jarred things. Find Cuca mussels (which are poached, flash-fried then tossed with a vinegar-y sauce), garlicky octopus in olive oil, and chicken-liver parfait with mulled-wine jelly.
Drinks-wise, there’s a tight edit of cocktails that includes the Wet Poodle (a wet Martini with a pickled onion), the peppery Basil Club with basil-infused Tanqueray gin and raspberries, and a tequila number sweetened up with orange marmalade.
81–83 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy
Fri & Sat 6pm–1am